(Or how to identify “improvement areas” for your own career development plan) Because the world of business (and the jobs in it) are now changing so rapidly it is becoming essential for all professionals to continually update their skills. As a result, the process described below should not be exclusively reserved for those in the job market. It should in fact be a continuous process that is undertaken by everyone that wishes to identify the key skills that are necessary to stay on the “leading-edge” of their profession!
The importance of keywords in a resume It is important for all professionals to know that most resumes and cover letters that are received at medium and large size companies are first electronically scanned into their resume database. Most resume scanning software includes a keyword identifying and sorting system which has the capability of ranking or rating resumes based on the number of "keywords" contained in the resume. Having the right keywords in your resume will not guarantee you a job but not having them in the resume almost assuredly guarantees that you won't get an interview. Even if the resume is read by a "human" first, the odds are that they will also sort it based on keywords. It is important that you not only use the right he words but that you also repeat the keywords in your resume just in case the computer or the human misses them the first time around.
How can I keyword search help in my career development? Even if you’re not currently involved in the job search, identifying the key skills and experience that will be needed for your next job is an essential part of your career development plan. Savvy professionals will undertake this keyword exercise in order to identify both current weaknesses in your experience and knowledge as well as future skills and experience that you will need in order to get promoted to your next job!
Steps in identifying keywords, essential skills and experience. The next obvious question is how do you identify the “correct” keywords to use? The most obvious first step is to get “inside help” from a recruiter. An "insider" can also run your actual resume through the system and tell you how you ranked. But for the rest of us without inside help the process of identifying keywords is actually relatively easy.
If the targeted firm’s Web page lists a job description for your targeted position start with it as a basic source. In addition review the want ads for this and other closely related jobs in order to identify the key terms they are looking for.
Here are the basic steps to follow:
1. If you are really bold, first look at the job description for the job that is "one level above" the job you are targeting at that firm. Then compare the keywords used in your “targeted” job with the keywords used in the “level up” job. The new or added words in the "higher" level job are the most important to use if you expect to get a higher than average pay rate (or if you wish to be promoted soon).
2. Identify the key "values" of the company you are targeting. These values can generally be found either listed separately (company values) on the firms Web page or in the firm's "mission" statement.
3. Next look for any key “competencies” that the firm lists on its Web page. These can either be competencies of the firm or competencies that are expected for all employees.
4. Then go through the job description and want ads for the specific job you are targeting at the firm that is a "one step up" competitor to your target firm. Capture all the key words they list. Because most firms try to emulate the practices of their "superior" competitors, showing that you have the skills required by that competitor will generally give you a competitive advantage. See if there are any "new" words that are used by the competitor. If these words reflect more advanced skills add them to your list.
5. Repeat the step above for the job description and the want ads for the specific job you are targeting.
6. Also go through the job descriptions and the want ads of any "related jobs" in the same job "family" to see if there are words that are “continually” used by the firm.
7. In addition to reviewing job descriptions reading about the latest trends in business and technology is also essential. Scanning the most advanced magazines and journals in business and your profession for keywords and trends should be a continuous process. Keywords found on the cover and in the table of contents should be added to your list. Certain “bleeding-edge” publications such as Fast Company, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and functional chat rooms and email “Listservers” are great places to start your search.
Sorting and ranking keywords
All keywords are not rated equally. It is important to identify which keywords carry the most weight with the recruiter and the firm. Rate the importance of keywords using a formula something like the one outlined below: Remember to repeat the most important keywords and skills several times in your resume and cover letter. It is always wise to assume that a human is going to read your resume (which if it doesn’t happen initially, it will happen if when your resume passes the first computer keyword scan). When humans read your resume it is equally important to put the most important keywords early in your resume (and cover letter) in order to excite them enough to want to read the rest of your resume.
Words that are essential (try to use each at least words three combined times in your resume and cover letter)
• Words that appear in the "next level up job" and in the "one level up" competitor's job
• Words and experience listed as "preferred" skills in the firm’s job description
• Words that appear early in each section of the job description (generally in the first line or two). This is because most recruiters list the essential skills in descending order of importance in a job description Words that should be used more often (generally each of these words should be used at least twice).
• Words related to business strategy and future business needs.
• Words related to leadership and team related skills.
• Words that relate to technology, e-commerce, software and hardware.
• Words related to the values of the corporation
• That “top four” types of experience required for this job
• The top educational requirement for this job assuming, of course, that you meet it)
Words that should be used at least once
Other important areas and terms including:
• Additional related experience. • Business problems you have solved. • Business problems you can solve (even if you have never had a chance to actually solve them). • Any additional technology related skills. • Any additional team or leadership skills. • Any additional "hot business, management or technology buzz words" or tools that you know or have used. • Additional functional skills both inside and related to your discipline. • Educational, learning and certification accomplishments (including the names of any major universities that have studied at). • Any leading-edge companies that you have worked with, benchmarked against or that you have serviced as a customer (some companies focus on firm names in
their keywords search). • Any other accomplishments, awards or recognition that indicate that you are knowledgeable and successful professional.
Words are not sufficient
Keywords alone are not enough to get you an interview.
In addition to using the words that you have identified it is equally (if not more important) to show the quality of your experience and knowledge, as well as the output or accomplishments for each word or experience you list. For each of the major words, tools and experience you must show the quality and then quantify (yes, this means numbers and dollars) each one!
• The output, the quality and the level of the accomplishment! • The quality and level of the skill. • The level of management or the customer that you worked with. • Any reward or recognition you received as a result of the experience. • Any competitive advantage your firm or department developed as a result of your work
Final check If you really want to test your resume make a list of the keywords in your target job description and check them against your resume. If you don’t hit over 50% don’t expect an interview. Plan B is to have your friends do the “circle test”. This is where they review the job description and then on your resume circle all of the words and phrases that impress them, put a "?" mark by those that are confusing and an “X” through the phrases that turn them off. If there are lots of circles and few X’s and ?’s, then your resume is ready!
Conclusion Although it is possible to get an interview without “loading” your resume with keywords, including them will definitely improve your chances. It equally important to realize that when you to get an interview that the use of keywords and how well you describe your key experiences and knowledge is the No. 1 criteria for a successful interview. Because most firms use “behavioral interviews” you also need to be able to spell out (during the interview) the quality of your knowledge, the level of your experience and the output of each of your major projects and assignments.