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Friday, July 10, 2009

Score Your Next Job With Keywords

Companies, search firms, and HR departments use Applicant Tracking Systems as part of the resume screening process. ATS's use boolean search strings and keyword matching technologies to score how your resume matches specific search criteria set for a position. The following is a recruiter's perspective of how to beat out ATS's using a high scoring resume for each position you apply for. Let's use the following example job:
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Unix Systems Administrator

You will be responsible for performing Linux Systems Administration activities for an enterprise. Your responsibilities will include:

- Providing installation, support, and maintenance of Unix servers and other computer systems.
- Performing system utilization, availability analysis, and capacity planning.
- Programming and scripting using PHP, Perl, Python, or Shell scripting

Requirements:

- 5+ years of Unix System Administration experience in a large-scale Unix (Linux/Solaris/BSD) environment.
- Experience managing LAMP web-farms serving 10+ million page views daily.
- Apache configuration and operation expertise.
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The first thing I do as a recruiter is break down keywords within the position and create a boolean search string. This boolean string will be used to search my own internal database, external databases (Monster, Careerbuilder, Dice, etc.), and to score candidates who apply from external job postings.

Boolean search string:
(unix OR linux OR solaris) AND ("systems administration" OR "systems administrator" OR "Unix SA") AND (installation OR support OR maintenance OR utilization OR availability OR capacity OR capacities) AND (programming OR programmer OR PHP OR perl OR python OR scripting OR shell OR LAMP OR apache OR mysql)


I have taken the most applicable keywords from the job description for my boolean string. I've counted 23 unique keywords or keyterms within this string.

What should a qualified job seeker do?

A qualified job seeker should scan the position description, identify the most applicable keywords, and ensure all variations of these words are placed within the context of their resume. Let's use the following mini-resume examples:

Resume1
Smallcorp IT Admin
- Responsible for managing Unix computer systems
- Working with IT staff to ensure systems are available
- Performing Systems administration and data reporting tasks as needed

Resume2
Goodcorp Lead Unix Systems Administrator
- Responsible for managing Unix Systems within a Linux, Solaris, BSD, LAMP environment
- Ensuring 24X7 availability of servers, systems, and web-farms while monitoring system availability, capacities, load balancing, and utilization
- Project management of reporting tools development efforts utilizing PHP, Python, and Shell scripting on Apache web servers and mysql databases.


Both resumes describe the same responsibilities. Resume2 is far more descriptive and keyword rich resulting in more matching keywords to the boolean string highlighted in yellow (as it will look within most ATS's). Resume1 receives a score of 2 matching keywords while Resume2 wins with 16 matching keywords. ATS's and job boards rank resumes by a score or percentage match based on matching keywords. Recruiters and hiring managers call the highest ranking candidates first for interviews!

It's that easy to beat an ATS with keywords!


1) Break down the keywords within a job description you qualify for.
2) Integrate all matching keywords, synonyms, and variations of the keywords from the job description within the context of your resume.
- Do not just provide a laundry list of keywords as this looks obvious and cheesy!
3) Keep re-working your resume for new positions you are interested in pursuing. The more unique keywords within your resume the better!

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