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Résumés: Why the right keywords aren’t enough

Loading your résumé with keywords isn’t enough to get you an interview.

Keywords on your résumé have taken the spotlight when it comes to penetrating the online systems. But they aren’t enough to get that all-important phone call.

* * *
John was meticulous when he prepared his résumé for a position. He took hours researching the company, checking out several job postings, categorizing keywords and integrating them into his résumé. It had been months and no one called.

Jane wanted her résumé to stand out. While her fellow jobseekers spent time finding the right keywords, Jane focused on what words NOT to use. She read the lists and spent hours tweaking each résumé before submitting it through the online systems. It had been months and no one called.
* * *
Wordle_KeywordsNotEnough Résumé keywords:
When it comes to résumé preparation, there’s a lot of chat about keywords.
A jobseeker could spend a lifetime reading the 75,000,000 articles on the web.

What are résumé keywords?
One article by CareerBuilder gives us a definition: “Keywords are specific words or phrases that job seekers use to search for jobs and employers use to find the right candidates.”

That is certainly a good reason to spend time learning about keywords. There is no question that keywords are a critical element, especially when considering the Applicant Tracking Systems.

Hopefully, most jobseekers understand the need to customize their résumé for every position so that keywords are prevalent. Some articles define the right keywords to use. Also, there are important cautions against using too many keywords because overkill could work against you. How do you define the right ones and the right balance?

Types of keyword chat:
The articles on résumé keywords run the gamut of classifications. By and large they fall into two basic categories:
  • Words and phrases to include.
  • Words and phrases to avoid.
The focus of most of these articles rests in getting through the Application Tracking Systems. I might add that there is more to it than the keywords. They are an important factor, but keywords are only one of at least four or five filters that parse through your résumé. (If you want to know more about the process I used to understand these systems please read the article: Résumé fonts and ATS – the facts!

Contradictory information about keywords:
The Internet is full of contradictory information. This topic is no exception.

A blog by Vault interviewed Jay Block, an executive career coach in West Palm Beach, Fla., and co-author of “2500 Keywords To Get You Hired”
Although many keywords are industry specific, Mr. Block says, certain phrases are important to almost all companies. They include “communication skills,” “problem-solving,” “team work,” “leadership,” “resource optimization,” and “image and reputation management.”
Business Insider reiterates the sentiment of many others in this article on keywords:
“Resume software filtering works and the fact is, your resume has to mirror the job posting,” Rick Gillis, author of the book “Job!: Learn How to Find Your Next Job In 1 Day,” tells us. “The posting contains all the key words.” (Emphasis mine.)
KeyInHeadImagebyddpavumbaWcredits The Keyword Dilemma:
This gets very confusing. On the one hand, we are admonished to use keywords like “team work” and “problem solving”, yet, a quick Internet search on: “Words and phrases NOT to use in a résumé” will bring up articles that list those exact phrases.

Further, the following phrases are found on a majority of job postings:
    Strong communication skills
    Team work
    Problem solving
…and these too show up on the “Do not use” lists. Who is right?

Why keyword advice can be problematic:
My observation is that these articles are trying to solve two different problems.
  1. Many articles are about getting through the parsing systems. Those articles tell you to use the exact phrases that are found in the job posting.
  2. Other advice is from the perspective of a hiring professional. This can be a recruiter, a Human Resource generalist, or a hiring manager. Once you have victory over the parsing systems, your cover and résumé have to appeal to real people who need clear, easy to find, succinct information on who you are and what you have to offer. It has to be information that’s important to them!
What’s the answer on keywords?
So the answer is this:

Cover letters and résumés
have to get through the parsing systems
AND
appeal to hiring professionals
with credible information.

Then there is the issue of differentiation. A company culture is defined by its vocabulary—its keywords!

Consequently, you, as a jobseeker would like to show that you fit in so you use the keywords from their website as well as the job posting. That’s great! However, these are also the words and phrases that the hiring professionals are most familiar with. So if your résumé has ONLY those words, it may demonstrate that you may “fit” but it won’t help you stand out.

Use words and phrases
that show you will fit in
AND
make you stand out.

Keyword Tip Number 1:
Avoid generic words and phrases. Add descriptors that match the intention of the job description and show that you bring added value. So the right keyword or phrase has to match the job posting AND describe important information about you. Together they should create a compelling story.
Instead of “Team player” try: “Collaborative team member.” For “Project manager”, consider adding a descriptor like “Non-profit project manager” or “Software project manager (SDLC).” “Strong communication skills” might better be framed as: “Open, positive communicator.”
Keyword Tip Number 2:
We’ve established the importance of using key words from the job posting, however, I suggest adding a few words and phrases that bring value and are NOT found on the posting. Again, this is about the intention of the job description.
For example, if you deal with company finances, then “Regulatory compliance” might be added. Is the job in a manufacturing or laboratory environment? If so, then “Operational safety processes” might be something to work into your résumé. Do you manage a team? Then consider, “Team motivation and accountability.”
The idea here is to bring something that is NOT on the job posting and demonstrate that you understand the position and you are not simply parroting back the words from the job description.

Keyword Summary:
Your résumé is more than just information. Your résumé creates an experience and it is something that can be crafted for your potential reader. You can control, to a certain extent, the message that your reader receives from your résumé. Keywords are vitally important, but they are one element of several.


Right job,
Right fit,
Right now!

mlareau@forwardmotioncareers.com.
Call (860) 833-4072 for a free 30-minute consultation.

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