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Writing More Effective Resumes - Injecting Keywords into Your Cover Letter and Resume

by Daniel Wade - 3.21.09 (modified 1/10/2010)

So you're looking for a job? With unemployment rates rising, finding decent employment can be challenging. In this article, we'll talk about how the processes of producing, delivering and screening job resumes have changed significantly in recent times and, in particular, the important role keywords now play and will continue to play throughout the foreseeable future.

What are resume keywords and what purpose do they serve? As some of you have already guessed, keywords are words and phrases you place within your resume that are specifically relevant to the occupation being sought. In other words, these are "key" terms and terminology used that help your resume get noticed. Neglecting to incorporate keywords could result in your resume not being read at all.

Unlike the 1990's and prior, the art of acquiring employment has changed. In those days, you were advised to develop a cover letter and resume that would "stand out" from the rest. By selecting unique fonts, font sizes and page structuring (formatting), you could almost guarantee that your resume would at least be looked at. And while those tactics may still be somewhat successful for the smaller mom and pop operations, in today's larger corporate environment, the application of those techniques can hurt your chances of being spotted.

Advances in technology and the recent decline in the economy have changed the job screening and hiring practices employed by Human Resource Managers, and it's important that you understand the changes that have taken place and how to better position yourself for success.

Two of the most significant changes have occurred in these areas:

1. The methods used to deliver and receive a resume.
2. The methods used to "weed out" those less qualified or desirable.

Now when we say, "those less qualified", we're not suggesting that their associated job skills are lacking, but rather that their resumes fail to iterate such qualifications. In other words, their resumes lack the predominance of specific keywords that the employer is seeking, thus they are discarded. We'll talk about the various screening methods used later.

Back to the first point: Many cover letters and resumes today are delivered electronically via email or by search through posts on the internet. This is a very cost effective way to deliver your resume to hundreds, if not thousands, of employers. Having said that, there are things you need to know before you post your resume online.

Understand that the internet can be used both to your advantage and disadvantage. While it can give you the advantage of advertising your job skills to potentially thousands of viewers, it can also lead savvy employers down roads that bear details about yourself you'd rather they not find.

While some of this information may be un-erasable (posts made in blogs, etc.), other info can be changed and cleaned up. For example, if you have an online presence in some social networking website such as MySpace or FaceBook or even YouTube, you may want to examine these profiles and posts closely. From an employer's prospective, what's posted may produce an adverse effect, differing from your original intentions and one that's set apart from society in general. We're getting off the subject... let's get back to why keywords in a resume are so important.

As you may or may not already know, many employers utilize software to screen job applicants' resumes for particular sought after keywords to determine who's qualified or best fit to advance on to the next stage within the hiring process. If your resume lacks those keywords, you may be overlooked - even if you're the most qualified candidate in the lot. Having said that, the frequency and exact placement of those keywords is subject to speculation and will certainly vary from one employer to another; but make no mistake about it, keyword employment within your resume certainly matters.

It may seem unfair that such practices are being utilized today and that otherwise experienced people are being overlooked, but from the employers' vantage point, such screening saves a lot of time and money. And don't think that such techniques are applied solely to electronic resumes... they're not. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software has enabled employers to scan and categorize hard copies of resumes as well. Which brings up another point - in case we forget to mention it later - when you type your resume, whether to deliver electronically or paper copy via mail, try to use a font that is common to most computers... such as Times New Roman, Arial, etc. Why?

Two reasons: First of all, that font that you've embedded within your resume and that looks so cool on your computer may not exist on the potential employer's computer. So what difference does that make? Well, if their computer doesn't support that particular font, the operating system will substitute a different font in its place and... well, let's just say that the appearance of your resume and the employer's first impression of yourself may suddenly digress from the expected "cool" to possibly "fool". Worse than that, your resume may become totally illegible.

Secondly, as mentioned before, the employer's OCR software may not be able to recognize and interpret what you've written, deeming the document "unscannable" and thereby placing yourself, "NA" so to speak; at least, within their firm.

A list of popular and acceptable fonts goes beyond the scope of this article. You can do a search on the internet for "commonly installed fonts" or "system fonts" later. While you're at it, you may want to find out more about OCR software. The more you know, the more likely you'll land the job you're seeking.

Keyword Research

It's a good idea to research the keywords that companies are employing in their search for qualified applicants... after all, they pay a lot of money in researching those words. From the ads, you can compile a list of the keywords they're looking for. Thunder Page, one of the software applications we've developed, makes this process very easy. And don't rely on getting accurate information from just one or two advertisements; check several. You'll likely soon discover that there are key terms and phrases that you have overlooked in the past.

Once you've compiled your list of the most important (relevant) keywords, compare that list with those in your resume. Again, we've developed software to highlight resume keywords as well, but you can do it by hand... it just takes a little longer - and you might miss a couple.

Rewording Your Resume

Now that you have your list, you will probably notice areas of strength and areas of weaknesses within your resume. But at least now you're armed with material that can help you restructure your resume to more accurately reflect your qualifications. At this point, you may be tempted to fudge a little on a few details using your new found tooling. Our best advice... do not embellish! It may help get your foot in the door, but once discovered, it will likely give your new employer prudence to stick their foot up your derriere, landing you back in the unemployment line.

We hope this article helps get you back on your feet! And don't forget to let us know how it worked out for you.
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