Why Optimizing Your Resume Around Keywords is Important

You’ve worked diligently on your resume. You chronicled a sterling work history, displayed your hard-won achievements, and revised your grammar to be impeccable. Now all you have to do is get it into the hands of some recruiters and wait for the job offers to start flowing in.

But after months of applying, you haven’t received a single callback. You feel like you’ve been marooned on Unemployment Island, and you’re throwing bottled messages into the sea, hoping for rescue.

We’ve all been there, and chances are it isn’t you, your work history, or your grammar. It’s that recruiters aren’t even seeing your resume because you forgot to optimize it around keywords.

Keyword Search
In the pre-Internet days of yore, the job search was simple: A recruiter put out an ad, would-be employees mailed in a resume, and the recruiter reviewed them. Since jobs seekers had to physically print and mail their resume, recruiters only had so many applications to pick through.

Times have certainly changed. Thanks to digital resumes and employment websites, more job seekers than ever can find and apply to any recruiter’s job post. The application process can be as easy as a single click. While this process has many advantages, one repercussion is that the space has become crowded, and recruiters are now inundated with hundreds of resumes for any job posting.

To cull the numbers, companies have turned to programs called applicant-tracking systems (ATS). An ATS can scan hundreds of resumes in search of quality applicants to create a manageable shortlist for the recruiter to review. And how does an ATS know when it finds a quality applicant? Keywords.

Before an ATS goes database diving, the recruiter provides it with a list of keywords to look for. This means that even if you have the skills and experience necessary to perform the job, the ATS won’t recognize your qualifications unless you use the keywords it is searching for.

Tips for Keyword Optimization
Does this mean you’ll have to write a completely new resume for each application? Not at all. However, it does mean you’ll need to lightly revise your resume to ensure the necessary keywords are present. That or get comfy on your island.

To help you out, here are some tips for optimizing your resume around keywords:

The job post is your guide. Scan the job description for important keywords and phrases, such as degrees, years of experience, skills, and knowledge of specific programs. These will be the same keywords the recruiter provides the ATS.

Look for hard skills. Recruiters favor hard, quantifiable skills when using an ATS. Include soft skills like “team player” or “problem solving” in your resume, but don’t prioritize them.

Make sure you copy the keywords exactly as they are found in the job post. If an ATS is looking for “HTML proficiency,” and your resume lists “website building experience,” you’re going to be passed by. An ATS isn’t brighter than a person, just faster.

Don’t keyword stuff.
Some job seekers try to game the system by placing lots of keywords where they don’t belong. Don’t make this mistake. The ATS is only a gatekeeper. Your resume should be written for human readers with naturally integrated keywords and a clear, professional voice.

Check your spelling and grammar.
Human recruiters see good spelling and grammar as a sign of professionalism. An ATS can’t tell that a misspelled keyword is the one it’s looking for. Good spelling is a win-win for you.

Don’t lie.
Your mendacity may trick the ATS, but it’s unlikely to fool the recruiter during the interview. Being caught in a lie, or even an exaggeration, can be worse than simply not getting the callback at all.

If you want to get past an ATS and be recognized as a quality candidate, it’s important to optimize your resume around keywords. But don’t go overboard. Beyond the ATS lies a human recruiter whom you’ll need to impress with your skills, experience, and personality. Remember, it may be an ATS that locates your island, but it will be a human that rescues you from it.