If you want to optimize your resume and increase your chances of success, you’ll want to consider some of the resume hacks we’ve developed over the years. Most of these strategies are focused on strategically placing keywords in your resume to help it get based automated systems and then have a stronger impact on a potential employer once it’s in their hands.

Importance of Keywords and Resume Hacks

The emphasis on keywords has come about in recent years due to the advances in technology which have digitized the resume review process. Inundated with résumés from job seekers, employers are now utilizing keyword databases to screen potential candidates. Your résumé will be placed in a keyword-searchable database and, using special software, will search for those keywords directly related to the duties of the job opening. Companies of all sizes around the world are now employing this technology. Pat Kendall, President of the National Résumé Writer’s Association, has noted that in the United States alone nearly 80 percent of employers utilize keyword databases to initially screen resumes.

What this is means is that if you want to obtain a job with a company that utilizes keyword database search and your résumé doesn’t have the required keywords to match the duties of the position, you are not going to make it past that initial screening.

The catch is that different keywords will be needed for each job you apply to and you have no way of knowing what those words are.

The good news is that job seekers have some tools at their disposal for identifying the keywords that a specific employer is looking for. Let’s review some of these job searching tools, along with job search strategies regarding keyword positioning.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are those words that best describe your job (internship) title, knowledge, skill-set and abilities (aka KSAs), names of well-known employers/internship sites, prestigious schools you have attended, degrees, licenses, or affiliations, etc.  In most cases, keywords are made up action verbs (e.g. presented, collaborated, conducted) and noun phrases (e.g. school newspaper editor, debate team captain, finance executive, multidisciplinary team leader, sales professional, etc.) While action verbs alone are good, it is also important to describe the “what” that those verbs refer to. Let’s put the two together in a couple of sentences:

  • Coordinated fundraising events for major nonprofit organization.
  • Functioned as project assistant to human resource department during the implementation of a new company-wide wellness program.

You want to use only those verbs and nouns that directly relate to the KSAs that the employer is seeking. Most nouns refer to what are called “hard skills”—job specific, industry specific words that show technical knowledge ( including software knowledge, math skills, foreign language ability)—job titles, certifications, academic awards, industry lingo, name of your college, names of internship sites or prior employers, especially those that impress, such as “Fortune 100.”

Identifying Keywords

  • The best method for identifying keywords that employers might be looking for is to peruse job ads posted to major and niche (Sales.jobs.com, Dice.com; Nonprofitjobs.com etc) job boards or social media sites. These ads do not have to be from the employer you wish to work for but do need to be for similar positions.  The goal is to identify a pattern of keywords used for similar jobs. Hint: The most important keywords tend to appear in the beginning of the ad or posting.
  • Consult such government resources as The Occupational Outlook Handbook at libraries or online. Although you will be conducting an international job search, keywords tend to be universal so will apply no matter the location you wish to work.
  • Visit company Web sites and peruse the “Career” page for a listing of open jobs.
  • Join discussions of professional groups in your field on LinkedIn.com and be alert for certain industry buzzwords.
  • Research the company culture and values of your target employers and incorporate keywords that reflect those traits.  Pay particular attention to the company mission and try to incorporate that statement into your résumé and/or cover letter.
  • Peruse industry magazines and journals relevant to your career goals.
  • Search for job descriptions using Google, Yahoo, or Bing
  • Arrange informational interviews with human resource professionals in your field
  • Use Babylon.com, a free software program that provides a glossary of keywords used in specific industries such as the arts, business, health care, education, computers, and science.  Babylon.com allows you to download relevant glossaries as a way to track keywords important to your industry.

Now that you have some good job search strategies for identifying keywords let’s talk about how to incorporate them into your résumé to increase its visibility to potential employers.

Keyword Positioning

Rather than load keywords under one heading at the top of your résumé, the more effective strategy is to distribute these words in the first third of the page under a section labeled “Summary of Qualifications” or “Professional Profile.” Instead of just listing keywords, the summary should present these words in context, fully describing your skills and accomplishments related to either your academic pursuits or any prior work experience. This will serve to grab reader attention better than a mere list of words which, by themselves, signify little.

As noted, keywords should be related to your skills and accomplishments rather than specific job title. A good method of having keywords jump at the reader is to use bullet-points in the “Summary” section with each point tying a keyword to a specific skill or accomplishment. For example:

Forged team-building skills by leading a community-based project from inception through operation, focusing on assisting low-income families to access community services and financial assistance.

Relevant keywords should also appear throughout the remainder of your résumé. Keywords that appear in the first line of each job in your “Employment History” section will be read with special interest. Employers and recruiters often refer to this as a “quick match” signifying that you have recent relevant experience.

Most keyword-based software ranks keywords according to their importance in terms of job duties with some keywords mandatory and others preferred. Keywords may also be ranked in terms of how many times they appear in your résumé. If your résumé contains none of the required keywords, your résumé will obviously be passed over. Those with the greatest “keyword density” will be selected for further review and you will be on your way to the all-important interview phase.

Job Search Tips: How to conduct a Passive Job Search

Passive candidates are usually employed but open to learning about new career opportunities and ready to accept a new job if the situation is right. How many times have you heard of a classmate, friend, or family member getting a great job when they weren’t even looking while you remain stuck at a job waiting tables or delivering packages? These folks understand the importance of a passive job search in advancing their career. It is a strategy you should know as well, especially if you seek to build a foundation for an extraordinary career in an emerging market.

Even if you are only exploring the option of launching an international job search, you don’t want to miss out on what could be the biggest opportunity of your career. Your current employment allows you to have lots of flexibility in choosing your next job; if the position doesn’t offer everything you are seeking in terms of income, challenge and lifestyle preference, you can simply move on.

Below are the steps of an effective strategy that you can utilize to conduct a successful passive job search and find that perfect job:

Step 1: Set up job alerts on industry job boards in the country where you are thinking to relocate.  These are readily available via such social networking sites as Facbook or LinkedIn. For example, the engineering industry board of Singapore may be found at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38247229073

Step 2: Participate in face-to-face and online networking activities with professors, advisors, internship supervisors, Chambers of Commerce in the specific region of the country you have targeted, business organizations in the area, industry professionals, etc. Let each know that you wish to be kept informed with what is going on in your industry in any of the emerging markets and ask to connect directly via one of the social media sites. Maintain contact with each of these people on a regular basis, but use some discretion so you don’t intrude too often. One suggestion is to get in touch every couple of weeks.

Step 3: Write articles for industry publications or journals.  Tailor the content to be relevant to the economic and labor conditions of the emerging market where you wish to work. This will enable you achieve a high profile and establish some degree of name recognition.

Step 4: Contact a recruiter at an international recruitment firm in the country who has connections to your industry and niche and can stay attuned to job opportunities on your behalf. The recruiter will know the employment market very well because he or she works in that market every day. This will enable your recruiter to also tap into the “hidden job market’ to discover opportunities not as yet advertised in professional journals or posted to online job boards. The best jobs are filled long before they become known to the public at large!

Step 5: Update your résumé regularly with any new skills, accomplishments, degrees, or certifications.  By consistently updating your resume you will be able to take immediate action when a great new opportunity comes available.

Step 6: Post your updated résumé highlighting your unique qualifications to online to industry-based job boards in your country of choice so that employers, human resource professionals, and hundreds of recruiters can be alerted to your availability. Due to the global nature of job search, it is possible that your present employer may notice your résumé has been posted or be alerted to the fact by a colleague. This may result in either a promotion (if the company wishes to keep you) or stern warning! Since you can’t be sure which it will be, you might want to omit any identifying information before posting.

Step 7: Schedule telephone-based informational interviews with potential overseas employers. Since this is an international job search, it is not expected you will hop on a plane for a 15 minute meeting. Moreover, since you are now currently working, potential employers may welcome the opportunity to speak with you about their company and the career options it offers. Indeed, many employers in emerging markets welcome staff from the United States since expats offer a unique package of skills and experiences.  The cultural exchange you share you’ll your co-workers will benefit both sides as each side will develop a deeper appreciation and respect for diversity.

At the conclusion of the informational interview, ask the hiring manager if he or she would be willing to take a peek at your résumé and let you know where it may be lacking. You want this feedback so that you can update your résumé to become more marketable in your industry. If you are lacking in one or more skills, find a way to add those skills, either in your current job or through volunteer activities.

It is always advisable to search for a new job when you already have one. Having a job enables you to be more selective in choosing among different options and gives you time to pursue only those opportunities that meet your career goals.  It is only when you are without options (or have limited options) that your decisions tend to be made in haste and, as such, are not always in your best interests over the long-term. It actually doesn’t matter what type of job you now have (waiting tables, driving a cab, working in a retail store); as long as you are employed and can meet your living expenses, you have breathing room to be selective.