And the Job Goes to … the Candidate With the Right Keywords

Wondering why you never get the job despite sending a flurry of resumes that you spent days — maybe weeks — perfecting? A little-known, behind-the-scenes hiring secret could be the problem. Search engines, not actual people, select the top job candidates from piles of resumes. That’s right, the process is automated. If your resume does not contain the perfect mix of keywords, you will not make the cut.

“If this sounds like applicants are applying to a machine instead of a person, that’s correct,” Rob McGovern, founder of, one of the world’s largest online career sites, and current CEO of, a job matching and resume writing site, told TechNewsWorld.

“Keep in mind; the screening software doesn’t have common sense, so it is essential to incorporate a complete universe of keywords around an area of expertise,” he advised.

Who Is Searching Whom

There is no doubt that this is a hiring market. Employers can afford to be very picky about future candidates and new hires. Search engines are simply a highly efficient means of cherry-picking talent from a very long unemployment line and a deep pool of the underemployed. So, what companies are using search to cull candidates?

“Pretty much every company with more than 500 employees and a recruiting team of more than five people has someone who is using resume databases (free or paid) to source — or they are hiring an outside firm to help them source using theses tools,” Dan Arkind, founder of and a 15-year online recruiting vendor, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s in the tens of thousands.”

“Using these technologies to help filter inbound candidate applications is newer — and we are one of the firms that do that,” he said.

How Resume Search Is Done

There are two main approaches to resume search: The first is to reach out and find resumes outside company walls; the second is to search resumes that have been submitted directly to the company.

The search outside company walls is mostly contained to online job sites, professional boards, social media and some creative Google searching.

“Over 85 percent of companies use job boards in some way to find resumes,” Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tMedia and a consultant for, where she worked for over seven years using and building strategies around resume search technologies, told TechNewsWorld. “This is a very common and productive method.”

“About 53 percent of current employers use social media sites to locate top talent as well. This number changes daily, so it’s difficult to accurately quote,” she said. “What is clear is that the leading social media platform in resume search is LinkedIn, with over 86 percent of that 53 percent reporting that they use LinkedIn as a primary resume-generating source.”

Searching resumes that are offered directly to the company requires different software, although online search such as Google, LinkedIn and other social scrubs are used to verify candidates too. Topping the list of in-house resume search software vendors are Peopleclick and Taleo.

“Typically the scanner will assign scores to resumes so the number of ‘top’ potential candidates varies depending on the parameters of the search,” Thomas Pettigrew, human resources manager for The Ginn Group, a small government contractor, told TechNewsWorld.

For example, he said, geography-based search parameters can entirely change your chances. “If the parameter is a 10-mile radius of Atlanta, your chances are smaller, as hundreds of candidates will fill that need,” he explained. “On the other hand, if the search parameter is a 10-mile radius of a much smaller town, your chances improve considerably.”

Pettigrew says that resumes of highly qualified job candidates get tossed everyday because the resumes contain terms specific to their previous employer’s company rather than to the industry as a whole. “If the key word we are looking for is ‘Microsoft Word,’ because we want someone skilled in using that software, and you just put Microsoft on your resume or you listed an open-source equivalent or a proprietary software, the scanner will not recognize it and your resume will end up in the rejection pile.”

The way to end up in the pile of top candidates, he says, is to refer to open source or proprietary software as “Microsoft Word-like” or “equivalent to Microsoft Word.” Do the same throughout your resume. It is common for an employer’s list of keywords to specify software, hardware, skill sets (accounting, HR, etc.) and job titles. If you had a funky job title at your last job, write the equivalent industry job title beside or below it.

If you are applying using an employer’s online form, fill out everything on the form. Do not skip any sections or type “see attached resume.” You have to get the right keywords on that form or else no one will see your resume, attached or otherwise.

How to Apply to a Machine

While top candidates are culled from thousands — sometimes millions — of resumes by machines first, it is important to remember that humans will read those same resumes eventually. Therefore, the resume must be written to appeal to both machine and human eyes.

“In creating key words, candidates should think about how an employer will search for them and should then build those words into their executive overview,” advises Miklusak.

An emerging trend is for candidates to add an actual “Key Words” or “Key Skills” summary at the bottom of their resumes to ensure good search engine optimization in employer search. “This is an excellent practice, and most employers are becoming familiar and receptive with the tactic,” says Miklusak. “Adding actual tags to the resume is an excellent way to come up ahead of other resumes placed on the Web in either online job boards or social media databases.”

However, recruiters warn against using key words that are not directly tied to your education or job experience.

“Rather than a grocery list, the best way to present keywords is to pepper them throughout your resume within your bullet points,” Lauren Milligan, a resume expert and job coach, told TechNewsWorld.

“Use keywords when describing an accomplishment, project or result-oriented action,” she said. “This will show the reader — ultimately, a human — how those keywords relate to your level of expertise and quickly establish a high level of credibility and competence. Ultimately, that’s what a successful resume will do.”

On top of his duties at The Ginn Group, Pettigrew also works as a consultant to help employers and job hunters develop the right keywords to find the talent or position they seek. “With the right key words in your resume, you’ll probably land a job within two or three weeks. That’s actually a common time period,” he says. “Without the right key words, fruitful employment may be a really long time in coming.”

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