How to get that Computer to Send your Resume to a Real Person

When you submit a résumé online, do you ever wonder where it goes, who reads it and -- if you're lucky -- how it gets picked? In today's electronic world, many companies use keyword-search software or applicant-tracking systems in their hiring process. These systems scan résumés for keywords related to the open position to find the most relevant ones for the next round. This helps companies, especially large ones, sort through a high volume of résumés quickly and efficiently.

Knowing that your résumé may meet a computer system before it meets a human, how do you get it noticed? The following Q&A with Ramsey Penegar, executive-résumé consultant, career strategist and certified résumé writer for, provides helpful tips on how to make your résumé stand out to a computer -- and a company.

Q: Now that most résumés are submitted/reviewed online, what implications does that have for how a résumé is written?
Penegar: Now that the majority of résumés are submitted and reviewed online rather than in print, there are new things to consider in writing a résumé. Will your résumé be viewable online? Will it look the same as it did on your computer when prospective hiring managers read it? Job seekers need to keep in mind that format, keywords, search optimization and file type are all just as important as content, good grammar and correct spelling.
I ensure that clients have two versions of their résumé. [One is] the utilitarian text version for easily posting to Internet job boards or online applications. Since the majority of businesses use Microsoft Word over other word-processing programs, send your résumé in a file format their system will open. The Microsoft Word version is formatted using universal fonts to ensure that the recipient can read the résumé.

Q: Why is it important to include keywords from the job description in a résumé?
RP: An effective résumé has a tight focus and is targeted to the job or job types the client wishes to seek. This targeting includes keywords from the job description to improve search rates. Keywords are usually the hard skills, industry-specific qualifications and job-specific terms or phrases that employers look for in a job candidate. If your résumé doesn't have the keywords that match their job requirements, your résumé may hit the "no" pile early in the process.
Some companies search Internet job boards and résumé databases using keywords to find job candidates, while other companies use this technology to streamline their hiring process. If your résumé doesn't contain the right keywords, your résumé may be rejected even if you have all the experience and other qualifications. As a job seeker, using the right keywords in your résumé is crucial if you want to land the interview.

Q: How can you integrate keywords so they sound natural and not forced?
RP: The best way to incorporate keywords into your résumé is by writing concise action statements regarding your achievements, skills and experience and implementing the keywords naturally within those bulleted statements. An effective résumé is achievement-focused, not task-based. Start each statement about your career achievements with an action verb, followed by a keyword and ending with specific facts and figures resulting from your actions.
Simply creating a list or block of keywords may work to snag hits on the software seeking those words. However, if your résumé lacks a professional, aesthetically appealing look, doesn't explain why you are the ideal candidate or how you benefited your previous employers, you still won't get the interview.

Q: What types of keywords should job seekers include in their résumé?
RP: The best keywords can be found right in the job descriptions and ads of the jobs you want to land. Evaluate 10 job postings with similar titles and make a list of the five to 10 most frequently used words throughout all of them. These are the words you should use in your cover letter and résumé.
Here is a list of general skills and qualifications to consider as keywords:

  • Degrees or certifications
  • University or college names
  • Job titles
  • Product names
  • Technical terms
  • Industry jargon
  • Job-specific buzzwords
  • Company names
  • Professional organizations
  • Technology

Q: What are some pitfalls of relying too much on keywords?
RP: Integrating keywords is only one important aspect of developing an effective résumé. Too many buzzwords can be overkill, and a long list of keywords on a Word document will not land you any interviews. Remember that keywords are primarily for the computer software scanning your résumé; the written content is for your human readers. Quality is of utmost importance in your résumé.

Q: What other ways can a job seeker get his résumé noticed by an employer?
RP: Make certain [that] your résumé is visually appealing by using appropriate formatting and white spacing as well as correct spelling and grammar. Your résumé is more likely to be read if it's appealing to read. Don't clutter your résumé with irrelevant or outdated information and, ideally, keep it to two pages or less. College students or those with fewer than five years of experience may use a one-page résumé.
A job search should be directed in the same manner as a sales or marketing campaign. Use all [of] your resources, connections and networks. Get your résumé into the hands of people who can help you in this quest, including friends, family, colleagues, alumni or professional association members, acquaintances at Chamber of Commerce and other business community events and job fairs. Promote your résumé online using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and even your own professional blog. Rather than sending your résumé to a company or job posting cold, conduct research to find out the name of the person who would be most interested in your résumé, and get the résumé into her hands. Taking the time to develop and work your job-search plan will help you to achieve better results faster.