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27 June 2012

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The Importance of Keywords in your Job Search

I recently heard about a person who was frustrated by a lack of response to online job applications.  So he tweaked his resume by embedding the full job description of the positions to which he applying into the last page of his resume as “white text copy.”  The copy was invisible to the eye, but not to the search engine!

No doubt this technique ensured he showed up as a “100% match” to the job in the company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS).  I don’t know the outcome to this story… whether or not he had an interview, or if his trick was discovered.  While I am not advocating this approach, it illustrates candidates’ frustrations with ATS and the importance keywords have become in resume and social media profiles.

Here are some suggestions to improve the rank of your resume:

First, think like a search engine. Pretend you’re Google. If you were a recruiter looking to find you, which keywords would you use to find yourself in a search engine?

Perform a “content analysis” of the jobs to which you want to apply. Identify repeating key words and phrases. Review your resume. Are similar words or phrases incorporated?

Titles also receive higher rank in ATS search engines. Clever, trendy titles are underappreciated by ATS. For example, if your title is “Head Honcho of People & Performance,” chances are you’re not applying to jobs with a similar title.  You might want to replace or incorporate a functional title “Vice President of Human Resources” into your profile to improve your keyword rank.

A Little Something Extra

In addition to keywords, you can do what I’ve long advocated and have practiced myself.  Apply online, but follow these steps to also send your resume directly to the company.

  1. Find out the name of the hiring manager.
  2. Address a targeted cover letter to the hiring manager.
  3. Put your cover letter and resume into a 2-day Priority Mail envelope addressed to the hiring manager (Handwritten is best).

Yes, this approach takes a little extra effort and potentially stepping outside your comfort zone, but who else is doing it?  I personally utilized this approach myself 10 years ago when I was relocating from Houston to Columbus. Of more than 100 applicants, I was selected for an interview and ultimately hired for the job!

In summary, keywords are not the magic bullet, and I am not advocating adding experience you do not have. However, used appropriately they may help you get your foot in the door.  At the same time, continually develop your professional network to build your reputation in your field. Regardless of your years of professional experience, practice and hone your interview techniques by becoming a “student of the job search.”

Job seekers and recruiters:

  • What do you think?  Share your experience or other words of wisdom regarding keywords best practices.

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