Get Your Résumé in Front of a Living, Breathing Person

Students should tailor every job application to fit the criteria as best as they can.

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I get the most satisfaction from my work when students have "light bulb" moments and begin to expect a better future for themselves. It's as close to flying as you can possibly get with two feet on the ground.

But getting to that point often takes weeks or months, and sometimes immediate needs get in the way. In other words, sometimes you just need a job right now. Since I can't argue with that, let's talk about how you can make a recruiter stop and notice you—even amid a toppling pile of other applicants.

[Discover the common mistakes students make on résumés.]

The first thing you need to do is optimize your résumé. In the world of online marketing, businesses spend a fortune to ensure their sites are optimized to attract the right audience. A big part of this process involves embedding key words into Web pages so, when a prospective customer searches for those words online, the company's site pops up close to the top—thus increasing visibility and potential sales.

You can do the same thing with your résumé. Here's how: Whether you're using a job board or applying to a business directly, chances are you're submitting your information online. What you may not know is that unless that information is also optimized with the right keywords, it may never get in the hands of the hiring manager. That's because many organizations rely on parsing technology to save the time and money it takes for a human being to weed through applications.

In a nutshell, parsers act as virtual gatekeepers, scanning each résumé for key words that match employer requirements in everything from education and accomplishments to objectives and volunteer work. For example, if a company only wanted to hire someone with an M.B.A., it could set a filter for "M.B.A." and select just the candidates with those three magic letters on their résumé.

[Explore the U.S. News guide to best jobs for M.B.A.s.]

As the applicant, it's critical for you to understand how employers are using this technology because, just as companies use optimization to help their sites rank high in search engines, you can apply the same strategy to get out of the "thanks-for-your-interest-but…" pile.

As any good salesperson will tell you, one of the keys to actually closing the deal is to make your prospect feel like you've genuinely listened to them. So, if I were trying to get you to buy a car, the first thing I'd do is to ask you what kind of car you like. Then, I'd sit back and listen, perhaps probing for things like color preference, safety features, body style, etc.

After taking in all of your feedback, I'd repeat what you said almost verbatim, such as: "Mrs. Kettle, if I understand you correctly, you're looking for a dark-colored sporty car that's used, but under 50,000 miles with built-in navigation and airbags in both the front and side. Is that right?"

Bingo. Instant rapport.

To get noticed, you need to think of your résumé along that same line. Therefore, assuming the company has posted a thorough job description, they've already told you what they're interested in. Now it's up to you to tailor your application to fit the bill.

If the job description says they're looking for someone with Photoshop skills, don't put "photo editing" on your résumé. The parser will most likely be looking for the word "Photoshop" specifically and you'll have a better chance at getting matched if—just as in the example above—you use the same words they do.

Let me be clear: I'm not recommending you attempt to trick the system by including keywords for skills or experience you don't have. You can try, but you'll most likely miss the cut in the next round anyway and—if you flat out lie—you could do some serious damage to your reputation.

What I am recommending is that you take a good look at what the company wants and tailor every application (yes, every single one) you submit to fit that criteria to the best of your ability.

[Get more tips on creating your custom résumé.]

This is the part where you may be thinking, "Geez, that sounds like a lot of work." It is, but the "spray and pray" method of job hunting—where you just spray the same résumé out to multiple businesses and pray one of them calls you back—simply doesn't work.

Let me repeat that: It doesn't work. So whether your target company has a parser, doesn't have a parser, or thinks a parser is kitchen equipment, customizing your résumé is a good idea all the time, every time.


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