Choosing the Best ATS Keywords: Is Your Resume Scannable?

When you write a resume today, you have to make sure it can be read by two different audiences: the traditional human eye and an automated tracking system (ATS). Human resource professionals and executive recruiters use this scanning technology to scan and store a high volume of resumes based on industry- and functional-specific keywords. The system then produces a short list of viable candidates.

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Here are my top three tips for choosing and formatting these keywords effectively for an ATS-friendly resume.

  1. Brainstorming your resume keywords

In helping my clients understand and make use of keywords, I like to play a brainstorming game. I say, “Imagine your resume is hidden in my computer. I’ve scanned it. What buzzwords would I have to type in order for your resume to come out on top?” This really gets them thinking. Try it for yourself!

  1. Researching your resume keywords

There are many places where you can source keywords. The first and most important is the job posting. You want to be very deliberate about using the same specific terms the employer has incorporated in the job notice. Use the free site TagCrowd to see which keywords are used most often in the posting.

Do a Google search for your job title or function, and check the National Occupation Code (NOC) (you’ll find sample job titles, as well as lists of duties). Of course, do a Google search.

Keyword research is another great reason to engage a resume writer who will be acutely aware of the hottest buzzwords in your industry (at least they should be).

  1. Placing your resume keywords

A properly formatted resume should include a list of keywords near the top of the page. You could format this as a simple table with a heading such as, “Core business competencies.” See these sample resumes that include effective keyword lists.

Use two or three columns, with the most relevant phrases at the top of the left column. Separate soft skills from hard skills – that way the machine can pick them up faster because they’re all grouped together. Have no more than 18 keywords total (i.e., three columns of six).

Also use the keywords three or four times throughout the body of the resume, e.g., in your professional experience section and in your STAR stories (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

You never know if your resume will be read by a human, machine or both. Without the right keywords, you’re toast either way. If it’s fed through ATS and you don’t have keywords, you’re likely gone, even though you may be the perfect candidate. Humans need to see the keywords as well, so they recognize your potential.

It would be very sad to miss out on an opportunity just because your resume is missing the right keywords. Find yours now by looking on the right-hand side of this page for “Do You Know Your Keywords?” and download my free guide to resume keywords.

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