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How To Make Your Resume Search Friendly

By Nicole Cavazos

You may have heard that in order for employers to find your resume online, you need to “optimize” it with “keywords” relating to the job for which you’re applying. That way, your resume will magically float to the top of their search results and the employer will call you immediately for a job interview.

If only it were that easy. First, it’s important to point out that not all search engines are created equal. A general search engine such as Google will not find a resume in the same way that a specialized search engine on a job listings site will. For the most part, most people who post their resumes online do so through a site like LinkedIn or Ziprecruiter, which makes it easier for employers to find you.

And when you send your resume to a company, most of the time it won’t be reviewed by a human at all, but by a software program known as an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS. This system will take the information from your resume and assign you a score based on how closely you match the position being filled. Obviously, the higher your score, the better your chances are of getting an interview.

Wondering how to optimize your resume so that it ranks high in search results and on employers’ Applicant Tracking Systems? Here are some tips.

Use Keywords Strategically

Gone are the days when using a targeted keyword multiple times could score you a higher rank. Today’s ATS technologies rely on contextualization, not on simple keyword matches, enabling them to parse things the way a human might. So it’s not the word, so much as where it occurs and the company it keeps.

Therefore, if you want to highlight a keyword like “Java,” try to frame it with descriptive language that demonstrates your experience and expertise with the subject. Also keep in mind that the higher you place a keyword in your resume, the better, although it also doesn’t hurt to show a progression of your skills.

Use Language from the Job Description

The most obvious way for your resume to catch the attention of the ATS is by incorporating industry terms, buzzwords and jargon from the company’s job description into your resume. Just remember not to force it. Only use them when relevant and applicable.

Keep it Clean

Although humans might enjoy things like fancy fonts, logos, images and graphical elements on your resume, machines don’t. These superfluous elements only confuse an ATS system, which is programmed to break down information and sort it into different categories.

In general, stick to simple, easy to read formats with standard web-safe fonts like Arial, Georgia, Courier, Lucinda or Tahoma. With the exception of bullets, avoid any special characters (such as arrows or emoticons) that can prevent the ATS from correctly parsing your information. And avoid typos and spelling errors. Not only do they make you look sloppy, they also prevent the ATS from finding important keywords.

Highlight Your Skills and Achievements

Most employers search by specialized skills. Make sure your resume highlights special skills and knowledge you’ve attained that relate to the job. Include industry-specific abbreviations or acronyms that the employer may use to find candidates. And list any achievements and qualifications that relate to the job description.

Format Your Resume Logically

ATS systems look for certain items to be at particular places on your resume. Make sure that all your vital information including name, phone number and email address, is at the top. Use appropriate headings for the various sections of your resume and organize them logically.

Customize Every Resume

And finally, make sure you tailor your resume to meet the particular needs of each job for which you apply. Every job will require a different set of skills. Only include past positions and talents that are relevant to the position.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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