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


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?


“So, you want to be a pubic relations specialist?”


This question was asked to a fellow student by the career development course instructor at my public relations certificate program after the instructor reviewed a draft of her resume.  A missed “L” in what was supposed to be the word “public” not only implied this student was looking for an entirely different career, but also earned her a failing grade on the resume assignment.

The importance of proofreading:

Not all typos in a resume or cover letter will be so hilarious, but they can all guarantee the same result – a potential employer or manager will question your attention to detail and seriousness about your own career.  Hence the “F” grade in the above example, as the instructor wanted to drive home this key message.

Remember the following tips as you proofread your resume or cover letter:

  • Spelling:  When drafting a resume or cover letter using Pages, Word and even Gmail, these programs provide the luxury of highlighting spelling errors.  On many devices, the software automatically corrects typos for us.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve pretty much stopped using the actual spell check tool.  However, it’s important to do a formal spell check to ensure you don’t become blind to some of the obvious errors.  Remember to check the context of how a word is spelled, as you may have accidentally typed something that’s technically spelled correctly, although you wanted to say something entirely different (for example, the spelling of “Public” and “Pubic” in the above example).
  • Punctuation:  Let’s be honest, no one really knows how to use a semi-colon (;).  That’s okay!  Just don’t pretend you do in your resume or a cover letter.  When in doubt, stick with direct, simple sentences that incorporate action words.  Avoid using confusing phrases with extra commas or dashes that may distract the reader from the overall piece.
  • Proper names:  Remember to double-check proper names.  This may include the name of your high school or university, the name of a company or employer, a reference or even the person you’re addressing the cover letter to.
  • Using numbers:  If possible, avoid starting a sentence with a number, but if you have to, spell it out.  Also, a rule of thumb is to spell the number out if it’s nine or below, and to use the numerical form if the number is 10 or higher.
  • Contact information:  Lastly, make sure you thoroughly check even the taken-for-granted details, including your phone number and email address.  You may have reviewed your resume or cover letter many times, so your eyes may just glaze over your contact information.  It would be a shame if you lost out on a job or volunteer opportunity because the hiring manager couldn’t get in touch to tell you how awesome you are!

As a communications professional, I usually defer to the Canadian Press (CP) Stylebook if I’m unsure of the spelling, Canadian spelling or proper usage of a word or phrase.  The CP Stylebook and other related manuals are available online here.  To quickly confirm a word’s spelling or usage, you can also look it up in a top-tier news outlet, such as the Globe and Mail or National Post to see how these outlets spell or use it.  The journalists and editors at these outlets usually follow the CP Stylebook as well.

What tips do you have for proofreading your resume or cover letter?

Photo credit:

Lights, camera… action words


How do I use verbs to make my resume more compelling?

It’s critical to use action words – or verbs – to bring your resume to life.  A potential employer probably already has an idea of what tasks you may have taken on in a previous role.  So, rather than just listing job duties, using concise and descriptive action words can help you highlight exactly what you did in a job, contributing to the results you (or, you and a team) achieved.  This is a great way to set your resume apart.

Check out how to let your experience shine with action words:

Before:  Listing job duties

  1. Conducted media calls
  2. Arranged media interviews with spokespeople
  3. Monitored for coverage and tracked media impressions

After:  Results-focused statement

  1. Fostered relationships with key media contacts and secured eight top-tier media interviews with company spokespeople; generated over 10 million media impressions, which surpassed the program goal by 2 million

Some examples of action words:

Want to demonstrate how you were analytical, organized or creative?  This list of verbs from the University of Toronto Career Centre can allow you to illustrate your experience and success in these and other skill categories.

Can you think of any other verbs that aren’t included in this list?

Do you have any other suggestions for using action words effectively?


“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

– Canadian author Kurt Vonnegut when describing his take on illusionist and master manipulator Harry Houdini, who plays a role in the book, The Confabulist, via the Calgary Herald.

How much can I embellish my experience on my resume?

Moving forward in your career is important.  Whether it’s moving up to a manager role, a new job, or changing industries, you may be faced with a lot of competition and may be pressured to put your best foot forward. But, what if you’re tempted to exaggerate your management experience, technical skills, on-the-job results or education just to get your foot in the door?

Here are three things to think about before embellishing your experience on your resume:

  • Your references – Whether your reference is a former employer, a past manager on your team, or supervisor from a volunteer position, this person must truthfully speak to your skills, abilities and other merits if approached by a potential future employer.  If, for example, you mention on your resume you’ve managed a team of five direct reports but actually haven’t, the truth may come out in a conversation with your reference, raising a red flag.
  • The pre-employment screening process – Large or small, many companies conduct sophisticated and thorough screening activities before making a hire.  This goes beyond just checking references.  The pre-employment screening process often involves criminal record checks and verifying the education and other credentials you’ve listed on your resume.  So, if you think you can get away with adding a fluency certificate in Spanish from a college to your resume, but you’re actually only at a conversational Spanish level after a few trips to Mexico, think again.
  • Your actual performance – Let’s say you’re a long-lost relative of Harry Houdini, and despite embellishing about your education, training or management experience on your resume and during interviews, you’re a master of illusion and therefore are hired. Now comes the challenge of proving your worth in your new role.  Without the actual experience, skills or education, this may prove difficult, and can result in several negative scenarios – company re-evaluating you as a new hire or a demotion in your role.

At the end of the day, embellishing your experience on a resume can result in a loss of trust from a potential employer, or at least, someone new in your network.

Can you think of any other reasons to stick with the truth on a resume?

How do I know what experience to include on my resume?

Let’s get to the bottom of why laundry lists should stay in the laundry room, rather than on your resume.

Post 1 photo

Have you ever seen a professional resume that listed someone’s entire work history? If you answered “yes”, you probably found yourself distracted by irrelevant employment or volunteer experience, rather than thinking about what made the person a good candidate for the specific job they are applying for.

Even if scooping ice cream, working at the University of Toronto library while completing your undergraduate degree, or dog walking are among the recent jobs you’ve had, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should be including these roles among your relevant professional experience on your resume.

One way to rule out a previous job or volunteer role is to think about the transferable skills you gained.  For example, if you were a server in the past, did you wait tables for two months while backpacking in a foreign country? Or, did you work at work at one establishment for an extended period of time, increasing your responsibility by leading shifts or locking the doors at the end of the night? The latter scenario may convey to a potential employer that you have many valuable transferable skills – such as leadership, managing others, dedication to succeeding in a job and being responsible and trustworthy – although at first glance, the basic job of being a server not directly relate to your professional career.

The key is identifying the transferable skills you have from previous roles, and highlighting them on your resume in a way that is aligned with the job or volunteer role you want.  If the skills don’t match up, get rid of a job that doesn’t relate from your resume altogether.  In other words, the roles you include should be on your resume because they demonstrate your skills and abilities, not just to fill a “laundry list” of every job you’ve had.

A last thought – you may need to get creative if removing the irrelevant experience from your resume leaves gaps in your employment timeline.  Consider adding headers into your resume that group “Relevant Experience”, which includes all work and volunteer roles that are directly related to the job in question, vs. “Other Experience”.  This type of structure can help demonstrate that you’ve been employed consistently over the years.

What tips do you have for identifying relevant work experience? Do you consider the transferable skills in previous roles, or other factors, when populating your experience on your resume?

Photo credit: <a href=””>ChrisGoldNY</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://c.