Beating the Applicant Tracking System: Identifying the Keywords to Include on Your Resume

woman smashing computer By now, you probably know that most employers use Applicant Tracking Systems to weed through the onslaught of incoming resumes, and use keyword matching to identify the most qualified candidates. I am frequently asked by jobseekers how to identify the keywords to include in their resume.

It is not some deep, dark secret. It is actually quite easy to figure out which keywords to include on your resume. For starters, carefully review the job posting. If it is a well-written job posting, you should be able to easily identify the keywords. They are the specific experience, skills and education required of the ideal candidate. Highlight all these keywords and work them into your resume in context.

However, sometimes the job posting is not well written. If the job posting does not provide a lot of information, visit the company’s website – you may find an expanded job posting there. In addition, many companies include information regarding the type of employees they are seeking on their main career page. Be sure to read about their company culture, as well, to make sure it will be a good fit for you.

You can also search online for similar job descriptions. I highly; it is a job search engine that scours 36K+ company websites for current job postings. You will notice common keywords and industry-specific terms in the job descriptions to add to your resume.

Keep in mind, if you are applying for a job as an experienced professional in the same field, you already know the keywords to use. Your relevant experience, career accomplishments and qualifications should already contain most of the keywords for the position. You will want to add any additional keywords from the posting throughout your resume to optimize every section.

A few tips regarding keywords:

1. Applicant Tracking Systems are very simple computer programs. Most do not recognize synonyms. If the job posting says “collaboration” and you use “teamwork”, the ATS will not consider it a match. The same theory applies to abbreviations. If the job posting says “Human Resources” and you use “HR” in your resume, it may not be considered a match. Because you are not sure which the employer will use, the safest bet is to use both the entire word and the abbreviation somewhere in your resume.

If you have a unique job title, include the more common equivalent title in parentheses. For example, if your title was “Client Satisfaction Manager” you should add (Customer Service Manager) in parentheses after your title on your resume, so that the ATS will return a keyword match.

2. Many of the systems use weighted ranking. Those resumes that contain more of the keywords are rated higher. But, you cannot simply stuff your resume with keywords. You should use them strategically throughout both your resume and cover letter, in proper context, to show you are, in fact, a good match for the position.

I have heard of desperate jobseekers who jam pack the white space on their resume with keywords using white font. This is a terrible idea! First of all, if you are not qualified for the position you should not waste your time, or the hiring manager’s time, by applying for the job. Second, do you really want your first interaction with the hiring company to be deceptive? The Applicant Tracking System will show the “keyword stuffing” and the company will not want to have anything to do with you.

3. Some jobseekers use to produce a word cloud that represents the level of keyword match between the job posting and their resume. I personally do not recommend it. I think it is better for jobseekers to thoroughly read each job posting and only apply for jobs for which they have 90% of the qualifications. Otherwise, they are just wasting their time and adding to their frustration. In this competitive job market, employers are asking for very high skillsets, and they can get them.

This keyword matching is a step that cannot be overlooked! You need to adapt your resume to accommodate today’s technology, if you want to get a job.

Equally as important as keywords is the formatting you use for your resume. If your formatting is not compatible with the Applicant Tracking System, the system literally cannot read the information on your resume! Visit us next week for tips on how to format your resume properly to be compatible with Applicant Tracking Systems, and avoid the dreaded “Resume Black Hole”!

Trish Thomas founded The Resume Resource in 2009 to help people advance their careers with rewarding jobs that provide more than just a paycheck. As a Career Coach and Resume Writer, she provides her clients with the tools, strategies and confidence needed to achieve their goals and  guides  them through the job search process to make it less overwhelming and more successful.

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