Keywords And Resumes: Don’t Miss The Point
Keywords. The very phrase is enough to freak job seekers out. “Does my resume have enough?” “Is there any such thing as too many?” “Should I change it for every ad?” Conventional wisdom says a resounding YES for the last question. Consequently, job seekers end up with multiple resumes. The average number is 4. This week I had someone come to me with 8. Absurd. (And they were all poorly done, too)

Job seekers want to know what hiring authorites think. Since I’ve worked with hundreds of them over 22 years – I’ll tell you. They want to know your story. But first, they want to know if your story is worth their time.

Unfortunately, job seekers and professional resume writers think keywords are more important than - and will substitute for - the story. Too often the keywords are there and the story is missing.

First, the principle behind keywords is screening. Even in times of average unemployment there are people who apply for a job becuase they think they can do it, they’re willing to learn it, they did something like it...but they haven’t actually done it or anything close to it. When the unemployment rate soars – like now – the percentage of unqualified people soars. Keywords – or rather, the absence of keywords – weeds these people out.

Second, lately “professional” resume writers like to just plop a huge group of keywords somewhere on top of the resume, and tell you this is good...because they’re getting all your keywords in there! But more often than not, that section is overdone and takes up space. Keywords should be present in your resume via a STRENGTHS section on top but more importantly, used naturally throughout the resume within context of your career.

Third, resumes in general are usually poorly written and that includes many by ”professional” writers who proclaim their CRW (certified resume writer) status makes them an expert while they may just be looking at a bunch of different books and repeating what someone taught them. But keywords don’t take the place of a poorly written resume, and 99.9% of self -done resumes are horribly ineffective while many professional ones aren’t always much better.

Where does the story come in? A well-written resume isn’t a list of your employers and what you did in each place. Nor is it a brag sheet. Rather, it tells the story of who you are, what you can do, how you’ve made a difference, how you’ve grown, how you make decisions, what your level of motivation is – all within the context of your career. The companies for whom you’ve worked and what you’ve done there – typically boring job d escription stuff – is the least of it. With or without the keywords.

My point is – if your resume is well written, and tells your story thoroughly and effectively, both general and specific keywords will be present because it’s pretty hard to present your career without keywords. So on some level, it’s even difficult to write a resume poorly and not use applicable key words.

If you’re a medical device sales person, can you write a resume that doesn’t mention any of the following relevant to what you’ve done: medical device; territory; accounts; capital equipment, disposables, or both; physicians (and relevant specialty); the applicable hospital department...etc.

If you’re an IT project manager, common sense says you list the hardware, software, and programs that you’ve experience with and whatever experience you focused on. You may have a poorly written bullet that’s a job description: Negotiated with vendors to procure best prices for hardware, software, and services or you may have a more effective, accomplishment-oriented bullet that tells how you benefited the company: Saved company over $15k by renegotiating vendor contracts as they came up for renewal. Either way – you’ve got negotiate with vendors in there.

What if you don’t have the experience? Then it’s very difficult to use the primary keywords, and you have to find something you did that’s parallel, utilizing general keywords. If you’re answering an ad for wholesale sales of men’s clothing but your experience is in wholesale furnishings, the primary keywords won’t fit – no matter how hard you try. Your experience isn’t in selling men’s clothing wholesale. So you better have bullets that relate not just your sales awards, but how you sell, if you build relationships, what your methodology and philosophy is. Although again, here is mostly where there’s only a job description and a list of sales awards.

Something like:

• Sold home furnishings to Fortune 500 companies and developed key accounts.
• Took territory from last place to first place 2008
• 2 sales person of 25 for northeast region
• Cold called to develop new accounts

Keywords? men’s clothing, wholesale, Fortune 500, sales, territory, new accounts, cold call, key accounts. Good, right? Nope. No story. How do you sell? How did evolve the territory? If it was a new market base for you, how did you learn it? What was your selling method of cold calls to developing accounts? Who were your clients? What problems did you solve for them?

Do you see the correlation? The worry about keywords is not only overhyped and overdone, but misplaced. Keywords are about experience. And if you’ve got the experience, you’ve got the keywords. The real job – and the most effective use of keywords – is to make sure those keywords tell your story and your story encompasses the keywords. Without the full context, keywords might get you past the the first few cuts, but if your resume can’t substantiate your story and leaves it untold, you may not get past a phone screen. If your interview skills aren’t well developed, no matter how many keywords are on your resume, keywords alone won’t carry you through.