3 Top Tips on Handling Resume Keyword Filters

Information packets on building resumes and common work application processes
Information packets on building resumes and common work application processes (Tech. Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/U.S. Air Force photo)

If you've been researching how to hunt for jobs effectively, you're probably aware that many companies rely on keyword search engines to process resumes. This means that applicants are considered based in large part by the keywords in their resume, not purely on their qualifications.

While this might sound frustrating, keep in mind that most companies receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications, and they don't rely completely on keyword filters. Regardless, while the art of resume-making shifts over time, there are always methods to give yourself a leg up. If you're worried about bypassing the keyword filter, check out these three hot tips inspired by Time.com.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a free assessment.

Include Keywords

Keywords can be frustrating, especially if you've been out of the civilian workforce for a long time. How can you possibly define your service in the military with a handful of buzzwords? Whether you like it or not, keywords are an extremely useful tool to recruiters. Think about it from their point of view: There are hundreds of resumes piling up on their desks, and each one says roughly the same thing. How would you pick the best ones out of the stack?

Pretend you were hiring for your old military occupational specialty (MOS). How would you define it in general terms? What specific knowledge would the individual need to possess? Let's say you needed to hire an experienced 91B. You'd probably want potential applicants to submit resumes that mentioned their experience working with Abrams, Bradleys and Strykers, not just a love of repairing vehicles.

While it's fully possible that an amateur car mechanic could be brought up to speed while on the job, your ideal candidate might be someone with experience repairing the specific vehicles that you have. The only way to know if an applicant has that experience is if they included those specific words on their resume.

Related: To apply for jobs that match your skills, visit the Military Skills Translator

It's the same way for the civilian world: Employers need to see interest and general ability, but they also need to see signs of expertise. In many cases, this means familiarity with tools and concepts specifically related to the position they're trying to fill.

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Don't Leave Your Keywords Hanging

So what's to stop you from cramming as many keywords into your resume as possible? Why not go for broke and outright lie? Well, again, recruiters don't completely rely on keyword filters; you won't win just by having a bunch of the right keywords floating around your resume. This tactic might get you past the first hurdle, but your cover will be blown the second a recruiter reads it with their own eyes.

Going back to the 91B example, let's say that a potential candidate included a keyword dump on their resume and listed every Army vehicle currently in service but had never actually worked on one. This resume would probably make it through the keyword filter. But once it came to your desk, you'd immediately notice that the applicant had never held a position where he would have repaired or maintained an Army land vehicle. What would your response be? Most likely: "Chuck it."

It's important to connect your keywords to actual experience. Getting through the automated filter is one step, but getting through the recruiter is another. The way your keywords sync up with your work history, and any other relevant experience, will tell the recruiter whether you have enough of the right type of experience for the position.

Make it Easy to Skim

Your resume is a snapshot reflection of your professional self, not a biography. Keep it short, simple and easy to read. Recruiters tend to read resumes and decide in a matter of seconds, not minutes. It's tough, but that means it's all the more important that you keep the presentation in mind.

If you ask five experts, you'd get five answers on how to format a resume. Go with your gut, ask friends to look it over and, if possible, get a professional to critique it. Use bold, italics and underlines to highlight critical information, but use them sparingly. Make sure your work history formatting is synchronized to allow for easy skimming. Above all: if you can't skim your own resume, then no one else will be able to.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Military.com Job Search section.

The Next Step: Get Your Resume Out There

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