As companies and recruiters are increasingly requesting job candidates to submit their resume online, what steps can you take to ensure that your resume doesn’t get swallowed up in the technology black hole? How can you increase the chance that your resume is actually read after you hit “Send”?
First, it’s important to know that while there may always be a place for “snail mail” resumes, many companies consider online recruiting to be more efficient because the technology eliminates time spent wading through paper resumes. One hiring manager at a financial firm reveals that her company only reviews online applications. Other HR professionals hail the advent of online recruiting. “It has saved us more money and time and has really streamlined our hiring process,” extols a hiring manager at a Fortune 100 company. “Online applications are definitely here to stay.”
The bottom line is this: when one ad can yield 100 responses, how can potential employers find your resume from among the hundreds or even thousands in their database? HR managers and recruiters suggest the following steps.
It's All About the Words...Keywords, That is
When you submit a resume through a company’s own online application system, it typically enters into a database directly (paper resumes are scanned into a database). The database can store resumes indefinitely, so if you don’t get a response right away, in theory, you may be considered for other positions down the road. However, just because your resume made it into a company’s database doesn’t mean it gets read. Hiring managers enter certain keywords into the database when they’re ready to fill a position; if your resume doesn’t include those keywords, it may never turn up in a search.
While working with a recruiter differs in that a recruiter will often read your resume first and is more likely to initiate a conversation with you to further discuss your qualifications, keep in mind that if the recruiter doesn’t have a job for you at that moment, your resume also enters into a database. Recruiters may not be as impersonal as large companies, but they still need to find you by keywords if a position becomes available and they’re working with multiple candidates.
Of course, technology has its glitches, and one problem with keywords search is that some words can erroneously represent your experience. For example, if you worked as an office manager in an accounting firm, your resume might mistakenly materialize when a company does a database search for an “accountant.” HR professionals advise that the best way to prevent this from happening is to emphasize your tasks and, if possible, stay away from using the words “accountant” or “accounting” on your resume if they don’t accurately reflect what you did. “Focus more attention on the buzzwords that represented your responsibilities and your line of work,” suggests one hiring manager, “to lessen the chance that your resume could mistakenly pop up in a search for another position.”
But how do you uncover those keywords or buzzwords? A major clue could be found in the job posting itself.
The Two R's: Read...then Repeat
Simply put, this means that in order to know what words a particular company uses to describe the skills you have, you must read the job posting carefully and then repeat several keywords on your resume. As one HR personnel explains, “Certain words in an ad should tip off a candidate because those are the words I’ll enter into my database when I’m seeking candidates for a job.” Although this may sound like common sense, HR managers lament that this simple step is often overlooked by many job candidates, thus eliminating them from the get-go.
Here is an actual job posting. The position is for a program officer for infrastructure and facilities. See if you can discern the keywords.
“You will have full responsibility for planning, scope development, design, and construction administration of all managed projects. Also, you will develop and implement policy and provide oversight for scheduling, estimating, quality, safety, customer satisfaction, and budget control. Requirements: a valid New York State Professional Engineer’s license or NY-registered Architect....”
The ad continues, but it should be clear that a job candidate already has several keywords to go by (“planning,” “design and construction management,” “NY-registered Architect,” etc.). The point is not to repeat all the keywords verbatim on your resume, but at least to make sure that some of them (those that accurately reflect your experience and skills) make it on your resume so it emerges from a company’s database search. After all, the words in a job ad are there for a reason—use them to your advantage.
Target, Target, Target
To increase the chance that an actual human will read your resume after it enters a database, do not copy and paste a generic resume into a database. Instead, tightly tailor and target your resume to the needs of a specific employer. One way to do this is to repeat several keywords that accurately represent your skillset on your resume as described above. Another way requires some additional research on your part. If the company you’re interested in is accepting online applications, call up its HR department and ask such questions as the skill sets the company values. You can also go to the company’s website to see the kind of verbiage it uses.
Keep in mind too that what may have been the common industry verbiage a few years ago could be passé now. For example, during the dotcom days, a CEO might have been referred to as “Chief Excitement Officer.” If you were to put that on your resume today, chances are that no one is going to find you (or would be puzzled by that title and may not take your resume seriously). If the terms you use on your resume accurately reflect the generally understood term in the industry today, you could always explain during the interview why you chose to use, for example, “Chief Executive Officer” rather than “Chief Excitement Officer.” (Just make certain you bring this up during the interview to avoid potential misunderstandings when a company verifies your information.)
But what if you want to switch industries and aren’t too sure about the common catchphrases used in the industry you wish to enter? You could:
• Research potential employers (if you have some in mind) by going to their website for some employer-specific keywords.
• Peruse the industry’s trade journals to learn some industry-specific keywords.
• View sample job listings in the industry to help identify keywords.
• Speak with people who have experience in the industry and who can educate you about it.
While HR personnel point to the importance of targeting the right keywords so your resume stands out in their database, they also remind job candidates not to overlook some common attributes that are used in many job postings and could apply to positions across the board. To amplify your visibility, it may be helpful to sprinkle some of the following keywords on your resume, as long as they truly represent your experience:
• oral and written communication skills
• project management
• performance and productivity improvement
• team player
• strategic planning
• analytical and organizational skills
In the words of one hiring manager, “There are some common qualities that every company wants from its staff, no matter what the industry. Sometimes we do an additional search just based on those attributes to see what we come up with.”
The Final Word: How FPC of St. Lawrence Can Help
One way to avoid going through the hassle of ensuring that your resume pops out from a company’s database is to work with a recruiter who knows you and your background thoroughly and can accurately represent you to a potential employer. This is the crucial role that FPC can play in your job search. When you work with an FPC recruiter, you don’t need to worry about being overlooked in a company’s database because the FPC recruiter will describe your skills to the company that interests you. FPC recruiters have one-on-one relationships with hiring managers and key personnel that rely on FPC to help them find the best possible candidate. Your worries are eliminated from a technology standpoint, leaving you more time to focus on the ultimate goal: getting that job.