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October 20, 2017

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The Resume Gatekeeper

In this day and age, keywords are not only important for search engine optimization but also when it comes to our career and our job search. Employers often use electronic filters, called applicant tracking system such as ApplicantStack, to identify and filter relevant resumes. Applicant tracking systems save employers a lot of time because they narrow down the candidate pool to the top candidates whose resumes the system has identified as the most relevant. Even after the applicant tracking system has ranked a candidate as a good match, the employer still does not see the resume of the candidate. He only sees the “data” the applicant tracking system deemed important and pulled from the candidate's resume. These systems are far from perfect and it happens quite frequently that good candidates get filtered out. However, employers rely on them.

Understanding this system and using the right keywords in our resume is therefore crucial to passing the electronic gatekeeper. For a job seeker, this may be the first barrier in stepping into a new role: a resume full of accounting keywords, for instance, will have a hard time getting past filters for a job in marketing. Before drafting a resume we should therefore first conduct thorough research about the skills required for the position to which we are applying. Those skills will likely be the keywords the applicant tracking system is scanning for.

We have to get an in depth understanding of what hiring managers are specifically looking for in a new employee. Furthermore, we should know what the culture of the firm is and what values they embrace. Research is conducted in three directions: first, we should look at various job descriptions for the position we are seeking in order to identify required skills. The more specific a certain skill is, the better. General skills -- that apply to a variety of positions -- are less valuable. Second, we take a look at the concrete job description; and finally, we research the company to which we are applying in order to better understand what distinguishes it. Researching doesn’t mean simply clicking through the website, for example, and reading a bit about the company. Research is a systematic search for valuable information. Valuable information includes skills required, the company goals, the challenges the company faces and the culture and values they subscribe to.

Once we have identified the skills that are important for the job, we should match them up with our previous experience. A table with two columns -- one for the skills required and one for our matching skills -- can help us organize this process. After we have done so we include these keywords/skills and our related job experience throughout our resume. It is very important, however, to back up every claim of possessing a certain skill with examples of our work that required that skill. Merely stating that we possess a skill is nothing than a claim. Adding an example from our experience is what makes the claim a fact.

There is a whole “science” about how to place keywords into the resume to pass the electronic filter. However, before getting caught up too much into strategic considerations it is much more important to first understand the importance of matching up the resume to the job description. The resume is like a photo negative of the job description. What the employer is seeking should be the story the resume is telling.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine;

Principle at Jaeger-Fine Research & Consulting and founder of CareerPow - The Career Change Academy


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