October 16, 2012
When it comes to resume success, keywords are king
While nearly every expert continues to debate the recipe for creating a great resume, there's one rule of thumb that is almost universally agreed upon. In today's world, for your documents to make the cut in most organizations, you need to make sure they contain all the right keywords that relate to your job function and occupational niche.
Seems like a simple proposition, doesn't it?
The challenge I've seen over the years is that most of us are so close to what we do for a living that we tend to overlook the obvious. Sales managers, for example, forget to mention that they've provided sales training to their team members. Or that they handled contract negotiation, consultative selling or lead generation responsibilities at some point in their work history.
Along the same lines, administrative assistants might forget to mention that they've done executive scheduling, or accountants might fail to call out that they understand GAAP principles, have been responsible for the credit and collections function or are Excel wizards.
The "keyword myopia" trap is easy to fall into. Most experienced professionals use their skills, talents and competencies so intuitively and effortlessly that those things become almost invisible. But when it comes to your resume, you've got to get the right language on there for best results.
In many cases, the first stop of your document may not be the desk of an experienced hiring manager who fully "gets" what you do, but an applicant tracking system that scans for keyword matches. Or your documents might have to survive the scrutiny of an HR assistant who isn't an expert in your line of work and doesn't have the background to read between the lines if you don't call out an expected credential or qualification.
So how do you make sure your resume is packed with the right language and that you don't miss any mission-critical terminology in your field? Here are four suggestions:
Review past job descriptions and performance reviews. If you've kept a file of any kind with documentation from your past work roles, dust it off and scan through it. See if these materials provide a useful refresher around your previous duties, responsibilities and accomplishments.
Study published advertisements. While online job postings tend to be a bit long, they're helpful for keyword identification as they usually break positions down into very specific, granular terminology. So by monitoring a steady stream of opportunities in your field and paying close attention to the language, you should be able to spot a number of words and phrases worthy of adding to your resume presentation.
Borrow from your competitors. It's a piece of cake today to run an online search and turn up tons of resume samples from individuals who work in your field. For example, you might search for "technical project manager resume" or a similar phrase, which will turn up hundreds of examples. You can then cross-reference them with your own resume to make sure you haven't missed any critical nomenclature.
Leverage the LinkedIn "Skills & Expertise" section. While most LinkedIn users never stumble across this feature, if you visit the "More" menu at the top of the main LinkedIn toolbar and click the "Skills & Expertise" option, you'll find keyword nirvana. Type one of your skills into this screen and a full page of info will come up discussing that particular competency, including a list of "related skills" on the left side of the page that should trigger a bunch of ideas in terms of additional terminology.
For example, a search for "project management" turns up skills such as scope management, PMO, project charter and project governance -- all of which you could easily forget to mention in your materials, even if you've been doing PM work for the past 20 years.
Ultimately, while there's certainly more to effective resume writing than keywords alone, they're unquestionably a top factor in getting your materials noticed. Follow the suggestions above to ensure you don't miss a single phrase that might help your application land in the "in" pile.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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