Litter Your Resume with Key Words

We receive many references in our business, and it’s a great way to meet qualified candidates.  The drawback is that friends and family members often forward resumes without giving the candidate a chance to customize the content.  Best-case: I receive a copy of their generic resume that doesn’t stand out from the pack.  Worst-case: I receive a copy that was created for someone else.  Employers are starting to expect customized resumes, and there’s no excuse not to take the time.

But what do you customize?  Almost everything, including objective statements, skills summaries, past experience, volunteering, and even extra-curriculars.

The single most important thing you can do to make it to the next round (and that’s the sole purpose of your resume) is to include key words.  If you have words and experiences that closely match the criteria for the job, you’re already a step ahead.  How do you know what to include?  Well, it takes a little research and a degree of faith, but it’s worth it.  Here are some tips to help:

  1. Research the company’s job postings.  Your prime focus is the specific job you’re after, but don’t limit yourself to only one posting.  Go to their website and search for all open jobs that seem even remotely related to yours.  Your job may not involve working with Lotus Domino servers, but you may help a team that does.  You may find that the employer’s IT department is migrating to .NET from J2EE, and you happen to have completed two .NET classes in college.  Even if your job isn’t a development role, you may want to list that you’re comfortable with .NET.  This applies to business positions as well–you can learn quite a bit by researching the open positions.
  2. Research the competition’s job postings. Short of knowing someone on the inside, job postings are generally the easiest way to gain insight into a corporation and what’s going on.  It’s just as valuable to know about the competition–especially in highly regulated industries.  Any time new industry rules or regulations are passed, all companies have to react.
  3. Check out blogs and forums. I’ve seen forums for underwriting, business analysis, pharmacology, accounting, flash development, and countless others.  Do yourself a favor and spend an hour reading through what other people have to say about the role/industry.  Pick up on their keywords and include them in your resume.
  4. Connect with someone else in the target position or industry.  If you look hard enough, someone in your network has the position you’re applying for.  What’s better, someone may manage someone in the position you’re applying for.  Talk to them to uncover their major headaches, short and long term plans for that role, and what they’d look for in an ideal candidate.

By the time you’ve completed your research, you should have a handful of good, common key words that will help your resume stick out.  You’ll find that many skills translate well across industries, but they’re called something else.  What you call process mapping may be flow charting elsewhere.  Account initiation could be cold calling.  Figure out which key words or competencies you could legitimately add to your resume, and start revising.  It’ll make a world of difference.

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