When it’s time to dust off a resume, whether for an annual update or because you are in full job search mode, a job seeker needs to pack the maximum message into the minimum space. Many hiring professionals state that a resume has just a matter of seconds to make enough of an impression to keep the reader engaged long enough to tell your story. In addition, today’s job search likely involves submitting resumes via automated services which scour the resume for words and phrases keyed directly to the job vacancy. Getting the resume key words right is likely a matter of receiving an interview or a rejection letter.
The first category of keywords that should be included in a resume is the words that tell the reader about who you are and why you are an asset to the organization. Businesses generally do not intend to hire passive people who have a record of mediocrity. Your choice of words should make clear that you are a leader, a decider, a team player, and an achiever. But the trick is that everybody claims to be all these things and few actually are. By using action-oriented keywords, you set yourself apart from mediocrity. By avoiding the use of the passive voice, you avoid the appearance that you are a passive person.
For example, many resumes are filled with phrases such as “managed” or “developed.” While there is nothing wrong with those words, they often do not tell the whole story. Instead of “Managed a sales force of 15”, a job seeker can write “Led fifteen-member sales force to earn the President’s Award for Western Region.” Assuming that both statements are true, the “leader” of a verifiable and quantifiable success story jumps off the page. Other strong action words include: created (instead of developed), invented (instead of developed), earned, recognized, and awarded.
Another overused phrase is “responsible for.” While this is likely true, this only tells a future employer what your job duties were. It leaves them wondering what your accomplishments were. Instead of “Responsible for administering equal employment training”, rephrase this as “Trained 275 employees on equal employment opportunity.” Quantify your success: tell future employers how well you did your previous jobs, not what your job title was.
Finally, re-phrase your resume to avoid the appearance that things simply happened, rather than you making them happen. A passive person “Was selected as office mentor.” An active person “Earned a position as office mentor.” A passive person “Received three merit awards.” An active person “Led the office to three merit awards.”
After scrubbing your resume to put action into who you are, you then need to verify the keywords that describe what you have done. There is no excuse for submitting a resume for a job without making sure that it matches the vacancy as closely as possible. Adjust your phrases and term for previous duties to match what the future employer is looking for (within the bounds of honesty, of course.) For example, when applying for a job posting which includes a duty of “maintaining office automation equipment”, tweak your resume to remove “Oversaw office computer network” and replace it with “Maintained office automation equipment.” If a job posting expects specific experience with a computer program, name it on your resume instead of stating that you are “familiar with all standard office software.”
There are two reasons to do this. The first is pure survival: many employers now scan resumes and send them through keyword matching software. Resumes are scored based on how closely the keywords in the resume match the keywords in the job posting. Leave nothing to inference. The second reason is that even if a human is reading the resume, it makes it very clear that you thought about the requirements of the position and you explained to the hiring staff why your experiences are a perfect match.
By this two-pronged approach to refining your resume keywords, you will impress future employers not only with the person you are (action-oriented and an asset to an organization) but also with what you have accomplished (exactly what they are looking for.) By making yourself the obvious choice, you are one step closer to landing the interview.