The power of a single word on your resume

One of my side passions is career services. In addition to my technical writing, I also write resumes for a nonprofit. As such, I’m always looking at trends in the industry and seeking tips and tricks to help candidates get the competitive edge.

One challenge for job seekers is the applicant tracking system (ATS). These systems manage candidates and their resumes. Not only do they use keywords in your resume to see if you are a match for a particular position, they can also suggest potential positions. For example, contingency recruiters can enter your resume into an ATS and then contact you when they find a matching position.

A consequence of keyword-based searches is that, ultimately, the candidate with the best search engine optimization (SEO) skills will be noticed. Although content developers familiar with the ins-and-outs of blogging would be better prepared for this challenge, technical writers may not have these skills. Yes, the means as a job seeker, you will need to learn SEO.

Certain keywords will then be weighted heavier than others. By weighted, I mean “valued by employers.” For example, after adding “representative state transfer (REST)” to a technical writer’s resume, a number of contingency recruiters contacted this writer with JAVA developer positions. Essentially, just one word on a resume can be weighted so heavily, the ATS predicted what the technical writer was best-qualified to do. And it wasn’t writing.

So, how do you tip the scales in your favor?

Without a magic wand, there is no easy fix for this situation. You could go the trial-and-error route and just omit words from your resume that garner the wrong kind of attention, or you could set the expectation that you’ll have to wade through an ocean of well-meaning contingency recruiters contacting you about a job that you aren’t qualified to do or even want to do. I don’t see this changing soon, but at least you’ll learn what employers are valuing at the time. It’ll be up to you to harness that information in your favor.

If you have a tip or trick to share, please comment below!


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