Crafting the Perfect Resume is Often About ‘Beating the Bot’

Crafting a resume is always a challenge, and crafting one that takes keywords into account makes the task even more difficult. Are there any tips experts can offer about how to make sure the correct keywords get into your resume and cover letter?

As career strategist Dan Clay, author of “How to Write the Perfect Resume,” notes, “reverse engineering” your resume from the actual job description is the first step in crafting a powerful resume.

“Companies take great care in crafting their job descriptions to reflect the exact skills, capabilities and background that they’re looking for in their ideal candidate, so the more closely your resume matches the content found in the job description, the better you’ll be positioned for the role,” Clay says. “The key is to translate the responsibilities found in the job description into powerful action bullets that showcase your accomplishments, while proving that you’re capable of performing the desired task at the same time.”

That’s where keywords come into play.

“The purpose of keywords is to the beat the bot — those pesky filters the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS) uses to sort through the landslide of resumes they receive for each role,” explains Tim Toterhi, founder of Plotline Leadership and author of “The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job.” He offers a few tips on how to successfully “beat the bot.”

  1. Be specific. Compare your resume against the details listed in the job description, and use exact words from that job description to describe your accomplishments.
  2. Front load. While it’s helpful to have keywords sprinkled throughout the document, making sure that happens is time-consuming and means you’ll have to edit the document for each role. So, don’t overdo it! “Instead, craft a resume body complete with compelling metric-driven proof points, then ensure your professional summary section lines up with their top-line needs,” Toterhi says.
  3. Don’t rely on abbreviations. When listing your degrees, years of experience, and certifications use both the full spelling and the most common abbreviation, since you can’t be sure which of those options is being sought out by those pesky bots.
  4. Go old school. “Playing the keyword game can help prevent you from being unfairly screened out. However, getting screened in once your doc hits human hands is far more important and where you should spend the lion’s share of your time,” Toterhi stresses. “Once you’ve optimized your resume, try to circumvent the process by connecting directly with influencers in the target organization. Sure, I’ll rely on my ATS to a degree, but an employee referral is far more valuable. Remember search engine optimization is good, but savvy employee optimization is better!”

And what about changing keywords every single time you apply for a new job?

Clay offers this advice: “A good rule of thumb for ensuring that your resume is as relevant as possible is to build a different version for each unique type of role you’re applying to,” he says. “If you’re targeting both account executive and client success roles, for example, you should have a separate resume for each that highlights the specific capabilities associated with the different roles. For roles that are similar, such as two sales roles at different companies, minor keyword tweaks should be sufficient.”

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)