In 1994, I wrote
How to Prepare a High-Tech Vanilla Resume, an article published
by the Professional Resume Writers' Association based on my review of
Joyce Lain Kennedy’s book, Electronic Resume Revolution.
In the last 12 years, the job market has continued its unprecedented
transformation and it’s time to take a second look at the technologies
and systems that drive it.
Resume Revolution, Ms. Kennedy recommended the use of “vanilla”
resumes – referring to the “Plain Jane” resumes developed
in the mid 90s for electronic scanning. However, in the last decade,
online applications, web-based resume processing, and ASCII resumes
have edged out “scannable” resumes as the tool of choice
for electronic resume processing.
Words vs Keywords
Resume Revolution was one of the first resume books to explain
the critical difference between “action words” and “keywords.”
In 1994, we were reminded that computers do not read resumes
like employers do. If the system is directed to look for cold calling
it will not read between the lines and assume that your client has cold
calling skills because she worked in sales for 15 years. You should
present your clients’ qualifications as if the reader is simply
comparing the words in the resume to a shopping list of desired qualifications,
since that is precisely what happens when the computer scans for keywords.”
While keywords continue
to play a central role in electronic resume processing, some advances
in technology warrant our attention. The new technologies are more sophisticated
than their earlier cousins. In fact, the latest round of "keyword
extraction" systems can actually interpret and read keywords in
context. In addition, the newer resume processing programs can intelligently
determine “keyword credibility” based on the surrounding
So how does this
affect resume writing? In 1994, I recommended the inclusion of a keyword-based
summary statement to focus on the “right stuff” for human
readers. To incorporate keywords, some writers simply add a list of
keywords. But with the new technologies, a keyword list does not have
the same impact on keyword scoring as a well-written “keyword
optimized” summary statement.
Lists and Spam
In addition, if
we include out-of-context keywords in a resume, these keywords may be
flagged by newer resume processing systems as spam. To ensure that your
keyword approach is viable, always use keywords in context. This
not only raises the keyword score, but improves credibility in the mind
of the human being who reads the resume.
There are literally
millions of keywords, so how do we decide which ones to include in a
particular resume? In the 90s, I encouraged resume writers to use the
“Keywords for Specific Professions” section in Ms. Kennedy’s
book. Using a list may appear to be an easy solution, but I believe
that pulling keywords from a static list is a critically flawed approach.
Why? Because using actual job target examples is the only way to ensure
matching keywords for a particular job... and even better, current job
examples provide invaluable “real world” terminology, active
verbs, and keywords – all in proper context.
Keywords are not
static. Just as the career market changes, so do keywords. To develop
keyword strategy for an individual job seeker, the most effective approach
is to extract keywords from current, “real world” job target
job market will continue to change and challenge us as new types of
jobs, professions, and keywords are born every day. As career practitioners,
we strive to provide job seekers with cutting-edge personal marketing
tools, so our resume-writing approaches must continue to evolve with
the job market.
Kendall, NCRW, JCTC is principal of Advanced Resume Concepts, author
of Jumpstart Your Online Job Search, and coauthor of eResumes: Everything
You Need to Know. Pat has 25+ years’ experience in resume
writing and is former president and first certification chair of
the National Resume Writers' Association.