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Resume Keywords

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Not only do you need a good resume. Your resume must be designed to get the attention of computer software. In this section we will learn which critical resume keywords to use to get past the computer sentries and get you to the next level.


As discussed in step four of the resume writing process, using the right keywords for your particular experience and education is critical to the success of your resume if it is ever scanned or e-mailed into an electronic resume database. Without the right keywords, your resume will float in cyberspace forever waiting for a hiring manager to find it. If your resume contains all of the right keywords, then you will be among the first candidates whose resumes are reviewed. If you lack only one of the keywords, then your resume will be next in line after resumes that have them all, and so on.

Remember, your keywords are the experience and skills that come from the specific terminology used in your job. For instance, operating room and ICU immediately classify the experience of a nurse, but pediatric ICU narrows it down even further. Don't try to limit your resume by using fewer words. Recall, however, that you only need to use a word one time for it to be considered a "hit" in a keyword search. Try to use synonyms wherever possible to broaden your chances of being selected.

You should also understand the difference between a simple keyword search and a "concept" search. When a recruiter opens an electronic resume file in MS Word and sends the computer on a search for a single word like marketing which you can do in any word processing program with a few clicks of a mouse or function key or she is performing a keyword search. You are also performing a keyword search when you type a word or combination of words into the command line of a search engine like Yahoo or Excite.

A concept search, on the other hand, can bridge the gap between words by reading entire phrases and then using sophisticated artificial intelligence to interpret what is being said, translating the phrase into a single word, like network, or a combination of words, like project management.

The software that allows scanners to read your paper resume and turn it into an electronic resume is able to do just that. Resumix, one of the most widely used applicant tracking systems, reads the grammar of noun, verb, and adjective combinations and extracts the information for placement on the form that will become your entry in a resume database. Its expert system extraction engine uses a knowledge base of more than 120,000 rules and over ten million resume terms. It even knows the difference between Harvard Graphics (a computer software program) and Harvard (the university) by its placement on the page and its relationship to the header that precedes it (Computer Skills or Education). Aren't computers amazing?

Because of this complicated logic, and because companies and hiring managers have the ability to personalize the search criteria for each job opening, it is impossible to give you a concrete list of the thousands of possible keywords that could be used to search for any one job. For instance, in one high-tech company I interviewed, a keyword search included the following criteria from two different hiring managers for the same job title:

Financial Analyst / Senior Accountant

REQUIRED (Manager #1)

REQUIRED (Manger #2)

DESIRED (Manger #1)

DESIRED (Manger #2)

You can see why it is so difficult to give definitive lists of keywords and concepts. However, it is possible to give you samples of actual keyword searches used by recruiters I have interviewed to give you some ideas. Let me emphasize again that you should list only experience you actually have gained. Do not include these keywords in your resume just because they are listed here.

Business Manager (Central Archive Management)



Business Operations Specialist



Senior Software Engineer



Secretary III



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From Designing the Perfect Resume, by Pat Criscito.
Copyright 2000.  Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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