Creating a key word resume is the first step in producing a resume you can post to resume Internet websites. The first priority for a resume is that it must be searchable and retrievable. Key words make your resume searchable and retrievable.

Searchable and Retrievable

Once a resume makes it into a database, a recruiter can request all the resumes of people with a certain background. They do this by setting up a search for only those resumes that contain the key words they want. If the employer wants a highly skilled mechanical engineer the key words might be: mechanical engineer, BS, and PE (professional engineer). The resumes presented to the recruiter will all be from practicing mechanical engineers who have a BS in engineering, and they will have been doing it long enough to have gained the professional designation Professional Engineer. Your challenges are to learn the key words employers might use to find someone with your background, and then to make sure your resume includes them.

Put Key Words into Your Resume

The best time to start identifying your key words is when you’re writing your job sketches. Of course, if you’ve already created your resume, now is the time to see which key words are already in your resume, and which key words you should add.

The most common way for recruiters to find a resume in a resume database is through key words. The term “key words” simply means that employers will determine the desired background of the ideal candidate, and then will decide which words and terms to look for.

To begin, list all the words and terms you think an employer might look for. Then look for ways to get those words into your resume. The best way is to place yourself in the position of an employer seeking someone with your background. In essence you are asking, “How would I find myself?” Key words can be single words or two-word terms and are usually nouns—such as marketing, Visual Basic, MS Windows, project management, graphic design, and behavior modification. Key words can also be gerunds, which are noun-like verbs—like “negotiating” and “analyzing.”

There are several ways to identify key words:

  1. Search the want ads in your field and notice which words they specify in the requirements and duties sections.
  2. Talk to people in the field and ask what they believe the key words would be.
  3. Read professional journals in your field to help identify the current hot terms.

Do all of these, but then come back to considering how you would find yourself if you were looking for someone like you. Produce as extensive a list as possible and then settle on the 20 most likely terms, and make sure they all appear somewhere in your resume. If some of these words were not already present, look for ways to include them in existing sentences, or create sentences that include them.

It’s helpful to understand how databases are used to extract resumes. In experimenting with different searches, we tried several approaches. When we used five key words, we typically found too few resumes because only those with all five key words were selected. When we used only one or two words we sometimes got too many. After putting in the key words, the database would show how many matches had occurred. When there were too few we removed a term or tried other words to get the right number of matches.

Once a resume came on-screen it often took only 20 seconds to see whether that person displayed the needed experience. If they didn’t, with a simple mouse click we were on to the next resume. This might happen, for example, if we were looking for a computer programmer with three or more years of Visual Basic experience. If Visual Basic was our only key word, then every resume that used that term would come up on-screen. Sometimes, however, the person had merely studied Visual Basic and had no professional experience. If three years of actual job experience with Visual Basic didn’t turn up, that person was quickly removed from the search.

When doing a key-word search, resumes will appear on the screen one by one, with the key words in the resume highlighted. The reader will skim through each resume to decide which people are good candidates. When a qualified candidate pops up on the screen, the reviewer can print that resume. Those not so qualified will simply remain in the database awaiting future openings.

The right key words separate the wanted resumes from the others in the database. At that point the candidate’s experience, and presentation of that experience, determined whether the resume was chosen.

If your resume is poorly written and doesn’t contain the right key words you won’t be getting called for an interview. So what can you do to improve your chances?

Buzzwords

To develop your list of key words, begin by including all the buzzwords in your field. This would include the jargon, technical terms, and nomenclature in your specialty. List the current hot terms, the standard terms that have been around for a long time, and the new terms that may soon be hot. Once you have your list, decide which ones are right for you.

Synonyms. When you list a term, also list its synonyms. For example, if you list personnel administration as a key word, also list human resources management. If you list attorney, list lawyer also. So, if you had the term “human resource (singular) management,” and the key-word search by an organization was “human resources” (plural) but without the word “management,” there would still be a match on most but not all search systems. Because a match would not occur on some systems, you will want to use as many variations of the same key words as possible.

Abbreviations. If “registered nurse” is one of your key words, make sure that it appears somewhere in the resume as RN. If you are going to use “certified financial planner,” make sure that CFP appears as well.

With the synonyms and abbreviations you are trying to cover all of your bases. If the employer uses “human resources management” as a key phrase, while you used “personnel administration” throughout your resume, the computer may not see your resume as a match and the employer will never read it. If you only use the term certified financial planner but the employer searches only for CFP, you also risk not having your resume viewed.

When using these terms, realize that personnel clerks often perform the first screening of the resume, and will not be familiar with all buzzwords in all fields. In principle, the first time you use an abbreviation that you suspect not everyone will recognize, spell out the full term and then show the abbreviation in parentheses. This is how it might appear in the Qualifications section for a registered nurse’s resume: “Over ten years’ experience as a Registered Nurse (RN), including five years’ experience in Emergency Room (ER) and Critical Care (CC).” From that point on you can use the abbreviation without having to spell it out. You will also have ensured that the computer will be able to find both the term and the abbreviation.

Don’t insert keywords in a resume merely because you feel an employer might look for them. They must be somewhere in your background. For example, when computer people list programming languages, most list those they’ve used on the job, as well as those they’ve studied. That’s perfectly acceptable. Once your resume shows up on the screen, however, it is up to the employer to decide if your experience and knowledge match the need. Later, in a telephone or face-to-face interview, you must present how extensive your experience is.

With so many companies using computerized resume databases, it is in your best interest to ensure that your resume achieves maximum exposure.

Once a request is made for resumes with certain key words, all the resumes in the database are searched. When your resume comes up, the computer will find all your key words and highlight them on the screen. Where your key words appear makes no difference to the computer, but it may to a reader. For that reason many people prefer to include a specific key word section for resumes that are likely to be scanned or sent electronically.

Some of the resume tracking systems used by companies will rank the resumes based on key words, education, years of experience and other relevant information. Some give more weight to resumes that have key words early in the content. So you may want to include your key word paragraph when you know or believe it is likely that your resume will go into a resume database.

Many jobs ask for a bachelor’s degree. If you have tons of experience, but never finished that degree, this could cause problems for you. If you believe you’re qualified for a position, you will want to prevent yourself from being screened out merely because you’re ten credits short. Of course, if you come up on an employer’s screen, you’ll have to have the goods or with a quick mouse click they’ll be on to another resume. Here are some ways that can work:

BA (equivalent)

This example would be used by a person who has significant college credits, attended many seminars, and who perhaps has a certificate or two from recognized institutions.

Currently enrolled in BA program

Or

BA (to be completed in June 2009) [this resume was created in the late 2008 in preparation for a June 2009 graduation]

Any of these could be used if they are accurate.

Using a Key Word Section

If you have created a Qualifications section, a key word section will fit right into that format. For a salesperson it might work like this:

objeCtiVe: Sales Representative

QUALIFICATIONS

Strong sales background. Consistently exceed quota and always become a top

producer. Effectively build long-term relationships with accounts. Excellent at cold calling and adding new accounts.

Areas of experience include: Calling on key accounts; territory management; sell to OEMs, retail chains, wholesalers, and distributors; experienced with co-op advertising; marketing; advertising agencies; market research; consultative selling; international sales; tradeshows.

In this example the first paragraph already exists and it contains some desirable key words. The second paragraph is the key word section. Some of the terms in the key word section appear elsewhere in the resume but most do not. This person has just increased the likelihood that her resume will show up on the employer’s computer screen when beginning a key word search.

If you choose not to make one of your qualifications paragraphs a key word section, you can insert a key word section at the end of your resume. Simply label it: Key Words. Then under this new section, type in a paragraph of key words (nouns and buzzwords) with each key word or phrase separated by a comma or semicolon. The computer does not care where key words appear, as long as they do appear. Such a key word section would look almost identical to the example just above.

A key word section, while helpful, is not essential. Your job narratives probably include many of the essential key words. However, adding this key word section allows you to view all of your key words or phrases at once, ensuring that you have not missed any important ones. Since it can be difficult to make sure that all of your key words, and all of their variations, including synonyms and abbreviations, are in the resume, a dedicated section is often appropriate.

Some databases rank your resume based on the number of times a key word appears in your resume. This ranking assumes that the more times the word appears in a resume, the greater the likelihood that this person has extensive experience in this field. On the other hand, some databases rank your resume not only on its key words, but on how recently you posted your resume. That option assumes the more recently posted resumes are from job seekers who are actively seeking employment.

What all this means is that you should show the primary key words in your resume more than once (be careful, and don’t overdo it). Then make sure that you update your resume for any particular job search website every couple of months.

That’s how you create a key word resume. Having taken care of the key word portion of your resume, it will now be important to create your plain-text resume, which you can send to employers by email, and your scannable paper resume, which can be sent to those employers who will electronically scan your resume into their database.

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