The New Science Of Resumes—And Why Yours Sinks To The Bottom Of The Pile

Everybody now needs two resumes—one for the computers that scan them, and one for the humans. And don't forget your keywords and social resume.

Keywords, social resumes, applicant tracking systems, and LinkedIn are all relatively new additions to the vocabulary associated with job searching. These systems affect the way your resume is read, interpreted, and shared. For employers looking to hire, these systems make it easier to find the right candidates. The successful job seeker must know how these work to be discovered by employers.

As CEO of Interview Jet, a daily-deal service for finding tech talent, I see hundreds of resumes each day. I’m always impressed by the unending online inventory of people available to employers. In the world of hiring, the total measure of a person is, at first, their resume. Below are insights from a world knee-deep in resumes.

All Resumes End Up In The Same Pile
When you use a job boards like Monster or Dice, you may or may not realize that resumes you upload can lead to many places, including a mind-bogglingly massive database that’s eventually visible to thousands of recruiters and hiring companies alike. Companies like these earn their keep by collecting data from multiple job boards, aggregating them into one massive repository, and then making that data searchable for recruiting companies. This way, almost all resumes eventually end up in the same pile.

The job boards aren’t the only path to the Giant Pile of Resumes. Your resume may end up there even when you apply to a single job opening at a single company. Companies like JobScore encourage resume sharing between companies.

What does this mean for you? Two things. First, the odds of getting hired based on your resume are more slim than ever, unless you have highly sought-after technical skills. Second, it means your resume may need updating to fit into the brave new world of hiring.

SEO for Your Resume
"Employers are now searching with keywords," says Josh Holtzman, founder of Headhunter Labs, a tech incubator for HR-related startups, "so consider ‘keyword-packing’ your resume, including synonyms and different commonly accepted spellings of your skills. For example, if you specialize in ‘Objective-C,’ and employers search ‘Objective C’ with no dash, you may not appear in their search results."

"Keyword packing" means matching the words in your resume with search terms your employers might use to search for candidates. When applying to one company’s job opening, you’ll want much of the language in your resume to match the language in the job posting, particularly when it comes to skills required. Systems that match keywords between resumes and job postings will sort applicants higher when keywords match.

If you're not sure what keywords to use, consider enlisting help from an industry-specific recruiter. A recruiter knows which keywords are in vogue and can help you format your resume. Your new resume will be longer, more complicated, and less readable than one you might create on your own. That’s okay, because it’s the search engines—not humans—that you’re trying to please.

A New Section Called "Keywords"
To add keywords to your resume without reducing its readability, you can create a new section of your resume called "keywords." It should be formatted to match traditional headers like "education" and "experience," but the text will be a block of terms separated by commas. It looks best either near the top of the resume just under your name and contact info, or at the very bottom of your resume.

Have a Human-Friendly Version, Too
What looks sexy to bots looks terrible to humans. Your margins will be extra wide, fonts will be really small, and there will generally be too much text on the page. For these reasons, you should create a human-friendly resume as well. That’s the resume you give your buddy’s rich dad.

The cover letter is for humans, and you should put extra effort into any cover letter you believe a person is actually going to read.

Don't Forget Your Social Resume
Another way of standing out in today's job market is adding keywords to your social media accounts, also known as your "social resume." Employers are beginning to use these sites as sourcing tools to proactively find candidates. Keywords matter here, too. "The recruiting industry runs on keywords," says Chris Russell, CEO of CareerCloud.com. "Make sure you say something about what you do in all your social media accounts. For example, on Facebook you can fill in your current employer and job title. On Twitter you can mention your skills in the profile. Social media profiles allow you to identify your skill set so it's important to make that part of your job hunting strategy."

The Near Future
Keyword packing, preparing an SEO and human resume, and maintaining the social resume are daunting. Hopefully the world of resumes will consolidate in the coming years. "The future of candidate presentation is LinkedIn," says Holtzman. "Before LinkedIn, there was no commonly agreed-upon structure for resume data. It’s so complicated that companies like Sovren and Burning Glass exist to parse data in resumes. LinkedIn forces users to work within its structure."

[Image: Flickr user Kevin Trotman]

Add New Comment

12 Comments

  • Ike Eslao

    I have been hiring staffs for many years and have been hired many times myself. Not anyone ever mentioned any keywords or links related to any candidate. All the candidates I hired came from people who responded to our old-fashioned ads and came for interview one at a time. Sure I junked a lot of those resumes that showed no promise but I had to do research and verifications before they are thrown away. Most of them I simply had to "invite" away from current employment when it was clear I had to do it.

  • Hi Ike, no doubt there are many ways to get hired. My point here is that, increasingly, for better or worse, recruiters and hiring managers do use databases of resumes to find candidates, and once before hiring, they often search those candidates online. Job searchers do well to know about these new techniques.

  • Jordan Wolf

    I think the recommendations in this article are spot on. Using Linkedin has made it very apparent to me how application tracking systems filter through resumes. In reality, it is just one big recruiting tool where we get a place to save our connections in exchange for our resume. Think about how you search for connections on Linkedin using Advanced Search. The keywords you use are very important to finding the right people! 

    Below is one exercise that helps implement the author's and Interview Jet CEO's suggestions:
    1. Closely read job descriptions for the types of positions you want.
    2. Put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter for those positions. 
    3. Go to Linkedin's Advanced Search feature.
    4. Find the right person for those positions in Step 1. 

    What criteria did you use to find the right person? Now, use the article's suggestions and that criteria to optimize your resume and Linkedin profile.

  • Guest

    The article's author runs a tech company. Of course he's going to want candidates who are tech-savvy to the point of making Sheldon Cooper seem like Ted Kaczynski.

    But is this really relevant for, you know, regular person jobs that aren't on the bleeding edge? Civil service jobs, for example? If I go to USAJobs and upload a resume, what does Link In or whatever it's called have to offer me? How about education jobs, medical-industry jobs (the so-called "middle skill" or certificate positions), hell, a $5/hr clerk job at Walmart, what relevance does a "social resume" have to someone who's not applying for a job in Silicon Valley or an ad agency on Madison Avenue?

    This article neglects to mention that there do still exist other avenues for obtaining valid employment that don't involve wasting time entertaining the masses with cat videos on social media websites. College -- and even high-school -- internships, that's one, or volunteer work that may lead to a job with the place you're volunteering for. Things like AmeriCorps and Teach For America that issue temporary placements in high-risk areas, and have the potential to lead to future employment. Community colleges and trade schools that offer career-services offices.

    My advice would be to exhaust all other possibilities before bothering with these social-media wastes of time, unless you're going into this particular field that all but mandates idling at the digital watercooler whilst learning to jailbreak an iPhone and prank-install an iMap of Middle Earth. Not everyone wants to skateboard at FB. Some people would be happy to have a stable, "normal" job without bothering with fluff.

  • guest

    I am a careers professional and work at a university advising students pursuing internships, volunteer work, short-term positions (you mentioned AmeriCorps and TFA as two examples), and full time roles.  Many of them are searching outside of the tech sector or advertising. The advice in this article pertains to all of our students, and I'm reading the comments because I intend to share the article with my colleagues.

    Even if you don't find your job or network using an internet or online social technology (it would be shocking to me if this didn't play a role—you've already noted that you use USAjobs), the employer is unlikely NOT to search you if you're a serious candidate. If you don't have some sort of online presence, you're missing a critical opportunity to represent yourself positively and professionally.

  • $27180517

    This is exactly what's wrong with recruiting...companies streamline through resumes because they use "buzz words" which at face value are nothing more than that...buzz words.  

    Does it create a better applicant...no. It's no wonder companies can't find qualified people, the computer nixed them after first pass because breaking uniformity is neither desired or acceptable in the recruitment process.  So much for standing out from the pack.  

    Tip #1 for college kids: fill up your resume with the same exact words as every other person applying to the job.  Mind blowing stuff here...wow. 

  • karldotcom

    Actually, the #1 tip to College Kids should be to research your professor's papers and write yours to their viewpoint....that will ensure a higher GPA.

  • Guest

    Which sucks because I am 19, female, and conservative, while "99%" of higher education is a bunch of burned-out hippie boomer communists, the Cherokee Liz Warren "tribe." I actually dropped an econ class because the prof (black) was so far up Obama's a** and talked incessantly about economic inequality, the civil rights movement, the exploitation of blacks by white sharecroppers and how it paralleled Wall Street vs. "the 99%" and why "our brother" Obama was the man to fix all that...

    Anti-free enterprise, Leftist dominance in higher education and a "backlash" against upward mobility should be mentioned as yet another reason why college students fail to get good-paying jobs. They are brainwashed to think it's unethical NOT to work for minimum wage and blame "the man" for his millions. The hell I'm going to write an econ paper for this Marcus Garvey wannabe extolling the benefits of Marxism. And no, I'm not racist but find it frustrating that it's impossible to criticize the teaching style of a radical black professor (or president, for that matter) without coming across as one.

  • Kathy O'Reilly

    Thanks for a great article.  Hope to also point out that Semantic Search is really changing the way job seekers are being found by employers.  Monster's VP of Search Architecture explains how in this recent article for US News & World report. Good tips on what job seekers can do to increase their chances of being found: http://money.usnews.com/money/... . 

    Thanks again for your article & happy to connect to share more on how semantic search is changing the "job search & get found" game.

    -- Kathy O'Reilly, Monster.com