What Keywords Should I Use On My Resume? Job search question of the week

Aug 12 2010 in reCareered Blog, Resumes by Phil Rosenberg

“What keywords should I use on my resume?” may be the top question I hear from candidates. It’s often surprising to job seekers: there’s an easy answer … or an effective answer.

The question on keywords is a natural – we’ve all heard that HR databases and ATS systems pre-screen resumes based on keywords. The thought process is usually … If I just knew the “magic” keywords I’d get lots of interviews.

There’s an effective answer to this question and also an answer that’s easy. They aren’t the same …

Occasionally I post a job search question from one of our readers. This was a question asked during the Q & A portion of my complimentary Resume Revolution! webinars (enroll at no cost at http://resumeWebinar.com). I’ve seen the same question posed on a number of job search groups, including mine (Career Change Central on Linkedin at http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/1800872).

T.R. shared a question about her own job search, and asked:

“What are the best keywords to use on my resume?”

Keywords: Do You Want The Effective Answer Or The Easy Answer?

Everyone wants the easy answer, of course. The lure of a few “magic” words that will unlock the hiring manager’s door, leading to the interview express train sounds too good to be true.

It sounds too good to be true, because it is too good to be true …

Here’s some examples of the easy answer:

Just one problem – these easy answers don’t work well. How can one set of keywords match the unique needs and unique internal language of a specific company and hiring manager? If easy solutions actually worked, wouldn’t your friends tell you about how easy their job search is?

Using the easy answer – a single set of keywords – means that you are betting that the keywords you choose magically match the words an employer is searching for.

Do you realize how bad those odds are? You have better odds playing Lotto.

The effective answer isn’t easy – it takes a lot of work. Many candidates just aren’t willing to devote that much effort to a single opportunity, because they are used to an environment where there were more jobs than candidates. For the past 2 years and probably for the next few years, there’s no more “low hanging fruit” – so the easy ways that used to work just aren’t effective anymore.

The Effective Way To Use Keywords:

The most effective keywords are the ones that are relevant for a specific opportunity, a specific manager, and a specific company. Since no two opportunities, managers or companies are the same, they aren’t looking for the same keywords … even for comparable positions. For example, a company may use entirely different words and phrases to describe the duties of an administrative assistant compared to another company – even if the actual jobs are essentially the same, they are described (and searched for) differently.

Effective keyword strategies come from research, to understand how the target company communicates, the words/phrases they use, their problems/issues/goals, and how these effect the hiring manager. The greater understanding you have of these data points, the better chance you’ll have at matching keyword searches by that company and for that opportunity.

Sources of effective keyword research:

  • The Job Description: Look carefully at the job description to find 5-10 key words in the description. Since HR typically just gets bullet pointed criteria from a hiring manager, it’s a good bet that those criteria are used verbatim in the job description.
  • Company communications: Read any public information you can get your hands on from your target company. Look for jargon and tone. Examples of public information that can be useful are:

    – Annual/Quarterly reports
    – News articles
    – Interviews with company managers
    – Press releases
    – Company website
    – Company brochures/marketing materials

  • Informational interviews: Informational interviews can be one of the best ways to uncover problems and to gain an understanding of a company’s communication style. Listen carefully.
  • Guerrilla Job Search tactics: See http://recareered.blogspot.com/2009/11/guerrilla-job-search-tactics.html.

Sure we’d all prefer the easy route, but aren’t we really after effectiveness in search? Seriously, how many candidates do you know who describe their job search as easy? Would you believe them?

Readers – Do you have any suggestions of where to find effective keyword research?


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Phil shows you why your current job search strategies work against you and how to replace them with strategies that improve your odds. Phil provides you with research - cold, hard statistics provided by job boards and hiring managers themselves, to show you what works for you and against you in the worst job market in our lifetimes.

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Source: http://reCareered.com
Author: Phil Rosenberg

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