I get a lot of clients who contact me and are concerned about how to effectively get relevant keywords into their resumes. My answer to them is a cautionary one of not getting obsessed with keywords because the same resume will eventually be read by a person, after being filtered through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). While you need to make sure you get the appropriate keywords to be successful with your online applications, the resume still needs to draw in hiring managers and human resource professionals to secure interviews.
For resumes destined to be used for online applications, I write resumes that ensure the appropriate keywords are there, but they are used within meaningful and interesting content for hiring managers and human resource professionals.
Later, some clients will come back to me and indicate the need for a more customized resume for an informational interview or an inside referral where more is known about the company, position, and hiring manager. Friends who are helping you get into their organizations will often have areas to avoid and areas to emphasize on your resume. The decision to customize your resume in these situations is a wise one. Inside knowledge is hard to come by, and you should maximize the impact of such opportunities with a second resume. In addition to giving you a leg up on the competition, you are in a better position to get the maximum salary. Generally, the more qualified you are from the hiring manager’s perspective, the higher the salary you can negotiate.
If you optimize your resume for online job boards, then you must follow a more standardized approach to avoid getting eliminated before a human sees your resume. However, standard resume writing practices and keyword optimization inevitably take a different tact than what you may want to hand deliver, especially if you have additional knowledge to use for customizing your resume to the hiring manager’s needs or preferences.
Better yet, if you have a friend that works in the company and is familiar with the overall needs, or maybe even the specific needs of the hiring manager, then I would highly encourage you to offer the friend a dinner in exchange for picking their brain for the duration of the meal. There are areas you should cover, and these may vary by industry and occupation. However, some basic questions could go a long way to making your resume an interview winner.
First, what are the problems encountered by the company or by the department? Are the company and/or the department short-staffed? What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses? Who is the competition? What does the company need more of to solve its problems?
Next, what makes the best employees in the company stand out? Communication skills? Specific software skills? Time management skills? What traits are admired in the organization?
Then, what makes for a less desirable employee? And, are there any topics that should be avoided? For example, did the company launch software that ended in an epic failure? You may want to skip this skill on your resume. What would get somebody fired? This often makes for good dinner conversation, as well. Sometimes you want to communicate what you won’t do or have never done.
Finally, ask your friend what he or she had on his/her resume that got them hired? Often it’s easy to figure out a week into the job. You understand a software package that nobody else does. You can communicate effectively and nobody else in the department can. Whatever the reason is, inevitably a person is hired to fill a hole or fix a problem. So, do your best to figure out what that is and make sure it gets into your resume. If you can do that, you’ll get the interview, and you’ll probably get a better salary offer to boot.