You know the basic tenets of resume requirements: be succinct, pick a clear layout and don't have typos. But in an economy where job competition is fierce, saying the "magic words" in your resume can mean the difference between whether it is tossed or moved to the top of the heap. Follow these four resume keyword steps to make sure it's written to perfection. (For what not to do, see the Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)

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1. Target Your Content
Estimates show that on average, employers spend about 10 seconds looking at your resume. Just as you would toss a piece of junk mail that doesn't fit your needs, so will an employer who doesn't clearly and quickly see how you fit the bill for their job. The good news is they've already told you exactly what they are looking for in the job description. Now it's up to you to use those terms to show employers why you are a fit for them.

This doesn't mean regurgitating the job description back to the employer. Read it thoroughly and digest the qualities and themes that appear often. Does it note that they are they looking for a leader or a team player? Does the position indicate a need for problem-solving, or someone who can take direction well? Is the job fast-paced or process-driven?

Make a list of the top five words that pop out on the job description. Then, find ways to integrate those buzz words onto your resume as you highlight your experience. You can even bold the words and phrases that are specifically relevant. This will not only clearly communicate your skills to the employer, but show that you've gone the extra mile to point out specifically how you will benefit them. Note that you will need to "bold" and "unbold" each time you apply for a new job, so that your keywords are relevant to each unique job description.

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2. Take Action
Passivity won't get you far in the workplace, nor will passive resume words score a job interview. Abandon the traditional noun-verb ("I completed") sentence structure on your resume, and cut to the chase with a powerful verb, or adverb ("Completed"). Below are some sample power verbs appropriate to the range of skill sets your resume will address.

  • Achievement: achieved, completed, increased, improved, accomplished, performed, expanded
  • Problem-solving: reduced, corrected, evaluated, utilized, simplified, analyzed, investigated
  • Leadership: developed, managed, inspired, organized, guided, directed, revitalized
  • Initiative: designed, launched, conceived, created, established, initiated, started, formulated

3. Write for the Web
Most Fortune 500 companies use internet technology in their hiring practices, and smaller companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Technology has changed the way employers and recruiters search for applicants. Using it to your advantage will determine whether your resume is included in search results, or lost in cyberspace.

Scan professional organizations and ad postings within your industry for the most commonly mentioned keywords. Then, make sure you incorporate those words into your resume. This will not only indicate that you understand the insider within your industry, but will increase the rate that your resume is included in search results when employers scan their existing candidate databases for job opportunities that you may not even know exist. (Learn more in 10 Phrases You Should Ban From Your Resume.)

4. Toot Your Own Horn
Power verbs will get prospective employers' attention, but you also need to keep them reading. You do this by being confident in your achievements, and providing scale and results to your activities. Scale addresses the size of your achievement, and will tell the reader exactly what you did. If you lead a team, how many people were on it? Did you deliver a project under a tight deadline? Include the details around how much time you had, compared to how long it would typically take. Every job task has a number associated with it. For example, a coffee barista might serve 40 customers a day. An account manager might make 60 cold calls each week.

Every action has a reaction, and every job function produces some kind of result. Results are a chance to toot your own horn, and support your claims with facts. In the example of the barista above, what does serving 40 customers a day mean in specific results? Maybe you up-sell a muffin to half of those customers, capturing an additional $40 in revenue for the company each day. Employers want to know your concrete achievements. Obviously, the bigger the win, the more impressive, but don't discount the added value. Providing measurable results also demonstrates to employers that you are analytical, and big-picture oriented.

The Bottom Line
Making these simple tweaks to your resume can amount to time well-spent in your job seeking endeavors. Perhaps the best part is that you can test the fruits of your labor by the amounts of interview invitations you receive, and easily adjust if needed. (For more job-hunting tips, see The 10 Commandments Of Resume Writing.)


For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: The Post-Stimulus Slump.

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