Using Keywords In Your Resume – Why Are They So Important?

So, you have found a job, and you meet the expectations of the job description.

How do you go about making sure that you have a good chance of success in gaining an interview?

If you have been reading my blogs, you will be aware that Applicant Tracking Systems now play an important role in the first stage of applicant selection. More than 80% of organisations in Australia now use some form of digital sorting, to go through the hundreds, if not thousands of resumes that are sent to them electronically via the Internet, email or social media services.

Resumes are, however, still read by humans, and many of the principles that were true before, remain so. These include:

  • Research the organisation.

  • Analyse the job advertisement and position description.

  • Write your resume to fit the role and the company.

  • Grab the attention of the recruiter within the first half of the page.

However, with Applicant Tracking Systems, you now have to be even more focussed in the specific words that you use, so that a computer can also identify them.

Why is this so?

The resume that you send is fed and stored straight into a database. If there is a new job opening, recruiters will enter a series of keywords that match the position they are looking to recruit for. The keywords are often directly linked to the wording used in the job advertisement and position description and would include:

  • qualifications

  • skills

  • years of experience directly related to the position

The Applicant Tracking System will rate your resume according to how many times it matches the specific keywords entered into the system. The more matches, the higher your rating, and the more likely your resume will be selected. The next stage is often a human review of the resume, where they will also be looking for how well you fit the position.

It might be tempting to just write a resume that matches the job description, regardless of whether you have the experience or not—but remember:

A resume should truthfully represent your qualifications, experience, skills and achievements, as recruiters will check for evidence via documents and your referees.

You don’t want to end up being disqualified from all jobs within a company, or even have your name blacklisted elsewhere, just because you were trying to beat the system!

So what should you do?

Do your research. Gather all the documents that are important for the role such as the job advertisement, position description, information about the company etc.

Make a list of all the key words and phrases within each of these.

Select words that match directly to your own skills, achievements, experience and qualifications.

Incorporate the keywords exactly as they have been written in the documents you have researched. e.g. If the advertisement calls for a Learning and Development Manager, and your role was Training Manager, utilise Learning and Development Manager as a heading for your resume, or include it in the summary (don’t change your position title as this will be checked in the reference check). Also, if the job description is written as a plural, use the plural form, as the singular form will not be recognised. e.g. if the job advertisement stated weekly reports, it will not recognise a different version, such as weekly reporting.

Try to incorporate keywords naturally throughout the resume, and if possible, try to find a number of instances for utilising each word. As a rule, hard skills are more important than soft skills, and the higher the frequency, the higher you will rate. For instance, the recruiter might be looking for someone who has Adobe Illustrator experience. You might decide to list the skill under ‘Technical Skills’, and also include it in a brief description outline of your role. e.g. Developed website content using Adobe Illustrator. You might also be a specialist within your company, so you can incorporate this into your summary at the top.

Spell things out in full – do not use acronyms (e.g. use Learning and Development—not L&D). Acronyms can mean a number of things, and so the software generally doesn’t recognise them.

If you have done any work in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), you might recognise that there are similar principles in play to those described above.

As you can imagine, utilising keywords is one of the areas that resume writers spend a lot of time on. Regardless of whether you go it alone or use the services of a resume writer, remember that the most important point is always to gear your resume, cover letter and/or selection criteria to the job and the company that you are applying to.

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