The Killer Resume: How to Get Hired by the Machines

If you are still writing your resume for the humans, you’re doing it wrong.

Man vs. Machine
Photo: Don Klumpp | Getty Images
Man vs. Machine

It’s fine if you prep a human-friendly version to hand out in the interview but in this day and age, you need to have one that catches the eye of the machines — before they let you through the gate to speak to the humans.

“One secret to a killer resume is to use the right keywords to improve your performance with search engines,” said Tony Lee, the publisher of CareerCast.com.

Remember the days when we learned how to orient our name vertically, add a picture and throw in a column format to really wow ‘em?

Yeah, throw that out the window.

Remember when we strove to be concise on our resumes and not repeat ourselves?

Toss that one on the recycling pile.

Today, it’s all about wooing the machines.

And in the same way that you choose your words carefully to woo someone you’d like to date, you have to choose your words carefully on your resume to woo the machines reading it.

So, what’s the machine-equivalent of “Wow, you have the most striking eyes”?!

First, you want to include a target job title and include it up high on your resume, an area favored by algorithms, according to Martin Yate, author of the “Knock ‘Em Dead” book series.

That sounds simple but it puts you at a huge advantage: Seven out of 10 resume writers forget to include a target job title, according to CareerCast. But don’t just stop there — use all the words and phrases to describe the job you want.

Equally important, include a “performance profile” — also high up — that describes your ability to do the job, CareerCast suggests.

The third thing that should be high up is a description of your professional skills.

“Placing these skills near the top improves your performance with those search engine algorithms, and provides the recruiter with a series of ‘aha moments’ as each word and phrase drives home your suitability,” CareerCast says.

And, while it took a long time to teach you to be brief and not repeat yourself in the cover letter and resume, in this day and age of machine-scanned resumes, repeating your professional skills two or three times further down the resume, where you you talk about your past employment experience, can actually double or triple your resume’s ranking in a search that uses those words, according to CareerCast.

“Employers use keywords to filter through piles of resumes on their desk. If your resume is handed to them without the keywords that match the job requirements, then your application may hit the ‘reject pile’ without a second glance,” said Kerry K. Taylor, who write the personal-finance blog Squawkfox.

Fox advises finding eight keywords and driving those home.

So, how do you find these magical eight keywords?

“You don’t need a degree in English to find your eight keyword nouns,” Taylor said. “Keyword nouns tend to be the ‘hard’ skills, industry-specific qualifications and job-specific terms employers look for in a job candidate.”

Of course, those are going to be different for everyone. A writer and an underwater welder will have very different keywords.

Taylor suggests looking at the following areas to come up with your keywords: degrees or certifications, university or college names, job titles, product names, technical terms, industry jargon, job-specific buzzwords, company names, service types, professional organizations, software or hardware packages and computer lingo.

A great way to find your eight is to look at five to 10 job listings with similar job titles to your field, Taylor said, and pluck out the words that are repeatedly mentioned. Be sure to include them not only in your resume but also your cover letter.

Taylor offers an example of how that strategy of plucking keywords from job listings works here.

Other important tips for winning over a robot recruiter’s heart: Make sure your resume is text only – no special formatting like bullets, tabs, italics, etc. Choose a functional font like Arial or Times New Roman in 10 or 12 point font. And use a standard address format. If you have more than one phone number, enter it on a separate line.

Ready … aim … fire those keywords!

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.