With Résumés, Moderate Keyword Usage

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Over the past several years, more recruiters and HR staffers have begun to rely on automated software to scan through their daily flood of résumés and cover letters. On the surface, that seems like an excellent idea: Why burn time manually sorting through unqualified applicants when a couple lines of code can eliminate them in a fraction of a second?

That software relies on keywords. So if you’re applying for a programming job that’s heavy on the JavaScript and C#, for example, placing those terms in your cover letter and résumé is essential if you want a shot at a human being reviewing your application materials.

But the rise of application-screening software has introduced another unfortunate trend: applicants seeding their résumés and cover letters with lots and lots of keywords, whether or not they’ve truly mastered the accompanying skill-sets. Whatever it takes to get their materials reviewed by a human, in other words.

There’s just one problem with that strategy: What if you actually manage to get in front of a flesh-and-blood interviewer, they’ll doubtlessly ask about your abilities and experience—and it will rapidly become clear that you’re not nearly the master at certain skills as you suggested on paper. The interview will go downhill from there.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to prevent that scenario from playing out: While you should certainly list any and all relevant skills on your résumé, take care not to load up on too many keywords simply to beat the scanning software.

If you feel that you absolutely must list a particular ability that you haven’t quite mastered yet in real life, mention that you’re learning it (including any classes you’ve taken, or when you expect to earn your certificate). That way, you’ll get your keyword without potentially creating an awkward moment with an interviewer.

2 Responses to “With Résumés, Moderate Keyword Usage”

  1. Its worse than that, if you have the skill, including it in list of keywords at the top of the resume looks bad. But if the reviewer is a robot or not technically proficient, they will drop you for not including the skill in a keyword list at the top. Nobody with the actual skill wants to put that skill in a keyword list at the top along with every other keyword.

  2. Alyssa Gatcomb

    This will probably sound terrible— but to get my resume noticed with keywords, I used extra space in the Header/Footer/at the bottom of my resume to type a bunch of additional searchable keywords – but I changed the text to WHITE – so they are not seen by the reviewer or printed, but they still come up in the keyword search. Sneaky trick…