I have resume clients who are often confused about the terms and definitions of ATS, SEO and keywords. Some clients think that there is a certain set of standardized words that you put in the resume to be seen after they upload the resume into an online system. Here’s a handy breakdown of the terms and how these resume elements are used by recruiters in the job placement industry.
ATS is the acronym for automatic tracking system. The ATS is the software (often cloud-based) that recruiters use to receive, house, sort and document candidates who apply to specific job requisitions. Recruiters also perform a procedure called a Boolean search in the SQL (structured query language) database to find candidates with keywords or key phrases in their resumes. The Boolean search is an automated and faster method to reduce the number of actual resumes that recruiters have to read by identifying the “more qualified candidates” in the system through keyword inclusion.
SEO is the acronym for search engine optimization. Using a browser (eg, Google, Bing, Opera) to find information means performing a Boolean search using keywords to find search engine-optimized pages or documents. The search engine will search for sites with the keywords or phrases and the sites with the “most” of those keywords or phrases will appear in a result row, with the most optimized sites at the top of the list.
Recruiters use the same Boolean search process in an ATS resume database as an online search. After the recruiter makes the search, either in the entire database or only within candidates to the specific job request, then resumes with the “most mentions” of a keyword or phrase will rise to the top of the result line. Recruiters don’t have time to read 100, 200, 300 resumes, so they rely on SEO keywords to find the “most qualified” candidate based on the higher number of mentions of those keywords in the resume. They will go through the top five to 10 resumes in the results row, and if these candidates meet the minimum qualifications, they will proceed to interview or push the resumes to hiring managers for decisions. Probably the remaining 90, 190 or 290 resumes will never be read and marked en masse as “other candidates more qualified”.
Keywords are single words or phrases directly related to a job seeker’s career, skills, experience and/or education. For example, computer programmers should mention all the programming languages they use as keywords. Logisticians should use the words supply chain, logistics, supply, warehouse and inventory as keywords, with metrics to describe their work tasks and achievements. Sellers should include keywords related to revenue, sales, marketing, advertising and revenue streams. Property managers should include metrics for rental units, the values of rental properties, descriptions of how they manage or provide maintenance of facilities and vendors contracted for repairs as keywords and phrases.
Managers (C-suite) should not confuse words like “leadership”, “leadership” and “support” as keywords – these are imprecise and subjective. Business executives and/or financial directors should have action verbs as keywords and phrases, including development, research, accounting, finance, investments, mergers and acquisitions, supervision, management, director (of something), and/or project or program management.
The action verbs at the beginning of a bullet should be followed by a documentable, objectively written action with a result. One example, loaded with metrics, would be, “Managed >$20M in contracts for services, current and future deployment projects including aircraft support equipment, office supplies and electronics; managed and monitored contracts valued at ~$2.14M for parts and required services, $3.02 million in Aircraft Ground Support Equipment requirements, and >$10 million in electronics and future deployment components.”
Knowing what these terms mean, and how to use the processes to your advantage, will help you write more objectively worded, keyword and action-based descriptions of your career and experience. The more keywords, phrases, objective language, documentable metrics, and easy-to-read bullets in the resume, the faster recruiters will be able to find you, consider your strengths, and pick up the phone to interview.
Dawn Boyer, owner of D. Boyer Consulting, provides resume writing, editing, publishing and print-on-demand consulting. Reach her at [email protected] or visit dboyerconsulting.com.