Resume Keywords: A Primer

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If you want to advance from anonymous job applicant to interview candidate, your resume simply must include the right keywords. That is a fact of life today, no matter which company you apply to.

Keywords are phrases or nouns that describe industry-specific experience and expertise. Keywords can include buzzwords specific to your industry, jargon, awards or even job titles and technologies that someone outside the industry might not even recognize. Recruiters and potential employers search resumes for keywords that match skills and experiences required in a particular job.

Keywords can make or break your resume, especially your on-line resume. On-line resumes are scanned by software that specifically looks for keywords that match words in an employer job description. Recruiters often use resume software scanning technology to match a resume to a job description.

A Practitioner's View

Jennifer Gray, manager of talentQuest, an executive search firm based in Portsmouth, N.H., says, "I search for resumes based on keywords and I absolutely recommend that our applicants think about and use keywords in their resumes. I prefer keywords to be used in the body of the resume, so I can ascertain when and where a certain skill was used. Our agency has scanning software and we look at all resumes manually as well. Keywords are important in both scenarios."

The keywords should describe the most important experience you have to qualify for the job. If your resume has the right keywords, the computer will select the resume for further consideration. Omit keywords or use the wrong ones, and you may fall into the black hole of on-line job applications that are never seen again.

Your Optimal Keyword Strategy

How do you select and strategically use keywords? Read the job description and analyze your background. Figure out where there is a match and make sure those words are in the body of your resume. If you are using a "Summary of Qualifications" or "Professional Summary" section, that is a great place to include keywords. Some resume writers advise creating a "keyword" section within the body of the resume. This is a quick and easy way for a person to scan your resume for a match.

If you are lucky enough to get a live person reading your resume, consider that you get about 30 seconds to catch the reader's attention. Often it's less. Placing keywords up front gives you a better chance at catching a reviewer's eye. If a reader finds the exact experience listed in a job description matches a keyword near the top of your resume, she will probably route you to the group marked for further evaluation. Getting your resume pulled from a mountain of paper or files is a calculated, strategic exercise.

Repetition

Remember the old adage, "practice makes perfect"? Candidates who had several opportunities to apply critical job skills in their employment experience should make sure that does not get lost in the body of the resume. Repeating keywords is a good strategy to create emphasis. Some programs count the number of times a keyword is mentioned. Repetition of the right experience will catch a resume reader's attention.

Representing your experience honestly and accurately is always the best policy. If you have done mergers and acquisitions or financial analysis in more than one job, say so.

"Financial services is such a broad concept. The keywords narrow the pool down and that is very helpful," says Rick Faubert, partner and chief administrative officer of America Growth Capital, a national, emerging growth focused investment bank. "It helps identify the experience the person has. It shows that they know the terminology. Otherwise, the resume can get lost with the number of resumes that come in for any one opening."

Faubert cites another benefit of keywords for his firm: "A bulge bracket bank has a broad spectrum of services. We, on the other hand, are much more specific. We are looking for a seamless transfer of experience and skills. Keywords represent focus. Focus gets you noticed."

The correct use of the right keywords can help you avoid being screened out. However, strive to keep some "sizzle" in your resume. Your industry specific experience will get you noticed, but being chosen for an interview is about the whole package.

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