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Researching Resume Keywords in Job Postings

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by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

 

Be sure to read the main article in this series, Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume's Effectiveness.

 

The method that career experts most commonly suggest for identifying the keywords that an employer is likely to seek in any given job search involves scrutinizing employment ads to see what keywords are prominently or repeatedly mentioned in association with a given job title. The ads can come from anywhere -- Internet job boards, company Websites, trade publications, newspapers, or internal company job postings.

 

Experts say to find anywhere from three to 20 ads for the same position at various companies. Go through each one and highlight or underline the words and phrases that seem as though they could be the keywords used in the employer's search criteria. After you've analyzed several ads this way, make a list of the keywords common to all ads. Those are the keywords that have the best chance of being successfully sought out by the employer's search software.

 

A few ad tips from Dr. John Sullivan in his terrific article, Identifying Key Words to Put on Your Resume:
  • Look for the words that appear early in an ad or job description; the first keywords mentioned are likely the most important.
  • Just as workers are advised to dress to emulate those in positions to which they want to be promoted, look at ads and job descriptions for the job that is "one level above" the job you are targeting at that firm, and add some of those "next-level" keywords to the ones that come from your current level. Recruiting guru Darrell Gurney gives a good example of how to use next-level keywords in your resume: If an ad mentions a keyword for which you don't have the associated experience/expertise, use the keyword at the top of your resume to indicate that you want to be using that experience in your next job. "You are a financial analyst, and your past experience does not include work in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or 10K reporting, but you do want to move into this area," Gurney writes. He goes on to suggest that you state these skills as areas of interest. Example: Job Goal: Growth-oriented position as a Senior Financial Analyst with a focus on SEC and 10K reporting.
  • Look at ads and job descriptions for competitor firms that are "one step up" from your target firm. "Because most firms try to emulate the practices of their 'superior' competitors,' Sullivan writes, "showing that you have the skills required by that competitor will generally give you a competitive advantage."
  • Peruse the job descriptions and want ads of any jobs in the same job "family" as the one you're targeting to identify patterns of words that the employer uses repeatedly.
  • After scrutinizing ads, identifying keywords from them, and loading them into your resume, test your resume by comparing it to ads you want to target. If your resume doesn't include more than 50 percent of the keywords in an ad, Sullivan exhorts, don't expect an interview.

 

Before we launch into an in-depth analysis of extracting keywords from job postings, here's a shortcut method: Use a word-cloud generator, such as Wordle.net to see which words are most prominent in a job posting. The largest words in the word cloud are the ones that appear most often in the job-posting and thus deserving of the most attention in your resume. For example, we pasted Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Ad #1 from below into Wordle. As you can see in the illustration, "Sales," as you might expect, is the most prominent keyword.

 

Keyword word-cloud example

 

As you analyze job postings yourself to develop keywords, consider using our Resume Keywords Worksheet.

 

Here, we offer two examples from popular jobs, pharmaceutical sales rep and project manager, for which we frequently prepare resumes for clients.

 

Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Job Ads:

 

Ad #1, Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
--Works with District Sales Manager to assess territory sales performance and market trends.
--Works with Pharmaceutical Sales Specialists, as appropriate, to coordinate selling efforts.
--Works with deployed marketing operations and Medical Information Scientist personnel to develop customized programs/materials for the therapeutic areas and territory.
--Works with Regional Account Directors to maximize impact of managed care pull through activities.

 

--Functions independently with a high degree of sales proficiency.
--Ensures a strong working knowledge of product portfolio; passing all required tests.
--Applies learned product knowledge to accomplish sales objectives.
--Clearly understands the Strategic Targeting Plan and works to meet and exceed reach and frequency goals.
--Ensures sales forecasts and assigned budgets meet or exceed therapeutic and territory expectations.
--Develops an aggressive strategy for implementing the Strategic Targeting Plan following formulary approval and following through on strategy with recognizable increases of sales in territory.
--Works with District Sales Manager to assess sales performance and market trends; suggests and implements appropriate actions to enhance performance.
--Provides special education programs to physicians and office staff members.
--Provides timely and competent administrative management of work hours, sales call data, customer objectives, communication responses, synchronization, sample, and expense reporting.
--Seeks out team building opportunities in order to communicate effectively and transfer information with supervisor and peers.
--Reviews, implements, and practices all company policies.
--Works within a frame work of company cultural attributes.

 

Qualifications -- Bachelor's Degree
--Demonstrated sales and communication abilities
--Valid drivers license and safe driving record
-- Computer office suite literacy at an intermediate level
-- Previous outside sales experience
--Excellent interpersonal, organizational and time management skills

 

Ad #2: Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
Job Description: Represents company and company products in an assigned geographical territory in a complex, dynamic business environment. Primary responsibility of the Professional Representative is to effectively promote company products through a needs-based selling approach. Representatives provide accurate information to physicians and other health care personnel so products will be prescribed when indicated. Management of the territory business is conducted in concert with other territory team members, specialty representatives, hospital representatives and other business resources. Progressive promotion to Senior or Executive Professional Representative may occur through demonstration of sustained high performance and leadership.

 

Skills: Sales experience/persuasion skills, Communication, Leadership, Planning & Organization, Self-motivation & initiative. Ability to understand and convey complex information

 

Degree Level Required: Bachelor's Degree.
Major Preferred: Sciences, Business, Healthcare Fields.

 

 

Ad #3: Pharmaceutical Sales
As a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative you will:
--Sell our pharmaceutical products in a prescribed manner to physicians, retail pharmacies, and other members of the health care industry.
--Develop local business plan to increase market share by outlining tactics, activities and resources.
--Demonstrate thorough knowledge of pharmaceutical products, competitor products and product objectives.
--Utilize customer-focused selling techniques, continually assessing the knowledge of the customer and strategy to maintain high customer intimacy and customer knowledge of products.
--Maintain current, approved protocol and promotional materials to be included in sales presentation.
--Actively seek and display knowledge of key customers in territory.
--Develop and deliver informative sales presentations based on customer needs.
--Develop creative sales strategies to reach 'hard-to-see' doctors/'hard-to-work' accounts.
--Work collectively with other consultants in arranging speakers, displays and special programs.
--Positively impact sales in territory.

 

Job Requirements:
--1+ years of relevant outside sales experience
-- BS degree or higher
-- Science/Pharmaceutical background/experience preferred
--Strong communication and negotiation skills
--Candidate should have moderate knowledge of the pharmaceutical market and pharmaceutical products.

 

 

OK, let's see what keywords we came up with from the three job ads:

  • customized programs/materials for the therapeutic areas
  • sales proficiency
  • knowledge of product portfolio
  • sales objectives
  • strategic targeting plan
  • assigned budgets
  • aggressive strategy
  • special education programs to physicians and office staff members
  • administrative management
  • team building opportunities
  • communicate effectively
  • bachelor's degree
  • sales and communication abilities
  • computer literacy
  • previous outside sales experience
  • interpersonal skills
  • organizational skills
  • time management skills
  • provide accurate information to physicians and other health care personnel
  • in concert with other territory team members
  • sustained high performance
  • leadership
  • sales experience/persuasion skills
  • communication
  • leadership
  • planning
  • organization
  • self-motivation
  • initiative
  • ability to understand and convey complex information
  • bachelor's degree
  • sciences, business, healthcare fields
  • local business plan
  • increase market share
  • thorough knowledge of pharmaceutical products, competitor products and product objectives
  • customer-focused selling techniques
  • knowledge of key customers in territory
  • informative sales presentations
  • customer needs
  • creative sales strategies
  • relevant outside sales experience
  • BS degree
  • science/pharmaceutical background
  • communication skills
  • negotiation skills
  • knowledge of the pharmaceutical market and pharmaceutical products

 

So, if we wanted to identify keywords that would probably work for most pharmaceutical sales rep jobs, we might narrow the list down to:

  • sales proficiency; aggressive, creative sales strategies; sales abilities
  • team building, teamwork
  • communicate effectively
  • bachelor's degree
  • previous outside sales experience
  • interpersonal skills
  • organizational skills
  • persuasion skills
  • self-motivation
  • initiative
  • ability to understand and convey complex information
  • customer-focused selling techniques
  • informative sales presentations
  • customer needs

 

Here's how we might fashion those keywords into a concise, contextualized resume Professional Profile section that front-loads the resume with keywords, yet also attracts the human reader. Is it cheesy to use the exact words from ads in your resume? Nope. The more the words match, the more likely you will be to get interviews.

 

Professional Profile:
  • Goal-oriented sales professional with bachelor's degree in science field, and outside sales experience, proven sales proficiency, and expertise in aggressive, creative sales strategies.
  • Enthusiastic, knowledge-hungry self-starter, eager to meet challenges and quickly assimilate knowledge of pharmaceutical market, customers, as well as pharmaceutical and competitor products.
  • Results-driven achiever with strong organizational skills and the self-motivation and initiative to increase market share.
  • Solid communicator with exceptional ability to deliver complex information in persuasive, informative sales presentations and education programs.
  • Customer-focused closer with unsurpassed interpersonal and teamwork skills, along with ability to address customer needs.

 


 

Project Manager Job Ads:

 

Ad #1: Senior IT Project Manager
The Senior IT Project Manager must be able to oversee large, complex projects, control and understand the business environment and work product, and evaluate technical specifications. Key responsibilities include directing and evaluating project vision and strategy, accountability for project completion and team management, defining and driving project deliverables, and facilitating development and operations project teams.

 

The Senior IT Project Manager will be responsible for defining, creating, and maintaining a project plan, managing day-to-day client communication, allocating resources, and maintaining team productivity and morale in high-pressure situations. Candidates must have IT expertise, a Bachelor's degree in management, engineering, computer science, business or similar field, 4+ years in professional services or consulting, 2-4 years of managerial experience, as well as the ability to manage multidisciplinary projects with 10+ people.

 

 

Ad #2: Project Manager
Our firm has a Project Manager position opening in its Professional Services group.

 

Duties/Responsibilities:
--Work with the prospective professional services customer to define the scope of work and provide it to the customer for approval.
-- Identify the external resources and if appropriate, internal resources with the necessary skills to develop a detailed Statement of Work.
--Manage the Professional Services team to execute on and complete the deliverables called out in the Statement of Work. --Manage the client relationship.

 

Qualifications:
--Demonstrated management, leadership, communication, motivational and influencing skills.
--Must have a thorough understanding of the software development process, preferably from a system (hardware/software) perspective.
--Must have a proven record of managing software/hardware system integration projects/programs.
--Must feel comfortable in a leadership role in a matrix management environment.
--Must be able to effectively communicate verbally and written with individual contributors, management, executive staff, as well as with the customer.
--Demonstrated commitment to quality.
-- Problem solver with the ability to provide primary problem diagnosis and coordinate resolution.

 

Skills/Experience:
--Direct experience in a project management role is a must.
-- Experience in computer industry product development in a technical contributing role.
--Actual software development experience.
--Background must include responsibility for, and accomplishment of, delivering integrated products to market.

 

Education:
-- B.S or higher.

 

 

Ad #3: Project Manager
Reporting to the head of B2B and Global Products, candidate will be an integral member of a dynamic team.

 

RESPONSIBILITIES:
-- Strategic Planning -- we'll rely on your expertise to drive business opportunity, tracking eCommerce trends and technologies; evaluating their relevance to the organization and proposing courses of action
-- Key technology partner to internal business colleagues to jointly manage the deployment of technology to meet global markets and internal customer needs, and to ensure that products and services are brought to market quickly to enhance revenue growth
-- New Product Development -- impact success by working with business partners to envision and define new product offerings
-- Technical Development and Operations -- overall management of development prioritization, sizing, development, and implementation; as well as production planning and monitoring of the B2B systems
--Oversee day-to-day work of a development manager and team
-- Alliance Relationships -- support the analysis, negotiation, due diligence, and maintenance of the on-going relationship with our alliances and partnerships

 

REQUIRED SKILLS:
-- Bachelor's or Master's in Computer Science or equivalent experience
-- Extensive experience working in an organization using complex technology including management experience in a complex, multi-platform development and processing environment
--A successful record of leadership development and implementation of creative strategies and innovative solutions in response to dynamic business and customer needs, with particular emphasis on eCommerce and WWW experience
-- Ability to effectively deal with business and technology senior management on a global basis
-- Excellence in partnering with internal and external customers, using strong negotiation and persuasion skills to achieve business objectives

 

Again, isolating keywords and key phrases:

  • oversee large, complex projects
  • understand the business environment and work product
  • evaluate technical specifications
  • project vision and strategy
  • project completion
  • team management
  • project deliverables
  • development and operations project teams
  • project plan
  • client communication
  • allocating resources
  • team productivity and morale in high-pressure situations
  • IT expertise
  • bachelor's degree in management, engineering, computer science, business or similar field
  • professional services or consulting
  • managerial experience
  • ability to manage multidisciplinary projects with 10+ people
  • scope of work
  • identify the external resources
  • client relationship skills
  • management skills
  • leadership skills
  • communication skills
  • motivational skills
  • influencing skills
  • software development process
  • proven record of managing software/hardware system integration projects/programs
  • leadership role
  • matrix management environment
  • communicate verbally and written
  • commitment to quality
  • problem solver
  • experience in a project management role
  • experience in computer industry product development in a technical contributing role
  • software development experience
  • delivering integrated products to market
  • BS or higher in an engineering
  • strategic planning
  • key technology partner to internal business colleagues
  • deployment of technology to meet global markets and internal customer needs
  • products and services are brought to market quickly to enhance revenue growth
  • new product development
  • envision and define new product offerings
  • technical development and operations
  • management of development prioritization, sizing, development, and implementation; as well as production planning and monitoring of the b2b systems
  • alliance relationships
  • bachelor's or master's in computer science
  • extensive experience working in an organization using complex technology management experience in a complex, multi-platform development and processing environment
  • successful record of leadership development
  • implementation of creative strategies and innovative solutions
  • ability to effectively deal with business and technology senior management on a global basis
  • excellence in partnering with internal and external customers
  • strong negotiation skills
  • persuasion skills

 

And again, narrowing down the list to a set of keywords that might work for multiple project-manager jobs:

  • oversee large, complex projects
  • project vision and strategy; strategic planning; implementation of creative strategies and innovative solutions
  • project completion
  • managerial experience/skills; leadership skills; motivational and influencing skills; ability to manage multidisciplinary projects with 10+ people; team management and development; team productivity and morale in high-pressure situations; successful record of leadership development
  • project deliverables; delivering integrated products to market; products and services are brought to market quickly to enhance revenue growth
  • project plan; scope of work
  • client communication and client relationship skills; excellence in partnering with internal and external customers
  • IT expertise; software development process; key technology partner to internal business colleagues; deployment of technology to meet global markets and internal customer needs; extensive experience working in an organization using complex technology management experience in a complex, multi-platform development and processing environment; proven record of managing software/hardware system integration projects/programs
  • bachelor's degree in management, engineering, computer science, business or similar field
  • communication, negotiation, persuasion skills
  • commitment to quality
  • problem solver

 

And, again, crafting many of those keywords into a resume profile section, with the idea that any keywords not used in profile would be used in the balance of the resume:

 

Professional Profile
  • Results-driven project-management professional with significant and progressive experience and expertise in such project-management concepts as project plan, project completion, scope, costing, scheduling, risk management, contract negotiations, planning and tracking, quality, and change management throughout the project life cycle.
  • Creative and strategic visionary with the savvy to ensure that project deliverables are quickly brought to market.
  • Strong team leader with the proven managerial experience/skills to lead multidisciplinary teams and ensure productivity and morale in high-pressure situations; successful record of leadership development.
  • Technical guru experienced in the software development process, deployment of technology to meet global markets and internal customer needs, as well as complex technology management and integration in a multi-platform development and processing environment.
  • Competent problem-solver with exceptional commitment to quality, and communication, negotiation, and persuasion skills.

 


 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

 

Katharine Hansen, PhD, QuintCareers.com Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

 


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