By Jim Wong, CPA | August 31, 2016

This week we have guest blogger, Al Riehle, Senior Recruiting Manager for Brilliant™ Financial Staffing, taking over for A Brilliant™ Blog – Check In With Jim to discuss how to build a keyword-rich resume—and why.

Your resume is perfect. It’s aesthetically pleasing, the black to white ratio is solid, it’s readable, has all the information you know it needs, and still, you’re not getting call-backs for the jobs you really want.

Sound familiar?

In my experience as a Senior Recruiter for Brilliant Financial Staffing, one of the pieces of advice I often offer to the candidates I meet is that no matter how good your resume looks, if you’re not using the right keywords, it likely won’t get read. It’s a recommendation that seems to come as a surprise to most candidates—of all levels and backgrounds—who feel their experience alone will win out.

So, what exactly is a keyword?

A keyword is a small string of words used to signify importance—in the case of your resume, keywords will identify your qualifications. Recruiters and hiring managers use various technologies to search resumes for certain keywords in order to identify and select qualified candidates.

The average recruiter spends 7-10 seconds looking at a resume before making a choice to read the whole document, or simply discard the current one, and move on to the next.

What could possibly be comprehended in just 7 seconds? Well, when I’m performing a search for a candidate with specific skillsets, if I see the keywords that I’m looking for highlighted throughout the resume, there’s a good chance I will read the resume in its entirety. However, if I see the keywords highlighted only sporadically, often times I’ll just move on to the next resume. In fact, and this may come off a little harsh, but if I don’t find any of the keywords, the resume doesn’t even make it through the filtering process.

So, how do you put this knowledge to use for success in your job search?

  • Use keywords in context and use them more than once.
    Words in context are given priority over those on their own. Words that are repeated, in context, at various intervals shows longstanding experience—a major plus.
  • Make sure you have good keyword density throughout your resume, but don’t overdo it. 
    If a search performed by a certain technology suspects it’s being spammed, it can eliminate your resume altogether. I once had a candidate tell me about changing his font to white to include a search term over and over again, thinking it might help him—it did not.
  • Double up on Acronyms. 
    If my keyword is SCUBA but you write Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, you will not register in my search. Since you don’t know which keywords I’ll use in my search, you want to find ways to incorporate both. The same goes for AP and Accounts Payable.

Bonus Advice:

  • Limit the number of resumes you send each day.
    Another piece of advice I like to give to the candidates I coach is to not send out your resume to 50 companies a day. Pick three to five and really research them. Read the job posts you can find for the job—take in multiple sources if you can find them. Pick out the keywords. They are usually going to be nouns. Isolate what you believe to be the keywords for that particular position and then tailor your resume to include them.
  • Take it to the next level.
    Find a few keywords for the position one level up and include a select number of keywords that are unique to that level. This will show a readiness for growth.
  • File format helps.
    Make sure you save your resume by incorporating the name of the company you’re applying to in the file name. That way, if you get called for an interview, you know which copy of your resume to bring with you.
  • Stay honest.
    As always, keep it honest. You’re only wasting your time and the time of the recruiter or human resources professional if they bring you in only to find out, by vetting you, that your resume is more fiction than fact. There’s a big difference between using the right words and using false words. The former is working smart. The latter will be discovered and will tarnish your reputation.

The days of simple human interaction with resumes is long gone. The first line of defense is the computers these days. Make your resume keyword friendly and make your search more targeted. You’ll see results, and it’ll get you into your next job sooner.

Need help coming up with the proper keywords to include on your resume, or have other questions related to your job search? Contact me at or call 847.805.5113.

What are some other reasons keywords are an important part of your resume? Comment below and let us know!

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