Want to know a dirty little secret? Companies don’t read your resumes, they read your resume keywords. That’s right. Computers are used to conduct resume keyword searches on 90% of all resumes. Simply put, if you are not optimizing your resume with resume keywords, you run a great risk of not being found.
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS’s) are taking over the world
Nearly every Fortune 1000 company and many smaller companies use a system called an Applicant, or Talent, Tracking System (ATS). These systems are designed to scan and store resumes, cover letters, emails and anything else that you may send to a company in search of a job.
Some of these systems are smarter than others, but that isn’t saying much. Do you want to know how they find you in that vast database of resumes? They find you based on the resume keywords the HR manager or hiring manager enters into that system.
HR takes the position description the hiring manager gives them and loads it into the system. Then, the staff chooses, or the system automatically selects, the resume keywords that appear and are most relevant to the particular position.
They advertise the position and applicants submit their resumes and cover letters. These are loaded into the database. Those that have the keywords the company has chosen are graded based on resume keyword matching and pulled out for the hiring manager to review. On average the review lasts only 6 seconds.
Beware the ATS!
Unless the computer likes your resume, no one in the company is ever going to read it. In other words, if you haven’t written your resume to attract the attention of the computer looking for a match, you have wasted your time.
That’s right, all that hard work, that perfect resume edited by everyone in your family to make sure there were no misspellings, will sit on a hard drive twiddling its thumbs. What’s worse, is you will likely never know that a human being never saw that you were a perfect fit for the job.
You can prevent this tragedy
There is the good news. With a little bit of work, and armed with a new strategy, you can turn this whole thing on its head and in your favor. If you do it right, and it isn’t that hard to do, you will have a competitive advantage over all those who failed to read this blog.
Some things you need know to battle the ATS
Where do ATS’s look for resume keywords
The short answer is everywhere. Not only do they scan your resume, but they examine all sections of your resume. They also scan your cover letter and any emails you may have sent. And yes, similar systems are used on LinkedIn and job sites to find you. Here is a resource you will find useful.
ATS’s look for specific resume keywords
That’s right; you may need to use multiple variations of a term to make sure the one the system is looking for creates a match. For example, the system may have in its database, the keywords MBA, M.B.A. and Masters of Business Administration. It pays to make sure throughout your resume it is used in all three forms. Some systems use synonyms but don’t bet on it, not all do.
ATS’s search for resume keywords representing both soft and hard skills
Although they do look for both, the emphasis is usually on hard skills. But remember. The keyword list is almost always based on the job or position description. Consequently, and since you have the position description, you can know to a great degree what keywords the ATS is searching for. If you need assistance identifying your transferable skills, check this out.
Action words still matter, but “what you have done” keywords reign
You have heard that action words are important and they are as your resume will be reviewed by a hiring manager if you get past the ATS. But the most important keywords to include in your resume, profile and cover letter are keywords that tell the ATS, and hopefully the hiring manager, “what” you have done.
Where should your resume keywords appear?
Everywhere. In all sections; your summary, your accomplishments, your credentials and in your education section. The ATS looks at the entire resume and will find them wherever they are. It will give more weight to some if that is the way the HR professional set it up, and will undoubtedly reward multiple uses of the keywords it has been instructed to find.
There is a limit
So here is the tricky part. You still have to create a resume that can be read, or dare I say enjoyed, by a human being. Your resume keywords need to be set in context and appear to an eventual reader appropriately placed. In other words, the reader shouldn’t view your resume as a keyword “stuffing’ experiment.
Finding the right resume keywords is not a black art
The easiest way to get good at this is to “reverse engineer” what the company’s HR department is doing. Ask yourself, “How did they decide what keywords to include.” Well, here is how it works.
- The hiring manager goes to the HR department and says, I need to hire a new social media marketing expert.
- The HR department hands her a sample position description and says, “Mark this up and give it back to us.”
- She does and gives it back to HR.
- They then load this position description for a social media expert into the ATS.
- Then, both HR and the hiring manager look at the keywords the system has identified in the position description, possibly weighting some higher than others, and approve them.
That’s it. Every system and every HR department is a bit different, but generally, this is how the process works.
So what resume keywords do you want to use? You’re right, the ones they used!
Do you know which ones are weighted higher (if any)? No. But based on the way the position description is written you can probably ascertain this.
How to make love not war with the ATS
Step 1: Copy the text from the position description
Find a position description for the job of your dreams on Indeed, Monster, a company website, or any other place it might appear. I like this particular job posting because it is in Hawaii, a place where my family and I spent the best four years of our lives.
Step 2: Copy the entire text and past it into WordItOut
You are going to copy the whole position description and paste it into a Word Cloud Generator. Word cloud tools help you identify which keywords are used most often in a position description. Therefore, they are likely resume keywords the company will be looking for in your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.
I happen to like Word It Out as I can tweak it as I will show you.
Step 3: Voila! You now have in your hands the keywords you should consider
Now here is what I like about Word It Out. To me, this is pretty busy. And chances are the ATS isn’t looking for 100 different keywords, You can tell which are more important based on the font size, but here is a better way to do this.
On the right-hand side, you will see a menu item called “Word List.” Here, you can not only see the words the cloud generator has counted, but also change the number of words it displays in the cloud you create.
By changing the settings to 25 words, instead of 100, this is the new chart I get.
In reviewing these, you have to use some common sense. Some words like “all” and “month” probably aren’t keywords to worry about. These are the ones you should consider,
- social media
Now go do battle with the ATS’s of the world
Remember this. Most companies use Application Tracking Systems. What this means for you, is that if you haven’t been focusing on the use of keywords in your job search, you may be invisible to many of the companies to which you have sent your resume.
Before a person can scan your resume, a computer has to search it for the keywords contained in the job description. Include the keywords they are looking for, and your resume will get pulled, it will be read or scanned by a hiring manager, and you may just get a call to interview.
BTW, here are the answers to the three toughest interview questions you will likely be asked in your next interview.
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Take care till next week,
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