An Effective Strategy to Get Your Resume Ahead

If you’ve been applying to jobs online, chances are you used an ATS (applicant tracking system) to upload your resume before hitting the “apply” button.

An increasing number of organizations are integrating the ATS to facilitate their hiring process. Essentially, the applicant tracking software automates an organization’s recruiting and staffing operations, and centralizes all candidate data—including résumés, cover letters and job application documents.

In today's competitive job market, relevant keywords in the resume are fundamental to getting your job application noticed. Keywords are specific terms the hiring manager is looking for.  No matter how experienced you are, if you can't make it past the scanning software used to screen applicants, you decrease your opportunity for an interview. Using the right keywords will maximize your chances of landing your resume on top of the pile of applicants.  It shows the prospective employer you are a good fit for the job.

The ATS software acts similar to a search engine. Some recruiters use this tool to categorize strong versus weak resumes. Generally, the ATS filters job applications based on criteria such as specific skills, job titles, and any other relevant information.For example, a hiring manager inputs a job title or skills, and then selects “search resumes”. The system scans through the job applications, looking for the identified “keywords”; as it sifts through the existing data, it reveals the most compatible resumes. The documents with the hiring manager’s chosen keywords will score as a “best match”, and consequently, the recruiter will take the time to read these resumes. 

When preparing your resume, you can insert keywords throughout the document –in your professional summary, skills and competencies, employment, and education sections.

There are various categories of keywords.  Here are a few examples: 

  • Degrees (e.g., “MBA”, “BA in Psychology”)

  • Professional Designations (e.g., “PMP”, “CPA”)

  • Job Titles (e.g., “Finance Manager”, “Procurement Specialist”)

  • Responsibilities and Functions (e.g., “Payroll”, “Training”) 

  • Technical Proficiency (e.g., “MS Office Suite”, “AutoCAD”)

  • Industry-Specific Certifications (e.g., “Six Sigma”, “ISO”)

  • Hard Skills (e.g., “Computer programming”, “Translating from English to Spanish”)

  • Soft Skills (e.g., “Resourceful”, “Time management”)

You can find these keywords in the job description of the position you are applying to – look under the qualifications, responsibilities or competencies sections. These are the “must haves” or the “nice to haves” the recruiter has identified and is searching to see in your resume.  Usually, you will also find these same terms repeated in various job descriptions with the same job title. Compare each job description carefully, identify the keywords that keep coming back and highlight the keywords that are most relevant to each position. Keywords will vary depending on the job, the industry you’re targeting and the needs of the company. 

Once you identify the keywords in the job description, make sure you incorporate them into your resume. For example, if the position you are targeting requires “ERP software knowledge”, use those same words. If you only indicate “SAP”, the ATS may not identify as a match if “SAP” was not tagged as a keyword in this case.  Instead, the following would be a better option: “ERP software knowledge: SAP”.

When possible, use keywords in your cover letters, too. If you’re answering a job posting, mirroring specific words as closely as possible to the actual wording of the ad or job description can advantage you. When you echo the hiring manager/recruiter’s words – the familiar language will speak to them. 

On the flip side, using keywords excessively can seem as plagiarism- moderation is key. 

In conclusion, using keywords wisely and strategically is a great technique to get your candidacy ahead of the pack.

Wishing you much success!



About the author

Karine Shogher Touloumjian is a bilingual Canadian Certified Resume Strategist with a background in Recruitment and Human Resources.

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