Resumes and Cover Letters

Stop Wasting Time on Resume Keywords! Focus on These Areas Instead

resume writing

Imagine a hungry farmer working a field.

He spends days preparing the soil. Watering it, seeding it, patiently tending the little plants that begin to dot the land. And it will take months, but eventually one of those plants will mature and he’ll be able to eat.

Meanwhile, all around him are trees that are LOADED DOWN with fruit which he is ignoring.

Is this farmer smart or foolish?

The exact same principle applies to resumes- jobseekers pour insane amounts of time and effort into “hacking” Applicant Tracking Systems (which scan resumes on behalf of employers) by cramming them full of keywords….while completely ignoring the fact that EVEN if you get through to the face-to-face, if your resume doesn’t tackle what employers most need, and establish major credibility in the process, you are dead in the water!

So stop farming for keywords and focus on these areas instead:

  1. Hit Employer Pain Points

What banner skills can you use to deliver results within the first 30/60/90 days? Skip the “Objective” and/or “Summary” section at the start of your resume in favor of a couple of highly targeted bullet points that address these skills and you’ll immediately stand out.

You’ll need 2 resources to make this happen:

A collection of relevant job postings. Don’t cast too wide of a net here- the more focused you are in terms of the positions you’re after, the more precisely you can tailor the resume.

A “shortlist” of at least 10-15 LinkedIn profiles of direct competitors. In other words, if I’m a CFO with a deep background in the Financial Services sector, then I should have a list of people who have the SAME background, and are perhaps 1 or 2 steps further up the food chain to refer to. What skills are they highlighting? How are they positioning themselves in the marketplace? How can I utilize their strategies and tactics to come across as a top-tier candidate myself?

Here are some examples of strong opening bullet points:

CFO: Strategic Business partner who has built multiple $50M+ business units from the ground up, navigated complex mergers & acquisitions, and brought a new level of operational excellence and transparency into play.

IT Systems and Network Engineering: Technology evangelist with a proven track record of guiding Network, Systems, and Security initiatives which drastically improve business functionality and positively impact the bottom-line. Experience spans early-stage, high-growth, and turnaround environments.

Clinical Research Management: Clinical R&D leader with 10+ years of excellence in clinical trial development (Phase I-IV) across Oncology and Infectious Diseases. Deep background in driving compliance with GCPs and HIPAA regulations.

  1. Emphasize the Value-Add in Your Professional Experience

Here’s something every high performer in the world has in common: the ability to execute anything and everything in a job description. What employers really care about is what did you ADD to the situation? How did you go above and beyond? So stop wasting space in your resume regurgitating basic responsibilities and use the following approach:

For every major role you’ve had, start with a “Scope Statement” that highlights the situation when you STARTED, the situation when you LEFT, and how you moved things forward between these 2 points.

Here are some examples:

  • Contributed heavily to 20%+ gain in stock price during tenure, successfully establishing Global Technology and Operations ($1B+ in revenues) as #1 growth division within the organization. Generated profit margin increase from 15% to 36%+ through a dynamic mix of cost reduction programs, offshoring, and pricing optimization.
  • Aligned technology operations with strategic business objectives and served as a trusted resource to clients, mitigating the fallout from critical events, maintaining key hardware/software and related infrastructure, and instituting a robust Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery framework.
  • Spearheaded development, evaluation and implementation of 15 cutting-edge Oncology trials within a 12-month period, expertly balancing study needs across all phases, while continuously improving in-house practices and regulatory compliance.

Also read: 5 Ways to Be More Powerful During the Hiring Process

  1. Use Accomplishments to Quickly Establish Credibility

Now that you have a powerful “Scope Statement” you can add bulleted accomplishments that go towards it. The trick here is to use a formula called C-A-R to structure them for maximum impact. Ask yourself the following when brainstorming accomplishments:

-What was the major CHALLENGE I faced?

-What ACTIONS did I take to address it? 

-What was the RESULT of my actions?

Here are some examples:

  • Cut sales staff turnover from over 20% to record low 5% through advanced training programs, morale-building events, and establishing new lines of feedback and support throughout the organization.
  • Spearheaded major upgrade from SAP PI 7.0 to 7.31 from concept through completion. Developed estimations, project plans, and design document templates, as well as all change requests. Recognized for ability to execute with limited resources.
  • Established a robust risk management function enabling long-term growth, introducing a new grading system tracking year-to-year risk to lending portfolio, as well as new, individualized risk grading systems for commercial and residential real estate loans.

One last tip: get a PROMISE OF ACTION prior to sending anyone your resume. What are the next steps in the hiring process? When will interviews be scheduled? Your resume is an extension of your career, which makes it extremely valuable. Treat it as such!

Also read: Am I Interviewing for a Toxic Company?

About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at HelloAnish.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.