You Don't Need to Pack Your Resume With Keywords

Know your audience.

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Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter
Resumes are not a science; nor do they require mathematical algorithms to land that next great interview.

While using language in your resume that mirrors your target company's needs is imperative, keyword packing is not. In other words, know your audience, be precisely focused in your target job, and let the words bubble up intuitively.

The following are five reasons you should spread your energies and job search marketing focus beyond the science of buzzwords:

1. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) vary. While you may think you've hit the keyword jackpot by following the rules of the keyword-packing road for one particular ATS system, you're limiting yourself. ATS systems vary, and more importantly, are adapted to individual companies' needs. You will drive yourself crazy trying to program your resume for each and every corporate system out there. Focus instead on "focusing" in on your target company's current situation, by reading not only about the job, but also about the organization itself, the industry sector, and the competitive market within which your target enterprise resides. Then, unearth the message that will resonate with both a machine and a human being. Armed with that information, your uber-focused message-knitting in the tenor and tone of the researched information will be punctuated with critical keywords naturally.

2. Not every company uses ATS screening. Suffice it to say, companies come in all sizes, from single, two- or three-person offices to multinational conglomerates employing tens of thousands. Even then, within the globally expansive entities, companies within the companies (e.g., business units) arise, often acting independently of one another. Not every organization has the means, or chooses to apply their recruiting budget to ATS software. Believing that your next great opportunity is highly dependent upon your ability to game a system's programming can devolve your job search into a technologically hairsplitting game where you don't win.

3. Human beings read your resume. Human beings program the screening systems and read the resume ultimately. Despite the naysayers out there, your resume should be written for a human being's eyes and ears. (Note: An ASCII/plain text conversion of your design-savvy resume is a simple solution for uploading into ATS systems; creating two separate resumes simply is not needed.) Before submitting yours online or to one of your networking contacts, read it aloud. Does it sing? Or, does it fall flat? Print it off and look at it from a consumer's perspective. Does it advertise your value in a brilliant, enticing way?

4. Net-weave your way into an interview, instead. While the Internet's vastness and ease for trumpeting your resume makes initial sense, you must remember that managing your career, and your job search, requires much more than technology uploads and clicks. If you're doing it right, you're weaving a net of relationships that will help transport your message toward a real-life audience, to whom you want the story to resonate. You don't want to drown them in a sea of keywords.

5. You have a story to tell. So many careerists get caught up in the keyword frenzy; their resume mirrors that of their competitors. No distinguishing nuances call out their value. With so many resumes noting: "Innovative and results-oriented professionals with a proven track record of success," you'd think the world's economy would soar instead of struggling. Instead of employing overused language, identify and illustratively describe specific stories; e.g., depict how you "stepped into a newly right-sized, disengaged and under-performing accounting department and created a collaborative and higher-performing environment."

Of course, you will punctuate this story with metrics that show before and after revenue/profit/etc., growth. But then, tell how you, specifically, designed the collaborative culture. What leadership and relationship-building talent did you employ? What action steps did you take? How did you handle push back from frustrated staff unhappy with the changes? Get down into the details to add substance to your achievements. Mostly, don't get bogged down in a keyword gaming struggle.

Remember, you're more than just one person in what has been unfortunately referred to as an "unending online inventory of people." And, if done right, your resume won't land on a giant pile of other resumes. Instead, yours will rise to the top.

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers.