keyword optimization for resumes
April 6, 2007 7:43 AM   Subscribe

What methods/software do HR departments use to scan resumes for keywords? What are ways to 1.) optimize your resume for this process, or 2.) game this system to increase your chances of surviving the first cull.

I felt ignorant when a friend told me about keyword scans for resumes recently. It was like "no way, you mean they..." all the way to "oh, yeah... of course they.." in about 8 crowded seconds in my brain.

So I thought, jesus... that's kind of diabolical. How many job offers did I lose last year because i tried to save my formatting by putting "MapInfo Prof." when they were looking for "MapInfo Professional" or something, y'know?

How do these scans work? What types of word-banks are they looking for? How to game the system?

I have no problem, ethically, with gaming it... I only send resumes out for jobs that I feel qualified for. I'd like to get it in front of a human, if at all possible.

Many thanks.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Under the following assumptions:

1) That a company is employing a searchable resume database,

2) That they are using keyword searches through the database to separate contenders from pretenders,

3) That it is generally an unimaginative HR recruiter type with only a cursory knowledge of the functions of a SQL Programmer or Automotive Instrument Panel Designer,

The easy answer as to how to game the system is to tailor your resume to the job description to which you're responding. Use the same words, find strings and phrases that seem to be important and regurgitate them. For example, "Must have instrument panel (IP) usability in design experience" should result in putting "IP usability in design" AND "instrument panel usability in design" as verbatim phrasing on the tailored resume. Change your previous job titles, if applicable, to the equivalent used by that company or that industry. Simply put, talk in the same language in which they're trying to talk to you.

It is also perfectly acceptable to have a "master" resume you feel best presents your skills and uses different phrasing, and it's perfectly acceptable to present that to a company in an in-person interview without worrying about it being a perfect match with their database's copy. Fifteen seconds of explanation will clear all that up anyway.

Whether employing software or the old fashioned eyeball test, looking at a resume that feels like a direct fit is an easier bump to the next level than one where the reader has to parse language to guess at the qualifications. Good luck!
posted by peacecorn at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2007

3) That it is generally an unimaginative HR recruiter type with only a cursory knowledge of the functions...

"...performing keyword searches with only a cursory knowledge..."

posted by peacecorn at 8:17 AM on April 6, 2007

I heard a good story from a co-worker a few years back.

She was having trouble getting people to pickup her resume, so she submitted the resume in either HTML or DOC, with many, many, many keywords hidden throughout the document, in WHITE.

This meant that the computer doing the searching tended to find her resume more often, and the person actually viewing the resume saw only the "official" portions.

I've never tried it, and cannot speak to it's usefulness.
posted by WetherMan at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2007

Unimaginative HR folks are the bane of this particular problem - a tech manager asks for "Object-oriented design in a 5GL like Java, C#, but probably not C++" and the HR person keywords "Java, C#, C++".

Your task is translating into what HR folk will choose, so feel free to buzzwordize and synonymize based on googling your actual skillset. Also, include a simple Skills section with an exhaustive list of any skill/technology/tool you've used with enough familiarity you could teach me the basics.

Then again, UnsolicitedAdivceFilter: when hiring, buzzworded resumes make me start off skeptical and almost universally sink from there. I understand you feel you need to game the keyworder to get in the door, but you might consider a thoughtful examination of your skillset and synthesis into clear langauge as the right place to start and leave the gaming to the legitimately dubiously qualified.
posted by abulafa at 5:47 PM on April 6, 2007

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