How to Rise to the Top of the Resume Pile Using Keywords

Most employers don’t have the time to conduct a deep dive review on every candidate, so how do they wade through the large pile of applicants and determine who to call for a first interview?

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Evaluating a candidate’s “fit” is a process that begins the moment you submit your resume. A company may receive many, many applications and needs a way to quickly filter them to select those which merit in-depth consideration. They do this by scanning the resumes for keywords or terms that match the requirements of the job. These key terms can be technical skills like: research, Microsoft Excel, SPSS, Google Adwords, or competencies such as collaboration, leadership, or flexibility. They may personally scan each resume for keywords, or, if they are a larger, more sophisticated company, they will use an applicant tracking system with a baked-in algorithm which does it automatically for them – scoring most highly those resumes which, through keyword analysis, best match the job description.

Understanding how this process works gives you a leg up in the quest for getting your resume seen. By making sure that your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile have the keywords that employers are looking for, you can greatly enhance your attractiveness as a candidate and your odds of getting that coveted call for an interview. Figuring out which keywords to use is simple.  Companies aren’t keeping them a secret – they can be found in every single job posting. Here’s a job posting that I found on Indeed for a Business Analyst at Google.

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Some of the keywords that jump out at me are:

- analysis
- compelling, scalable and strategic insights
- complex data sets, correlating data
- translate insights into action
- critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills
- influence thoughtful decision-making
- strategic planning, forecasting and analysis
- scalable templates and queries
- advanced scripting
- dashboards

So how do you use keywords to your best advantage? If you are tailoring your resume to apply to this specific job, you find ways to weave these terms into the descriptions of what you’ve done in your past roles. Then, make sure that your LinkedIn profile includes these terms too. Don’t forget that employers are using LinkedIn as a strategic resume database tool to find applicants and proactively recruit them or target them with ads for their open positions. If your LinkedIn profile is a match to the keyword terms they identify, you will find yourself being served up ads for their jobs.

What if you don’t have time to tailor your resume for each job to which you apply? An efficient way to use keywords is to look through a good sample of job postings (5-10) for the positions you are seeking and see what keywords terms are used across all of them. Then apply the process suggested above.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating that you make up experience that you don’t have. But if you have the skills and experience that your dream job at your dream company requires, use the language they use to show that you’re a perfect fit! Just be careful not to copy whole blocks of text from the job description. 

A second, more time consuming but very worthwhile approach to finding keywords is to have conversations with people who work at the companies to which you are applying. Speaking to them will give you the buzzwords that are unique to that company and will also convey the core skills that they value. These networking conversations are helpful in so many ways that my next blog will cover how to get them and use them to your full advantage.

Happy job hunting!

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