SEO Your Resume: How and Why Key Words Can Help With Getting the Job

There is a strategy of marketing known as “Search Engine Optimization,” or “SEO.” Techniques differ, but the easiest way to understand SEO is that a search engine uses a program to read a website, look for keywords and key phrases, and then decide whether or not to put you in search engines for those words/phrases.

For example, if you wanted to make a website about resume tips, you would have to create a website and use the phrase “resume tips” a few times on the website to make sure that search engines understand what your website is about.

How SEO Affects Resumes

SEO is for marketing. But you can learn a little about how to create a resume from these SEO techniques. The idea of integrating keywords into your resume is a critical one. There is a great deal of evidence that those people who take the time to add relevant keywords to their resume are more likely to be called for a job. There are many different reasons that adding keywords to your resume can be beneficial, including:

  • Employers Are “Searching” For Key Words

Employers spend very little time looking at each resume. Most of the time they are briefly looking for these key words. For example, if you’re applying to a job as an accountant and the company needs you to understand Quickbooks, they are not looking for the words “Accounting Software.” They are looking for the word “Quickbooks.” If you don’t have that term on your resume, your resume is likely to be ignored.

That is why those that consider the possible key words for the job are the ones that are more likely to be found by the hiring manager and selected for further examination, and those that do not will quickly get ignored. If you have those key words, the hiring manager will instantly spot them.

  • Key Words Show Knowledge

Similarly, one of the most common flaws in resumes is that they are too broad. It’s easy to hide a lack of knowledge behind a broad statement, like “Presentation Experience” rather than specifics “introduced product XYZ at DesignCon San Diego…” Keywords and key phrases throughout your resume show that you actually understand the industry and that you’re using terminology that proves that you’re an insider.

  • Improving the ATS Results

Keywords are not just for people either. More and more employers are finding that they simply cannot collect, analyze, and track applicants as easy as they could before, so they use what’s known as “Applicant Tracking Systems” – databases that analyze resumes automatically by looking specifically for keywords (among other things). These databases can also be searched.

Placing keywords in your resume is critical for applicant tracking systems. Some systems use pre-determined keywords to provide you with a candidate “Score,” and without those keywords your score will be lower. Similarly, employers that need someone with a specific experience will search for it in the database, and if the keyword is not there you will not show up.

Determining the Right Keywords

For those reasons and more, placing keywords and phrases in your resume is very important. But how do you determine the right keywords to use?

There is no magic formula, but there are many strategies that you can use:

  • Review the Job Description – Almost always, some of the keywords are in the job description in some way. For example, if the job description asks for someone who knows SQL, and you know SQL, then SQL needs to be somewhere on your resume as it may be a key term. Don’t forget synonyms or related technology when applicable.
  • Review Other Job Descriptions – You should consider looking at other job descriptions for similar jobs as well. If you find that many other competitor companies are asking for someone who knows a specific software, for example, then it’s safe to assume that the company you are applying to also needs someone who knows that software.
  • Use Variations – You can’t always know exactly what keywords to use, but you can brainstorm. What do you think an employer needs? What are some other ways to phrase it? Can you fit both the abbreviation and the full phrase (ie, SEO and Search Engine Optimization – the applicant tracking system may see them as two different words)? These are what you have to think about for your resume.

There is a guessing component as well, because the truth is that you do not know what keywords the company may want or use. Think back to your own expertise and try to picture what makes an excellent candidate, then focus on those types of keywords and knowledge.

Keywords Are a Must – But Not Everything

Even though keywords are quickly becoming one of the most important parts of developing a resume, they should not be the only focus. Even resumes that are placed in applicant tracking systems will someday see a human’s eyes, and some ATS systems use algorithms that are capable of determining grammar, spelling, value of the information, and more.

Still, keywords should be in your mind as you write your resume, because the less time hiring managers have to review it, the more they are going to focus on keywords to make decisions on who to review further.

By Sia Mohajer
Sia Mohajer HR manager