by Mark Cummuta

Job Search: Four Ways to Stand Out in Today’s Market – SEO Your Resume

Apr 15, 2010

Part two of 3rd post in a four-post series on ways to differentiate yourself as THE candidate employers want. 3) SEO Your Resume

Yesterday we started our discussion into how to stand out in today’s market by improving your resume. Today, we will expand on your resume improvements by adding more advanced SEO, or Search Engine Optimization techniques in order to push your resume to the top of the “Yes” pile!

Many employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) or screening software to weed out irrelevant resumes. In fact, more than 90 percent (90%) of all corporations identify candidates using keyword searches from online resources (e.g., job boards, LinkedIn, Twitter, FaceBook) and their own applicant tracking systems.

To ensure that your resume doesn’t get screened out and does capture the hiring manager’s attention, you need to use two additional, advanced resume techniques. First, you must optimize your resume for search engines by stocking it with keywords and search strings unique for each job opportunity, that recruiters, HR personnel and hiring managers will use to select candidates’ resumes. You then need to weave your selected keywords and experiences into an engaging yet succinct story of your career, so your resume stands out for the hiring manager.

If you’re not already familiar with your target industries’ critical keywords, you can learn them by reading industry-leading magazines and analysts’ articles and whitepapers. You’ll also often find the unique keywords that the hiring manager is specifically looking for in the job ad to which you’re responding.

The job search researchyou should be doing for each job opportunity should provide you with the majority of the keywords you need to include. (If you need more help getting started, check out these keyword lists: Jesse Ruiz,,,, CareerRocketeer,, and of course, Google/Bing your industry and roles.)

Using search engine optimization (SEO) and organization techniques will enhance your chances of an applicant tracking system flagging your resume as one that the HR or hiring manager must read. The three techniques I recommend as having the most impact are:

1. Repetition – By purposefully repeating the most critical keywords multiple times throughout your resume, as well as in your cover letter and in all your correspondence for a specific job opportunity, the search engines (and humans) will see your experience in these skills as more in-depth, and therefore, more relevant to these criteria.

2. Placement – Search engines and humans will focus on the skills and experiences that you list on your resume first as more relevant to their own criteria than other skills you may list. This means you need to strategically prioritize the order in which you list keywords in your resume’s descriptions. As well, you should prioritize the listing of your accomplishments to match the priorities for each job opportunity.

3. Referenceable/Cross-Linking – Recruiters often verify the skills and accomplishments candidates list on their resumes through online searches, so it’s a good idea to list things on your resume that can be easily verified by recruiters (as long as they’re relevant to the job opportunity in question). Doing so adds credibility to your claims.

If a hiring manager is looking for an IT executive with over 20 years experience with two major conversion projects – from MS SQL to Oracle or from legacy to SAP ERP – HR’s search, whether automated or manual, will give more preference and priority (and thus higher search ranking) to those resumes that have more repeated references to those criteria (keywords).

Summarizing Your Career on Your Resume in 5 to 30 Seconds

Once your resume has made it through the applicant tracking system, you have just five seconds to interest the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager in your resume, as I noted in yesterday’s post.

Employers spend the first five seconds scanning the top 20 percent of your resume’s first page – “above the fold” – to quickly verify whether your career status, geography and high-level experience approximates their needs.

To succeed at this point in the resume-scanning game, add your career status “title” as a resume headline. Make sure it’s worded almost identically to the position for which you’re applying (using a font size 2-4 points smaller than your name. For example, “Global Chief Information Officer (CIO)”, “Financial Services Technology Consulting Division Executive”, or “Vice President – Applications Development and Quality Assurance”.

Then, in the top line of your executive summary include two or three major statistics, such as your total years experience in the critical skill(s) required for the job for which you’re applying.

If you pass that initial five-second sniff test, then you’ve earned another 15 to 25 seconds to impress the hiring manager with your experience. During this time, they scan your resume for key points in your executive summary and in the rest of your resume.

To succeed at this second stage, I strongly encourage you to include two versions of your executive summary at the top of each resume. The first version is the standard contextual paragraph of three to five sentences, customized for each position, that provide a high-level summary of your career. The second version is a bullet-point summary with three to five of your BEST statistics-laden factoids and core competencies. In both, be sure to include specific examples from your career to show the hiring manager you’re giving them exactly the information they need! Together, both of these executive summaries should be no longer than 40 to 50 percent (40-50%) of your first page.

Remember, your goal with your resume is to keep an employers’ attention. You can do that by focusing your resume on your top three to five main career themes or qualifications — the ones that you have specifically selected to match the needs and solve the immediate problems of this specific firm and job opportunity. This technique makes it very easy for the hiring manager to quickly find what they need, and make a quick positive decision.

If you pass both of these tests, you’ll likely land in the hiring manager’s “Yes” pile for an interview, or at least in their “Maybe” pile for a more detailed reading later.

(BTW – With so little time to capture their attention, this is why professional resume writers make such a difference. Their training and experience allows them to best use formatting, white space and readability to make sure that what you want to say is actually heard!)

In short, a well-written, interview-scheduling resume uses both Search Engine Optimized (SEO) keyword techniques and story-telling to weave a succinct story that communicates your mastery of relevant skills, industry-specific knowledge, and the ability to handle all people and situations.

Next week, I will wrap up this four-part series by discussing the importance of volunteering during your job search, including examples from several job seekers who have successfully volunteered their way to a full-time job.

As always, thank you very much for all of your comments, emails and input!!



Mark Cummuta

CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle (