Stick Out from the Applicant Database

sticking outThere is no doubt that the US economy is on the mend, unemployment has been falling steadily since reaching a 30 year high back in 2009, and growth is nearly five times as much as at this point last year. And, as we reported earlier candidate confidence has returned as MRI network reported a surge in resignations as applicants flock to the jobs boards to advance their careers which have lain dormant during the grips of the recession that we are now emerging from.

This means that now is the time of the candidate, but even so competition for jobs remains strong with metro areas like Riverside, CA reporting 6 applicants per job, Miami at 5 applicants per post, Los Angeles at 4 applicants per post. Added to this, many of your job search skills may have grown rusty as a result of the recession induced ‘stay put’ syndrome, and so I thought it would be a good time to give some tips and advice on how to get your resume to stand out from others in the recruiter’s trusty applicant database.

Search Engine Optimize your Resume

Due to the volume of applications received, many recruiters use electronic applicant tracking systems (effectively databases) to catalog resumes and cover letters so they can be easily retrieved/interrogated later by way of keyword search, just like you might search for something in Google. And just like in Google, where the most relevant results come up first, with applicant tracking systems, the most relevant candidates also come up first.

As many of you will be aware, businesses spend significant time search engine optimizing their pages so they come at the top of Google searches. And you can and should do the same with your resume, e.g. optimize your resume so it comes at the top of recruiter searches, maximizing your exposure and chances of being called to interview. So how can you do this?

Easy. Create a keyword section right at the top of the resume, directly below your contacts section. Title the section, ‘Keywords’ and then simply list the role specific job skills over one or two lines. Try and mirror the exact words and phrases used in the job description. The recruiters will then search their database using these keywords and so if you include them in your resume, it will have high keyword relevancy and will most likely come to the top of the search results and be noticed.

To ensure that you maximize the keyword relevancy of your document ensure that your work profile, work experience, education and qualifications section all mention relevant keywords from the skills requirement section of the job description.

If you do all this effectively you will have search optimized your resume.

The Four ‘Attention Grabbing’ Sections that your resume must have

OK, you negotiated the first hurdle and the recruiter is now reviewing your resume. You now have about 60 seconds for your resume to grab the attention of the typical time pressurized recruiter. In fact, many recruiters will make a decision on the suitability of a candidate based on the information contained within the first third of the resume and so its crucial you make this section as pertinent and irresistible as possible.

In my experience there are four ‘attention grabbing’ sections that if included within the first third to half page of the resume will ensure that the recruiter gives your resume the due attention it deserves – which is the best you can ask for . These sections are:

Tag line: Develop a tag line that characteristics your personal and employee brand

Profile: In 3-5 lines describe your key characteristics, strengths, qualities and overall brand as it pertains to the role.

Key Skills: In bullet points, describe 2 to 4 of your key skills that are most relevant to the role. You may need to tailor this section for each job you apply for.

Key Achievements: List, using bullet points, 1-2 of your biggest and most relevant career achievements. Once again, you may need to tailor this section for each job you apply for.

The rest of the resume

Clearly, the rest of the resume should back up everything that you implied in the attention grabbing first section of the resume.

When writing your resume, make it easy for the recruiter to speed read, without missing pertinent information, by dividing your resume into clearly headed sections, such as Work Experience, Education, Training, etc…

Also, make sure that each section is properly structured and includes appropriate sub headings, making it easier for the recruiter to speed read. For example, work experience should have headings for Job title, Job Purpose (if not obvious from title), Duties and Achievements.

While we can’t guarantee you will get called to interview, but if you follow this guidance, you will be maximizing your chances of making it to the interview short-list.

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Kazim Ladimeji
Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.