Online resume has its own rules

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2010 - 9:44 PM

Keywords can help get your application past the computer filter to a pair of human eyes. But don't overdo it.

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The pros and cons of online resumes

Photo: Andres Rodriguez, Star Tribune

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In three years, I have prepared more than 20 drafts of my résumé. Dozens of critiques, three different fonts and two separate formats have shaped the most recent version.

Despite my efforts, the fancy résumé may not make any difference once I click "send" to submit it to a potential employer.

An increasing number of employers are steering job seekers toward online application processes, ushering in a whole new set of rules. Erase the boldface, white space, bullet point equation. Computers care about content. Very specific content. Certain words, really.

Digital applications allow recruiters to search for specific skills and relevant experiences, all the while weeding dozens of applications that don't match the criteria. That presents two hurdles. The first: making sure human eyes spot your application. The second step: making sure recruiters keep reading.

Make sure your résumé is "Googleable," said Paul Timmins, executive director of the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts career services department. "You do have to keep in mind that the first person who reads your résumé online is going to be a computer," Timmins said.

That means they'll be searching for keywords and will summarily dismiss candidates that don't include them.

Ken Dezhnev, owner of Crystal Resumés in Plymouth, has witnessed the transition from paper to electronic résumés. His advice: Include words and phrases specific to your industry and the job opening.

The U's Carlson School of Management career center's website offers a list of 296 action verbs and 76 "high-impact phrases" to consider. They've also generated a four-page list of business-specific keywords, including "matrix management" and "equity financing."

Most of those words have no place on my résumé. Instead, I include video and audio editing skills and specific software programs, including Audacity, Final Cut and Adobe Creative Suite. I describe an 18-month college in-depth report I finished in May. But I also cover the basics. "Write," "report," and "on deadline" each appear more than once.

Keywords may help land the interview, but some technical language can go too far, Dezhnev said. The longtime editor has seen some résumés that include an entire "keywords" section. "That sort of thing turns human beings off really quickly."

Instead, do some Internet legwork. Check out the company's website, looking for skills and experience the company values. Mention how your experience compares. Then check competitors' pages. Describe the industry-related skills that you can bring to the company that aren't there already.

Minnesota state government, the state's largest employer, has accepted online job applications since 2002, said Nancy Erickson, a Management and Budget affirmative-action officer who helps promote the government jobs site, My State Job Search. Its online job postings typically yield as many as 300 applications.

The state's online résumé builder walks job seekers through a form that includes usual résumé topics: experience, education and skills. But the form sets no limit on how much -- or how little -- applicants can type into certain fields. Erickson said more is better than less, especially because applicants can post only one active résumé at a time.

If certain jobs open up that applicants are particularly interested in, they can apply directly to those posts. The stiff competition means recruiters rarely search through the statewide database, and instead search through the smaller applicant pool, Erickson said.

Other Minnesota employers, including the U, no longer accept paper applications. The state still does, although Erickson estimated they account for less than 5 percent of all applications.

While electronic versions may help land you an interview, paper résumés still work better for the actual interviews, said Dezhnev, meaning the hours I've spent editing my résumé haven't passed in vain.

Molly Young will update her résumé Monday, adding her internship at the Star Tribune business desk this summer. The next change will be made in December, after she graduates from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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