Use Context to Get Resume Keywords Noticed

Susan Hall

Dang, resume writing is hard. Even as a professional writer, I find it tough. Resume specialists tell me that most resumes don't even make the "maybe" list because candidates fail to understand the difference between duties and accomplishments and fail to state their accomplishments in business terms.<br />

If, like mine your job hasn't been all about the numbers, trying to state it that way is especially difficult.


But here's an important tip: Don't wait until you need your resume to update it. When you pull one of those all-nighters or all-weekenders solving a big IT crisis or implementing some new system, keep notes on what you did, how many were on the team, time saved, crises averted and other miracles performed. You won't remember the details two years later.


Your resume's never completed - mine's in a constant state of rewrite because I keep seeing new advice about improving it (and, ideally, adding accomplishments). That's probably a good thing, because one of the key pieces of resume-writing advice is to tailor it specifically to the job for which you're applying.


To make it past a computerized Applicant Tracking System, it needs to use keywords. Use the same words from the job ad in your resume, showing how your experience matches the skills being sought. Miriam Salpeter, in her book "Social Networking for Career Success," suggests pasting job ads into sites such as Wordle or Tag Crowd to help you get a better handle on the important words in your field. These sites create a "word cloud" to visually show the relative importance of various words in text. Doing so with a particular job posting also can help you zero in on the skills you need to address.


This piece at The Ladders explains that though keywords are important, just keeping a list of them won't cut it anymore. Like SEO writing, the words need to be in context. (OK, that's another thing on my resume I need to rework. Man, this makes me crazy!)


It quotes Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, which makes resume-parsing software: "Understanding that there's a difference between somebody who took a class in Java eight years ago and somebody who's been programming in Java every day for the last three years, (and understanding that) those are fundamentally different candidates," is an example of how contextualized resume parsing works.


Sigelman also explains that sometimes the most obvious words can elude us:

I (examined) one job description looking for a geologist. (The candidate's resume listed terms including) water modeling, etc. - all sorts of hydrology (-related terms) and things like that, but never once mentioned the word geology' on the resume. The recruiter may have missed this person.

The Ladders' 24-step checklist for dealing with computerized systems points out that your use of keywords in context needs to demonstrate how your expertise is exactly what the company's looking for. If you can read this list and not come up with dozens of things you need to do better, you're farther ahead in the game.

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