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Using Keywords in Your Job Search

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You might think you have it pretty rough as a job seeker, but hiring managers, who are charged with the job of sorting through anywhere from dozens to hundreds of prospective applicants, don't have it so easy, either. In fact, they might even argue that they have it worse. 

Not buying it?  We don't blame you, especially since hiring managers have made the job even easier for themselves in recent years.  Eager to minimize the task of manually sorting through application after application, employers are increasingly relying on keyword-searchable databases to find prospective employees.

The practice is already common among Fortune 1000 companies, and many smaller companies now use these technologies as well. Additionally, many employers also search the databases of job- and résumé-posting boards on the Internet for keyword-laden résumés.

What does this information mean for the job seeker? The bad news is that a perfectly qualified applicant may never make it as far as an interview merely because his or her résumé lacks certain keywords.  The good news is that by simply finding ways to include these keywords into your résumé, you can gain a strategic advantage over other applicants. 

So what are these keywords?  Keywords are typically nouns that reflect the skills a particular employer is looking for and may include technical and industry-related jargon.  In order to understand which keywords and phrases will be most effective for a successful job search, use the following resources:

Job ads: Search the job listing of the particular job to which you're applying, which will be the best source for keywords that an employer will use to search the résumé database.  (Don't copy the job ad word-for-word, but do borrow some of the language and implement it throughout your résumé.)  If you're posting a résumé on a job board or industry Web site, search multiple listings and look for the most common buzzwords.  Those words have the best chance of being successfully sought out by the employer's search software.

Professional associations: Attend professional association meetings and visit their Web sites, paying attention to industry jargon.  Not only will you pick up industry-related terminology that you can use in your résumé, cover letter and during interviews, you will also have a chance to network with other professionals in your field.

Headhunters: If you're working with a recruiter or headhunter, ask for his or her input.  Headhunters, whose job it is to know what companies are looking for in a candidate, can tell you which keywords are most relevant to the type of work you're seeking.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics: The BLS's Occupational Outlook Handbook provides information on thousands of jobs and is a great source for job-related keywords.

The more keywords you use, the more likely your chances of getting past a résumé-screening database; however, don't randomly implement keywords just for the sake of having keywords.  Your résumé should both make sense to the human who reviews it and be relevant to your own skills and experience.
Finally, don't stop at your résumé. Utilize keywords in your cover letter, interview and follow-up letter or e-mail, which will indicate that you are knowledgeable about the company and the demands of the job.


Last Updated: 21/09/2009 - 5:41 PM


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