Technology has changed the nature of our jobs and the way employers look for their staff. One of the most challenging of these changes, for job hunters, is the use of electronic resume screening and tracking systems.
When human eyes are replaced with initial computer screening, your techniques for landing interviews have to adapt to the changed landscape. Your emailed resumes now frequently go directly into a computer database and wait there to be matched with company needs. So while technology makes the distribution of resumes easier, it creates another hurdle for you to clear.
Here is how the initial screening process works from the company side, when management has a need: the company controller, for example, needs a new accountant, so she sits down at the keyboard and types in “Accountant.” The resume-tracking software then presents an extensive list of descriptive words (or keywords) that might be used to define the responsibilities of that job, and the controller clicks on the words that apply to her specific requirements for the open requisition. The program’s search feature then reviews all the resumes in the database. Your resume and a thousand like it can be scanned in seconds, ranking your particular document by the number of applicable keywords it contains. The higher your document’s ranking, the greater likelihood that your resume will be read by human eyes.
Resume tracking software focuses on your professional skill sets, or core competencies. For example if you are a software developer, the program might be directed to search for words like Unix, Solaris, HTML, Java, XML, Visual Basic, etc.; if you are an accountant, the program might be directed to search for descriptors like: financial analysis, accounts payable, accounts receivable, employee scheduling, payroll, payroll systems and the like. When electronic resumes are stored and retrieved this way, it means that without the right words, our resumes are less likely to be high enough in the match-rankings to be retrieved and actually evaluated by a sentient human being. So naturally, you will want to use a wide a selection of relevant skill set descriptors in your resume; yet at the same time a resume the length of a novel is never going to get read.
The first step in making your resume compatible with the new realities is to identify all the skills you have developed over the years. Examine your resume development notes for keywords that encapsulate your competencies; but which perhaps (owing to space considerations) didn’t make it into your current resume. You may also want to study the descriptors that appear frequently in help wanted ads and electronic job postings for your profession; and especially the words that appear in ads for jobs to which you are applying. If you have a skill and it doesn’t appear somewhere in your resume, you may want to consider adding a Core Competencies section.
Such a section is the perfect spot to list the technical acronyms and professional jargon that you can’t fit comfortably into the body copy. Here’s an example of a keyword addition from a sales management professional:
- Market Trend Analysis
- Profit & Loss
- Business Development/Planning
- Management Needs Analysis
- Budget Management
- Account Management
- Sales Performance Evaluations
- Contract Negotiation
- Market Identification
- Sales Training and Development
- High-Impact Presentations
Space allowing, as a rule of thumb resumes should run under two pages, you can also repeat keywords that occur in the body of your resume. The software’s retrieval rankings are strictly numerical, simply counting the number of times selected keywords appear in each particular document.
A keyword section can be as long as you require, though they typically don’t run longer than 40 items and quite often are a little shorter. There’s no need to use definite or indefinite articles or conjunctions. Just list the word, starting with a capital and ending with a tab space, or similar, i.e.:
Management Needs Analysis Budget Management
This innovation in resume writing allows you to add a host of additional information in a space-efficient way. With it, you can list a host of supporting skills without the resulting document looking like it was created by the hand of Anthony Trollope.
A keyword or core competencies section increases the odds of an electronic screening agent making multiple matches between your resume and an open job requisition, because it allows you to pack more information into the document in limited space, and in the process moving your candidacy higher in those all important matched rankings. These bullets of valuable information are also tantalizing headlines for that Controller, who will see them as tantalizing topics for discussion.
Where does the keyword section go? As far as the retrieval software is concerned it doesn’t matter, because the software doesn’t care about the niceties of layout and flow. However, human eyes will also see this section, so there is a certain logic in putting it front and center, after any summary or objective or immediately after the contact information.
Don’t use keywords to extend the “reach” of your resume. Including keywords for areas where you have no professional expertise may get you a telephone conversation with an employer, but it will also quickly reveal you as an impostor.
You can think of a keyword section as an electronic business card that allows you to network with computers, add one and your electronic resume will become that much more effective.
Join Martin every week to learn more about writing a killer resume, getting more job interviews and turning job interviews into job offers at his free weekly webcast, Mondays at noon central. Details: http://my.knockemdead.com