Electronic Resume Revolution Revisited
©2009, Pat Kendall, All Rights Reserved

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.

Vanilla Resumes

In Electronic 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.

Action Words vs Keywords

Electronic 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 text.

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.

Keywords 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.

Keyword Evolution

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 examples.

The electronic 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.

Pat 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.


Pat Kendall, NCRW, JCTC
Phone (503) 639-6098
24-hr Fax (503) 213-6022
eMail pat@reslady.com

©2010, Pat Kendall, All Rights Reserved