Most of the résumés employers receive either as hard copies or that are uploaded electronically reside in databases. If those databases were in graphic form, each résumé would resemble a lonely tombstone in a cemetery. In the majority of cases, submitting résumés is futile because they get resurrected only if they include keywords—specifically, those keywords used via computer queries made by employers, recruiters, or hiring managers.
Typically, keywords are phrases and nouns that have to do with technical and professional areas of expertise; projects; industry-related jargons; tasks; achievements; job titles; and so on. That contradicts what we suggested years ago by saying that it’s verbs that make a résumé desirable. We now find that an effective combination of nouns, phrases, and verbs is necessary because the human eye is attracted to verbs, whereas applicant tracking systems—the kinds of software used by employers and recruiters—are searching for keywords.
Applicant tracking systems are searching for keywords that appear primarily near the top of the résumé. Therefore, it is advisable to include keywords in the résumé’s first paragraph—immediately after the contact information. Additional keywords should appear in lists as bulleted items in the section that follows and that could be titled Skills.
Appropriate keywords should be harvested from job descriptions or ads for job openings. Commonly, a job description is rich in listing a job’s requirements in terms of skills and accomplishments. For instance, if the position is technical, the ad often lists computer languages, proprietary software, and the like.
Pam Dixon lists such examples in her book Job Searching Online for Dummies, as follows.
Keyword summary, example 1 PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY:
Award-winning corporate controller with more than 10 years’ experience in two $500-million corporations. Impressive record in implementing financial record database architecture that saved over $2 million annually. Proficient in Oracle, Prism, Red Brick, and SAP systems, as well as MS Project, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and FrontPage.
Keyword summary, example 2 SKILLS
Languages: C, SQL, C++, Assembler, Pascal
Software: Oracle Developer 2000, Informix NewEra, FoxPro
OS: UNIX, Windows NT/95/3.11, MS-DOS
RDBMS: Oracle7, Informix 7
The inclusion of keywords in a résumé requires a combination of art, science, and, often unfortunately, learning via trial and error. The ideal résumé contains 12 to 15 keywords. On one hand, if it does not have enough keywords, chances of its being found are diminished. On the other hand, too many keywords could put the résumé somewhat out of context.