by Dr. John Sullivan

(Or how to identify “improvement areas” for your own

career development plan) Because the world of business

(and the jobs in it) are now changing so rapidly it is

becoming essential for all professionals to

continually update their skills. As a result, the

process described below should not be exclusively

reserved for those in the job market. It should in

fact be a continuous process that is undertaken by

everyone that wishes to identify the key skills that

are necessary to stay on the “leading-edge” of their


The importance of keywords in a resume It is important

for all professionals to know that most resumes and

cover letters that are received at medium and large

size companies are first electronically scanned into

their resume database. Most resume scanning software

includes a keyword identifying and sorting system

which has the capability of ranking or rating resumes

based on the number of "keywords" contained in the

resume. Having the right keywords in your resume will

not guarantee you a job but not having them in the

resume almost assuredly guarantees that you won't get

an interview. Even if the resume is read by a "human"

first, the odds are that they will also sort it based

on keywords. It is important that you not only use the

right he words but that you also repeat the keywords

in your resume just in case the computer or the human

misses them the first time around.

How can I keyword search help in my career

development? Even if you’re not currently involved in

the job search, identifying the key skills and

experience that will be needed for your next job is an

essential part of your career development plan. Savvy

professionals will undertake this keyword exercise in

order to identify both current weaknesses in your

experience and knowledge as well as future skills and

experience that you will need in order to get promoted

to your next job!

Steps in identifying keywords, essential skills and


The next obvious question is how do you identify the

“correct” keywords to use? The most obvious first step

is to get “inside help” from a recruiter. An "insider"

can also run your actual resume through the system and

tell you how you ranked. But for the rest of us

without inside help the process of identifying

keywords is actually relatively easy.

If the targeted firm’s Web page lists a job

description for your targeted position start with it

as a basic source. In addition review the want ads for

this and other closely related jobs in order to

identify the key terms they are looking for.

Here are the basic steps to follow:

1. If you are really bold, first look at the job

description for the job that is "one level above" the

job you are targeting at that firm. Then compare the

keywords used in your “targeted” job with the keywords

used in the “level up” job. The new or added words in

the "higher" level job are the most important to use

if you expect to get a higher than average pay rate

(or if you wish to be promoted soon).

2. Identify the key "values" of the company you are

targeting. These values can generally be found either

listed separately (company values) on the firms Web

page or in the firm's "mission" statement.

3. Next look for any key “competencies” that the firm

lists on its Web page. These can either be

competencies of the firm or competencies that are

expected for all employees.

4. Then go through the job description and want ads

for the specific job you are targeting at the firm

that is a "one step up" competitor to your target

firm. Capture all the key words they list. Because

most firms try to emulate the practices of their

"superior" competitors, showing that you have the

skills required by that competitor will generally give

you a competitive advantage. See if there are any

"new" words that are used by the competitor. If these

words reflect more advanced skills add them to your


5. Repeat the step above for the job description and

the want ads for the specific job you are targeting.

6. Also go through the job descriptions and the want

ads of any "related jobs" in the same job "family" to

see if there are words that are “continually” used by

the firm.

7. In addition to reviewing job descriptions reading

about the latest trends in business and technology is

also essential. Scanning the most advanced magazines

and journals in business and your profession for

keywords and trends should be a continuous process.

Keywords found on the cover and in the table of

contents should be added to your list. Certain

“bleeding-edge” publications such as Fast Company, Red

Herring, Business 2.0 and functional chat rooms and

email “Listservers” are great places to start your


Sorting and ranking keywords

All keywords are not rated equally. It is important to

identify which keywords carry the most weight with the

recruiter and the firm. Rate the importance of

keywords using a formula something like the one

outlined below: Remember to repeat the most important

keywords and skills several times in your resume and

cover letter. It is always wise to assume that a human

is going to read your resume (which if it doesn’t

happen initially, it will happen if when your resume

passes the first computer keyword scan). When humans

read your resume it is equally important to put the

most important keywords early in your resume (and

cover letter) in order to excite them enough to want

to read the rest of your resume.

Words that are essential (try to use each at least

words three combined times in your resume and cover


• Words that appear in the "next level up job" and in

the "one level up" competitor's job

• Words and experience listed as "preferred" skills in

the firm’s job description

• Words that appear early in each section of the job

description (generally in the first line or two). This

is because most recruiters list the essential skills

in descending order of importance in a job description

Words that should be used more often (generally each

of these words should be used at least twice).

• Words related to business strategy and future

business needs.

• Words related to leadership and team related skills.

• Words that relate to technology, e-commerce,

software and hardware.

• Words related to the values of the corporation

• That “top four” types of experience required for

this job

• The top educational requirement for this job

assuming, of course, that you meet it)

Words that should be used at least once

Other important areas and terms including:

• Additional related experience.

• Business problems you have solved.

• Business problems you can solve (even if you have

never had

a chance to actually solve them).

• Any additional technology related skills.

• Any additional team or leadership skills.

• Any additional "hot business, management or


buzz words" or tools that you know or have used.

• Additional functional skills both inside and related


your discipline.

• Educational, learning and certification

accomplishments (including the names of any major

universities that have studied at).

• Any leading-edge companies that you have worked

with, benchmarked against or that you have serviced

as a customer (some companies focus on firm names in

their keywords search).

• Any other accomplishments, awards or recognition


indicate that you are knowledgeable and successful


Words are not sufficient

Keywords alone are not enough to get you an interview.

In addition to using the words that you have

identified it is equally (if not more important) to

show the quality of your experience and knowledge, as

well as the output or accomplishments for each word or

experience you list. For each of the major words,

tools and experience you must show the quality and

then quantify (yes, this means numbers and dollars)

each one!

• The output, the quality and the level of the


• The quality and level of the skill.

• The level of management or the customer that you

worked with.

• Any reward or recognition you received as a result


the experience.

• Any competitive advantage your firm or department


as a result of your work

Final check

If you really want to test your resume make a list of

the keywords in your target job description and check

them against your resume. If you don’t hit over 50%

don’t expect an interview. Plan B is to have your

friends do the “circle test”. This is where they

review the job description and then on your resume

circle all of the words and phrases that impress them,

put a "?" mark by those that are confusing and an “X”

through the phrases that turn them off. If there are

lots of circles and few X’s and ?’s, then your resume

is ready!


Although it is possible to get an interview without

“loading” your resume with keywords, including them

will definitely improve your chances. It equally

important to realize that when you to get an interview

that the use of keywords and how well you describe

your key experiences and knowledge is the No. 1

criteria for a successful interview. Because most

firms use “behavioral interviews” you also need to be

able to spell out (during the interview) the quality

of your knowledge, the level of your experience and

the output of each of your major projects and


From India, Madras

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