Is Keyword Testing of My Executive Resume Worthwhile?


We’ve all heard that when a recruiter views your resume, it has about 6 seconds to impress him or her—or not. The reality is that most resumes don’t even get to the point where they are viewed by a human being for that 6 seconds. As many as 75% of applicants’ resumes are rejected beforehand, by the ATS system bots. Since 95% of large corporations use ATS systems, they must be taken into account as you develop your resume.

There has been some discussion among my colleagues of late regarding companies that offer to keyword test your resume to see how well it will score on ATS systems.

The consensus regarding the most prominent of these keyword testing sites is unfortunately that they are of limited use, and in the words of one colleague, “borderline laughable.”

So much depends on what ATS system is being used. Older versions of the most common ATS in use (Taleo, used for approximately 30% of job postings) require that your resume contain the EXACT phrase and in the EXACT order it appears in the job posting in order to merit a high score. This was tested and verified by a fellow resume writer on the Resumeter system that was previously used by some resume writers and utilized the Taleo engine.

At this time there is not a keyword testing service that I would recommend to my clients.

However, here are some basics to help your resume get past the ATS screening:

1) Beyond keywords, another aspect to consider regarding ATS friendliness is how readable your resume is for the system. ATS systems look for certain headings and customary organization to help them parse out and categorize the information. It’s a good idea to incorporate the kind of headings the ATS is looking for (for example, Summary, Profile, Professional Experience, Education, etc.) versus headings I have seen such as “Career Trajectory,” “Top Career Accomplishments,” etc.

2) Weave in keywords and phrases you find in job descriptions for positions that you plan to apply for, including not only hard skills but soft skills as well (such as teamwork, leadership, etc.). I recommend looking at 3-5 descriptions and copying the text into a word-cloud generator to identify frequently used words and phrases. (Wordle is a good one to try.)

3) Do NOT simply list the words and phrases at the top of your resume and leave it at that. While these lists are fine, it is very important to work to get your keywords into every work history entry to which they legitimately apply. Some ATS systems actually determine the number of years of experience you have in a particular skill by adding up the years covered by positions where the term is listed.

4) Do NOT put your name and contact information into a header. The ATS system will not read it! The same applies to Word’s text boxes. Likewise, do not put any important information you want to make it into the ATS system’s record of your resume in either a header, footer, or text box.

5) Be very careful with use of tables – the system will read the table in columns, so if you don’t want your information jumbled, stick to one-row tables.

6) Be aware that graphics and charts you include will likely NOT be parsed out, so make sure that information important to your case is included elsewhere.

7) Know that all file types are not compatible with ATS systems. Word files (.doc and .docx) are generally best. Some systems can read PDF files, but not all. While text files are obviously going to be the most trouble-free, they are also boring and unattractive–don’t forget that once you resume passes the ATS it will be viewed by a human being.

8) Realize that different is not necessarily good. ATS systems (and recruiters) like to see information presented in the categories, format, and hierarchy they are expecting. A recruiter may or may not search your fancy graphics, columns, graphs, charts, and complex tables for information, but the ATS system definitely will not.

For more insights on making your executive resume fare well on ATS systems, see my blog post:

How to Write a Keyword Rich Executive Resume – With Examples

or these articles on my LinkedIn page:

Your Executive Resume and Modern ATS Systems

SEO Your Executive Resume with Keywords