Computers, not humans control the vetting process for many employers around the country, which is why job seekers have to pay attention to keywords when applying for an open position. Human resources departments who are taxed with hundreds of resumes for just one opening are increasingly relying on applicant tracking software to identify top candidates. The applicant tracking systems search resumes for specific keywords that are predetermined by the employer. Resumes that have the required keywords land in the keep pile while those that don’t are automatically deleted. It doesn’t matter if the candidate was the ideal person for the job if the resume doesn’t have the correct keywords it will never be seen by the recruiter or hiring manager. (Learn more, here: The Complete Guide to Job Searching.)

Understand How Applicant Tracking Software Works

 When a resume is submitted digitally to an employer the applicant tracking software gets to work removing all formatting and searching for specific keywords. The software also scans for a list of the employer’s desired skills and scores the resumes based on the number of keywords and skills that match. Resumes with the higher scores get reviewed by human resource professionals or recruiters while those that score low never get seen by the company. Thus, it’s important that job seekers tailor their resume to specific job ads instead of having a generic one they use for every role.  

Pay Careful Attention To Keywords In Job Ads

Job descriptions aren’t as easy to dissect anymore thanks to companies’ reliance on keywords. Now applicants have to make sure they know what the keywords are without being a mind reader. One way to do that is to look for words in the job description that are repeated throughout the ad and examine the words that are used to describe skills and experience. The keywords are often action words or nouns and should also be found in the job title. Jotting down the keywords is the first step in making sure you found the right ones. Once you’ve identified the words you think are keywords, you have to compare them against a number of other job ads for the same position at different companies and highlight the potential keywords. With all the keywords in hand, you then have to compare all the keywords to narrow it down to a handful of the ones that are most likely to show up in applicant tracking software. Those are the words you want to include in your resume and cover letter.

Choose Your Keywords Strategically

 Since the aim is to score high, you want to make sure you get all the relevant keywords in your resume and cover letter. A safe bet when choosing keywords is to use the ones that appear early in the job description. Those are often the most important ones to employers and thus shouldn’t be ignored. Aim to have the majority of the keywords from the job ad in your resume and cover letter but be mindful that you use them in a way that makes sense. The software may pick up your resume because you included every keyword under the sun but the person reading the resume may be quickly turned off if it’s unruly or confusing because of all the keywords. It’s also a good idea to look at job posts for more experienced candidates in your field and include some of those keywords in your resume as well. You may be overqualified for one position but ideal for another one higher up.  

Include Acronym And Titles

Brevity is important with resumes and cover letters, but when it comes to beating the tracking software, it’s important to include both full titles and acronyms. After all the system may be scanning for RN instead of registered nurse. If you include both the full title and the abbreviation of your job it increases your chances of your resume being recognized by the software and thus getting in front of the hiring manager.

Don’t Forget Social Media

Applying for open jobs isn’t the only way to get hired. Recruiters are increasingly searching job boards and social media sites to find ideal candidates for their clients. And guess what? Those recruiters are using keywords to weed out potential candidates as well. The keywords you use on your social media profiles should include language that recruiters and employers in their field or industry speak. The keywords should be more general instead of geared toward a specific company.

The Bottom Line

Technology can help and hurt job seekers if job seekers aren’t careful. While the Internet and social media has made it easier to apply for jobs, network and ultimately get hired, it’s also automating a lot of the job search process for the employer. Applicant tracking software is helping companies of all sizes sift through the avalanche of resumes, which means job seekers have to be savvier in how they craft their resume. Keywords are much more important and could mean the difference between finding a job and never even landing on the company’s radar.


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