Is Your Executive Resume Keyword Optimized?


As an executive I am sure you wisely put substantial effort into ensuring your resume powerfully articulates your value proposition to potential employers. But do you realize how critical it is that your executive resume properly leverages the power of keywords to ensure that the document you so carefully crafted is actually seen by those potential employers?

I recently attended a seminar on “Unlocking the Mystery of Employer Keyword Searches” sponsored by the National Resume Writers Association for its executive resume writer membership. Offered in that seminar was a wealth of information and insights into how employers search for candidates, the proper use of keywords in the executive resume, the importance of the candidate “relevancy factor,” and what things look like from the “back-end” of an employer search.

Firstly, it was discussed that the primary ways employers search for candidates through back-end systems are via their own website, job boards, and resume databases. It was revealed that 85% of companies use technology in candidate search now, up from 20% in 1997. Smaller companies with less than 100 employees typically cannot afford memberships on the mega-boards like,, etc., where annual fees can run upwards of $5,000, so they opt to use the lower-volume, niche boards. Hint: Posting your resume on industry-specific or job-function-based job boards can be a good strategy to reach the universe of smaller companies.

Adding to the importance of keyword relevancy is the fact that with the advent of job boards as a resource for candidates, executive recruiters began a mad dash to post their job assignments on these boards. They soon found they needed an efficient way to sort, catalog, and store the hundreds of resumes that flooded in as a result. So automated systems such as early pioneer ResuMix began to scan resumes, many of which went directly into databases without human intervention. And what did those scans look for? Keywords, of course. Usually nouns, sometimes verbs, and rarely soft words or phrases such as “proactive,” “team builder,” “results-oriented” that may be important for a human reader later but NOT to the automated system.

What are some of the parameters on which an automated search is based?

* The date the resume was submitted. The search will usually go back 90 days AT MOST. It’s considered best to tweak and replace your resume on each site every 30 to 60 days.

* Recent employers… It is not surprising that companies would have an interest in recruiting candidates from their competitors.

* Job titles… but only if fairly generic, since the exact title can differ so much from one company to the next.

* Geographic location of the candidate.

The search typically scans the actual resume a person submitted, NOT the information on a filled-out online form with a few exceptions:

* Salary … When an online form has requested this, people who have listed their salary and salary requirements will come up first.

* Career level… again, if included on online form.

Here’s how the “relevancy factor” comes into play. The sheer number of keywords your resume contains and their frequency is key. The executive resume needs to be “rich” in keywords, while taking care not to overdo it.

The keywords must be relevant to the text in which they occur, and there is no value in seeding the document with keyword lists that are obviously not supported by the content of the resume. Some newer systems actually “read” in context to determine relevancy. For instance, if the keyword occurs in the middle of a sentence it is considered better than in a list. Core Competencies sections are fine for emphasis, but you’ll also want to weave these words and phrases into the body of your text. Keyword lists are not necessary if the resume is written correctly.

Once ranked by keyword richness, how recently that resume was posted or updated is the next ranking criterion.

If there are “required” qualifications like a certain degree that you do not possess, your resume will still generally come up, but it will be listed after those that do show that qualification. Note: Many systems search for the full names of degrees rather than their abbreviations, so it may be best to write it out (e.g., Bachelor of Science versus BS degree).

Finally, a couple of important DO’s:

* Pay attention to how the employer or recruiter states he or she wants to receive the resume — follow directions! You may be eliminated if you do not.

* Include your name on the file name of the resume document! You do not want yours to be one of 500 resumes with the title of “myresume.doc” in your recipient’s inbox!