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Are you optimized for your job search?


So now that we're all back into the swing of things, I've decided to update some of the information one of the key barriers to job hunting.....Resume Optimization.

We've all heard about Search Engine Optimization (
SEO; click here if you don't know what that SEO is) for web sites. It's that bit of text word wizardry that helps a website rank higher in search results. The higher the ranking the better the SEO of a site. So how does this affect you?

It might come as a surprise that Search Engines, Job Board sites and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS; the software that HR departments and search firms use to manage the recruitment process internally) all work in a similar way. That means that your resume is scanned for key words and then ranked just like Google ranks websites. The lower your ranking, the less of a chance the recruiter (or HR rep) at the other end will look at your resume. It might seem somewhat unfair, lazy or irresponsible to only look at the resume that have the highest ranking. But before you start writing your Congressperson to complain ask yourself how often you look past the first 1-2 pages of internet search results. The ATS and Job Boards are simply search engines that have been tasked for a specific purpose. The fact that they are being utilized for this specialized purpose doesn't change the underlying way they work.

In this economy there can be as many as 100+ resumes sent in for every posted job. If you are in a part of the country that has been hit harder than most the number can easily exceed 200+. In both cases it means that only the top 10%-20% will be looked at and/or contacted. The rest will be set aside and only reviewed if the hiring manager is unhappy with the top resumes. In simple terms; It doesn't matter how qualified you are for the role if you don't rank high enough your chances for being considered drop to almost zero.

Luckily there a few simple things that you can do to address this issue and give your resume the best chance to get bumped to the front of this line.

  • 1. Know Your Keywords

Whenever a resume gets ranked, or returned in a search result, the software performing the search looks only for the keywords and categories that the user has specified. Those specifications come for one of two places; A. the job description, or B. the search string (keywords that the searcher input). Based one of these specifications your resume is “crawled”, or looked at by the software, and ranked according to how many times the specified keywords appear in your resume. The greater the number of words that your resume has in common with what the user is searching for, the higher your ranking. Now I can just feel all of the techies out there starting to say; “Wait there is more to it than just that!” True. But a search algorithm white paper on is not what I'm trying to write here. So just respect the soapbox and throw stones after I finish. We're not doing search science today.

So now that we have a overview understanding of how the whole resume search thing works let's talk about how to find your personal keywords. If you do a quick search of jobs on any of the major job boards for what you do you'll soon start to see a pattern within the job descriptions in the areas of industry terms, technology, skills, duties, and so on. Theses keywords that the job descriptions have in common are more than likely the same keywords that will be used when ranking your resume. Look more carefully and you will see that some words are abbreviated or an acronym is used (PM for project manager, CPA for certified public accountant, etc.). These variations of a term, word, title or whatever need to be reflected within your document.

Also please don't use casual language to describe your duties at a job. For instance if you are a bookkeeper don't list; “...balance the books, maintain the accounts, pay bills..” as the description of your duties. Doing so means that you'll miss out on critical keywords found by saying instead; “Performed journal entries, maintained chart of accounts, month-end close, accounts payables and receivables....”

Always shoot for the technical description of your duties on your resume because it has the highest probability of containing the keywords you'll most need.

  • 2. Reformat Your Resume

Now before you butcher your resume and drench it in the dictionary lets discuss the format a bit. Now I could write a book on how to format a resume (wait a sec I actually am) so I'm not going to tell you how to design one here. But what I will say is that you need to make sure that the words show up in the right place, and that you don't come off like a broken record in your job descriptions.

The best places to focus on keywords are the following:

    Your Job Duties: Again, be technical but brief here. However if you have used the same technical software in two different jobs, then list it in both places.

    Your Skills Section: List everything and don't abbreviate anything. If there are acronyms for some of your skills then list them. Remember, these are all business skills. No one cares if you swim, paint or model unless it's an essential skill in your trade.

    • 3. Document Properties

    This area is overlooked by many people when composing their resume. The properties of a document can have a HUGE impact on the probability of a resume being considered. The three factors affecting document properties are;
    1. The format of the resume file; 2. The layout of the document; and 3. The keywords in the file description area.

    Like most people, your resume is probably in a format that is native to your personal system. And like most you're also assuming that since these files can be opened by your computer that the reader will have no trouble with your resume. Hate to be the bearer of bad news but it just isn't so quiet yet.

    The reason is that all to often the initial reader is the ATS or Job Board software. And both struggle with anything more than is not easily digested. If graphics, tables or any other thing is used in the document that challenges the software the odds jump significantly that the system won't read it properly. Also many candidates like to “print” their resume to PDF so that the look and feel is maintained. The issue with PDF resumes is that often these virtual printers lock the text (to prevent the reader from copying) by default. This means that the ATS won’t be able to extract (copy) the text of your resume and as a result your “ranking” will tank. The worst outcome of this is that the system will return a blank file that looks like an error.

    So saving you resume as a WORD DOC, RFT or
    UNLOCKED PDF file will let you keep your fonts, italics, bolded words, bullets and and the other basic formatting that will still let you present your resume in a way that suits you. What it won't do is gum up the ATS software and your chances of being ranked high enough for consideration.

    One last thing...the File Description area of your resume document. If you go to the “FILE” menu in your word processing program you'll see the word “PROPERTIES” in the drop down menu. Click on “PROPERTIES” and you should see a box with several tabs. One of the tabs should say “DESCRIPTION” or something similar and in that tab you'll find a box that says “KEYWORDS”.

    We discussed your personal keywords earlier so you should already have a list of 10-15 words. Input them in the “KEYWORDS” box with commas after each word or term (example: accountant, journal entries, AP, accounts payables, …...). You can put as many keywords as you want here so you're good with tossing in the kitchen sink. When you are done hit the “OK” button then re-save your resume, and SHAZAM!! Your resume is now optimized.

    We’ll discuss more about resumes later this year. But for now Happy job hunting!

    Cheers, R-A-L