How to use the right keywords to get your resume past hiring filters

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In some organizations, hiring managers are looking for candidates for several different departments, looking to fill many diverse roles.  Therefore, it would take ages to review all of the resumes manually, and this would result roles not being filled in a timely manner.  As a solution, a tool referred to as a human resources (HR) computer program can help to ‘filter’ the resumes and cover letters that are submitted.  Not only does this save time, but it allows hiring managers ensure that there is a minimum threshold of experience for everyone who moves on in the interview process.

How do these filters work?  Usually, they’re computer algorithms that are based on certain keywords in resumes and cover letters, which are relevant to the experience required for the job.  The good news is that you’ve probably already seen these keywords – they’re typically listed throughout the job description.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail (@Globe_Careers) entitled, How to get your resume past the electronic gatekeepers, shares some insights on how to get your resume past these electronic screening programs.  Here’s an example taken from the article of how a well-qualified candidate may not have been considered had she not incorporated an important keyword into her resume:

“I helped a lady recently who wanted to work as risk analyst in a bank,” Pamela Paterson, a resume coach and author of Get the Job: Optimize Your Resume for the Online Job Search recalled. “She had an MBA, a background in accounting, she was fully qualified for the job. I did a quick keyword search of the word ‘risk’ in the job posting, and it showed up 17 times. Then I went to her resume, and it showed up once, on the second page. That would never get through,” she said.

Some of the key things to remember when you’re writing a resume that will be reviewed by a hiring filter according to the Globe and Mail article are:

  • Highlight the keywords – Make sure the recurring terms in a job description, which include skills, responsibilities, training/certifications, commonly-used abbreviations and action words are used in your resume and cover letter.
  • Keep it simple – Avoid PDFs, use traditional headers, and basic formatting.
  • Time matters – If you’ve had different roles in the same company, treat each as its own job and identify the dates you were in that role. This may be a cue to the filters that you have the required amount of work experience.

What does this all mean?  The approach to writing your resume needs to constantly evolve to reflect new digital tools used in the job search process.

If you’re searching for a similar job at different companies, you can probably work with the same version of your cover letter and resume.  But never assume that a generic resume will get you past the first round of review by the hiring filter and into the hands of a hiring manager.  Take a careful look at the job description for each company, and if that’s not available, a review of the company’s website or online newsroom may provide some hints about the keywords you should be sure to include.

Do you have any tips for incorporating keywords into your resume or cover letter?

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