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How and Where Keywords Work Best in a Resume

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​Keywords determine how often your resume is found in recruiters' searches. The more keywords that are directly relevant to a specific job, the higher the resume will rank in resume database searches and the more likely it will be found and read.

Conversely, a one-size-fits-all resume that tries to be everything to everyone ends up meaning little to anyone because it lacks the focus and data-density that makes it discoverable. If you aren't getting interviews, one reason could be that your resume isn't focused and adequately data-dense to be discovered in database searches.

A resume focused on a specific job, based on an analysis of a few jobs with the same or similar titles, is a resume built with employers' needs in mind. It uses keywords—the words and phrases employers use in their job descriptions—and will be found in database searches far more frequently. Once found in a database search, its relevant data-density will dramatically increase the odds of your receiving interviews and job offers, and your research will pay off.

Here are four steps to building a job-targeted resume:

1.   Include the Target Job Title

The target job title is the first keyword or key phrase to use in a resume. It comes right after your name and contact information and is usually bolded and maybe a point or two larger in font size. It identifies the job title you are pursuing. 

2.   Create a Performance Summary and Profile

A short paragraph on performance summary and profile follows the target job title. It captures the essential, professional you. Here, discuss the skills you would bring to the job based on what employers want and need. Check out my column on Target Job Deconstruction (TJD) for the simplest way to objectively evaluate what employers are looking for, as well as how they prioritize and express those needs. When your TJD is finished, you'll have a prioritized list of their collective needs and wants.
Take three to six prioritized needs and write a short statement for each one that captures the professional skills you have in those areas. Next, combine those statements into a few short sentences so that the resume opens with a job title familiar to the recruiter and a brief introduction that exactly matches your skills to the employer priorities for this type of job—more great keywords.

3.    List Your Professional Skills

This section lists your professional skills, certifications and accreditations. Every skills-based keyword that is relevant to your target job and matches the employer's needs increases your resume's database discoverability. Meanwhile, the recruiter has the right job title, a snapshot of matching critical skills, and a list of the hard skills and acronyms that back up the statements made in the performance summary. With this approach, all the critical information needed to screen your resume is clearly stated within the first half of the first page.

4.    List Your Professional Experience

In the professional experience section of your resume, use the same words employers have used in their job descriptions. These are the keywords recruiters will use to find you.

For maximum discoverability, each job entry should include these components:

  • Employer name and employment dates. If one of your past employers is a lesser-known company, include a one-line description of what it does.
  • Job title. List the responsibilities of the job with examples of your accomplishments using keywords as they apply. Quantify your contributions where possible.
  • Skills. List skills-based keywords and acronyms that you used in this job. Using a smaller font for this section will help you save valuable space. Most resume database search algorithms reward keywords that are attached to dates. Don't be afraid to repeat skills-based keywords; this helps discoverability of your resume and puts your skill development in context for the recruiter.

A Note on Resume Length

A resume organized as I have explained will be more discoverable and the information more easily accessible to the reader. However, as jobs get more complex, they require more explanation. For professionals with more than seven years of experience, especially technology and science professionals and managers, it's difficult to cram all your relevant experience in a two-page resume.

When the first page makes a convincing argument, as it will, the rest of the resume will be read carefully. More-complex jobs demand longer resumes, but stay focused and trim where you can. For example, if you have been in your profession for more than 20 years, you may decide that many older skills from the earlier years of your career are now irrelevant and only serve to date you.

Finally, run your resume through This resume optimization app will further help improve your resume's performance.


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