Letting Keywords Work for you

A resume and cover letter is designed to get your foot in the door when a company is looking for talent; so what if a machine looks at your information first in order determines who gets an interview?  Keywords in your resume and cover letter are the ticket to moving past the crowd and defining your skill set in a short amount of time against the business of a human resource department.

Most hiring centers use what is called an ATS – or applicant tracking system to ‘look’ at the high volume of resumes that flood in after a position is posted. This is a sophisticated computer interface that can be programmed to know what the company is looking for in an applicant – and most systems use key words to match resumes to the job description of what they are seeking.  So in order to move ahead in the process, you need to be savvy in making sure your resume sparkles with the correct trigger words.

The first rule is to try to match the job description key words so your information will get picked up by the ATS…and then refine what you can do in the associated work arena.  Keywords are the code or cyphers that define talents and what the company is looking for in the form of a one or two word synopsis or a short phrase, with skills that reflect industry standards.  The idea is to match them together successfully and to add what is unique to your skill set and success story.

Many key words fall into categories that can help you pinpoint your strengths.  Software words such as ORACLE, JAVA and MICROSOFT show you are technically competent, and there are hundreds more to add from your knowledge base.   Skill sets such as WAREHOUSE MANAGEMENT, PUBLIC RELATIONS, HUMAN RESOURCES, CALL CENTER, CUSTOMER SERVICE, RISK ASSESSMENT, AUDITING, WRITING, DESIGN and TRAINING all serve to highlight past experiences and desired talents.   It is important to also list special specific soft skills such as DECISION MAKING, SELF MOTIVATION, LEADERSHIP and TIME MANAGEMENT in order for your resume and cover letter to get the proper focus and direction.

In order to assess what specific key words apply to you, a brainstorming session will help get you going in the right direction.  Sometimes, a job description will feel like it is the right fit for you, but you will need to come up with keywords, otherwise not included in your resume, that fit what you can do to enhance your fit for that position.  Try to think of your daily tasks – write down lists of what you have done – what you are good at, where you succeeded – and make sure to include lots of ACTION verbs like MANAGED, LAUNCHED, TESTED, BUILT and SCHEDULED.

Making a list of the right keywords can define your skill set and allow you to focus on your strengths and successes.  Target your accomplishments, ask colleagues for input and don’t be afraid to free associate ideas in order to come up with your own keywords that are unique to your specific skill set.  Make sure you also explain your background and why you are the right candidate for the position in your cover letter so you are also showing your writing skills, as you cannot explain your competencies using keywords alone.   A well rounded resume and cover letter dotted with the correct words and phrases may help you highlight what the company is seeking, you can show your creativity in the process and land a job that fits.

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