What You Really Need to Know About Key Word Matching

I’ve worked with several applicant tracking systems, only one had keyword match, and it didn’t work very well. As a result, every application was read by human eyes. Even when I was getting over 500 applications a week.

I’ll use the term “read” lightly. They were scanned (by human eyes) looking for a potential match. If that match wasn’t readily apparent within a few seconds, I moved to the next applicant in the system. What was I looking for? Well if I need to hire a cost accountant I am going to be looking for specific words like “warehouse, production, manufacturing, inventory, cost accounting, or distribution hub” if I don’t see those words I’ll move on. If I do see those words I’ll start reading to understand the context and experience.

“Wait!” Someone might say. “You’re not an accountant. You’re in HR! You probably don’t know how to read a cost accountant resume and understand what I actually do!” To which I would explain that every single hiring manager I have ever worked with has been worse about key words on a resume than I have been. Managers want a clear communicator on their team. If one cannot clearly communicate on their resume, how are they going to clearly communicate in real life?

Smaller companies, companies with less than 5,000 people usually don’t have key word screening capabilities. And that means your information is being read by a human.

Really small companies, generally less than 75 people, don’t have HR People, and they often rely on overworked Office Managers to have the first screen of resumes. I once spoke with an Office Manager looking for welders with Flux Core. She was looking straight at a resume with FCAW on it, and rejected the resume, because it didn’t say Flux Core. She didn’t know that FCAW stood for Flux Core Arc Welding. I always wondered how many people were perfectly qualified because she didn’t know the terms were the same thing.

So, what if you are applying to a large, multi-national corporation? They are most likely using keyword searching and you are being screened by a robot. A robot won’t know that a distribution hub is also a warehouse, score you lower than the next person who got the keyword memo. Even if you have more experience.

Some keyword search indicators (robots) will actually score a person higher for having listed both a B.S. and Bachelors of Science. I know that’s not fair, but that’s how a robot works.

So what do you do? Figure out a way to put key words twice. One way that the job description has it listed, the other way in the way that a person may speak.

So using the Welder’s experience, a good summary at the top of the resume would talk about being an experienced flux core welder. Then a skills list below it with the acronym would have ensured a level of understanding. The office manager would have seen a term she was familiar with, and a key word search indicator may mark it twice, taking the welder up the list of qualified individuals.

Is there a way to truly outsmart the system? Sadly no. Most recruiters these days are beholden to a process, and that requires you to apply first. More and more, attempting to back door a system will just point you back in the direction of the automated system. So, ask questions. Find out what key words are actually understood by the reader or the robot. Make sure your resume is rich in the right keywords. Rewrite or tweak your resume as necessary.

Then you’ll find some success in getting your resume through to the right person.

Have ideas for a future subject? Email Daava@foodguys.com.