Since I often get asked for resume advice, I thought this would be a great topic to write about. After all, I do know a lot about HR and selection systems. However, if I put all my resume tips into one posting it would get extremely long, so I’m going to break this into separate posts to make it easier to read.
I’ll begin this series of posts with the most critical issue to getting your resume through the initial screening process and into the hands of a live human being so that you can be considered for a job. When I say “live human being” I’m not inferring that HR departments are staffed by zombies (even if they seem that way at times). The truth is that many HR departments have moved over to using an electronic screening process. This means that in order for your resume to be reviewed by a human it will first be previewed by a machine.
While this process might sound a little crazy to people outside of HR, this has become a standard practice by many HR departments due to the large volume of submitted resumes. In many instances it would be impossible for the HR staff to review the thousands of resumes they receive. Having a machine scan for specific key words is a fair way to make sure that every resume get equal attention and is reviewed using the same yardstick during that initial screening process.
Important: Your resume needs to contain the right key words in order for your application to make it into the next phase of the selection process.
So what are the key words? These vary from job to job and are based on the job requirements. These may be licensure, education, experience, or specific knowledge. Whatever these requirements are will be listed in the job posting and are often blatantly labeled in a list called “job requirements” or “qualifications.” This is why it is critical to customize your resume for each job to which you apply. Make sure that you list all the requirements in the job description for which you have experience. Only the key words need to be present, not the entire phrase.
Below is an example of job experience/ requirements from a job posting on the Internet:
“Strong proficiency in Microsoft Office, Excel and PowerPoint. Self-starter with high energy and initiative to take projects through to completion. Strong ability to multi-task and work in deadline-driven environment. Demonstrate initiative to identify areas for improvement and take the lead to implement changes. Must maintain confidentiality in daily operations and conduct business in a professional manner.”
And here are the key words for which a computer may be scanning: Office, Excel, PowerPoint, Multi-task, meet deadlines, initiative, change implementation. Note that the computer may also scan for variations of these terms.
Don’t panic if you don’t have all the requirements listed in the job posting as part of your experience. The purpose of using the key words is to help identify candidates who meet certain minimum requirements, and not necessarily all the job requirements. Just because a list is provided doesn’t mean that they are using all of the key terms or using them all the same way. For example, not all the key words may be equally weighted, so listing as many as possible doesn’t always get your resume at the top of the list. Some job requirements are considered critical and if you don’t have that particular skill or knowledge your resume will be dropped from the process and never make it to the next stage. For example, many jobs require certification or licensure. For example, if a job posting for a nurse states that R.N. certification is required or essential, then anyone who does not specifically mention that they have this certification will not be considered in the application process.
Finally, don’t ever lie or stretch the truth, because this electronic age makes it easier for HR departments to flag your record for dishonesty if they find an exaggeration on your application. This could prevent you from being considered for the job for which you are applying as well as future positions with that company.
The purpose of using key words is to help quickly identify those applicants who should be looked at more closely. Having these in your resume doesn't guarantee that you’ll get the job, but it can increase your chances of getting an interview.