When job search expert Pat Kendall first started working with clients and their resumes in the '80s, the average employer might have spent as much as 30 seconds looking at that piece of paper. Now that most resumes are processed electronically, she says the time has been cut down to roughly 15 seconds. As attention spans shrink and the ranks of the unemployed grow, a regular e-resume won't be enough to get to the top of a growing pile of eager job seekers. Kendall, a former president of the National Resume Writers' Association, spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jessica Ramirez about what it takes to get your resume noticed on job boards and employer Web sites. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Why is it so critical to tailor your paper resume for online job sites?
KENDALL: Well, in short, resumes are now almost all processed electronically. So if people create a traditional resume and do not employ the specific keywords that prospective employers use to search through applications, then they are not going to get far.
How do you determine what keywords are essential to getting noticed?
What I recommend is that a person finds two or three of the best postings that match their ideal job. They should then pull the keywords used in those postings and weave them into their own resume. Keywords are the words used to describe desired qualifications, skills and knowledge.
Should these keywords appear in a certain place in the resume or a certain number of times?
There's a fine balance [regarding the number of times you include them]. Some people throw in keywords indiscriminately and when a human tries to read the resume, it's just garbage. You have to keep that in mind as you weave these words in. Typically, I recommend that people include their keywords at the top of the resume in a qualifications summary that is very closely tailored to the requirements of the job. In fact, a lot of jobs these days, especially government jobs, specifically tell you to do this. That's more important than ever because of the way resumes are now processed and the amount of competition that is out there.
A lot of times, employers will query a job site and look for the most recent applicants that fit their search requirements. Aside from keywords, how do you make sure you stay in that pile if your application has been up for weeks or months?
When an employer goes to Careerbuilder.com, for example, they are typically asked whether they want matching candidates from the last 30 days or all candidates. Most employers will want the freshest candidates. The way to keep yourself in that fresh pile is by resubmitting your resume once a month. So it's important for jobseekers to keep track of where they submit their resume so that they can do this and remain at the top of that pile.
What else is critical to a successful e-resume?
One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is that they don't really read the online job posting, and as a result they do not follow the instructions, or notice that sometimes the ads include the keywords they should use. The devil really is in the details here, so candidates need to make sure they read the job descriptions and look at the requirements for the job and tailor their application to those requirements as much as is appropriate. Then they need to submit the application in the right format, [which usually depends on the job site or employer]. I have some job seekers who tell me they just use a PDF resume to avoid formatting problems. But some employers can't process that. People who don't pay attention to instructions or how to submit are at a real disadvantage.
What type of information should your e-resume include?
Some people have a series of accomplishments in their resume but they are not relevant to the prospective employer. If a person is applying for a sales position, then they need to concretely show that they have specific successes in that area, and they need to realign their language to mirror what employers are seeking.
How much should you edit the resume to fit the job?
You want to make sure your message is very targeted to the job you're applying for. Job seekers don't want to hear this, because it's not just one generic resume or application for every position. And if you're applying for several positions, then it's a lot more work. But it's critical to being successful and everyone wants to be successful. To do that you can't take shortcuts.