Management Prof. John Sullivan, of San Francisco State University, explains how to keep your résumé from being relegated to the slush pile:
Think like a recruiter
Because recruiters have to go through hundreds of résumés a day, they have developed methods for separating the wheat from the chaff. One technique is to sort résumés by keyword. These words can be anything from technical terms to buzzwords and business jargon.
You stand a much better chance of having your résumé land on the "keep" pile if you make good use of keywords, Sullivan says. You can usually determine some of the keywords that will be used as search criteria by closely examining a job description. "If a word is mentioned twice, it's likely to be important," he says.
Hint: Recruiters gravitate to candidates that look poised to move up the ladder. "If you add to your résumé skills for the next job up, you'll be more desirable to them," counsels Sullivan.
Capture their attention fast!
"Thirty seconds is the longest a recruiter will initially look at one résumé," warns Sullivan. "If they find something interesting, you'll get a maximum of three minutes." This means that your resume has to be calibrated for maximum impact.
You can snag their attention in a number of ways, including moving all relevant jobs and qualifications to the top, making good use of key words and emphasizing anything that's likely to differentiate you. Beyond this, Sullivan suggests directly responding to the queries in the job description. If the position you want requires six years experience and you have it, come right out and say that. This only makes the recruiter's job easier.
Sullivan recommends a couple of techniques for making sure your résumé is up to par. First, try holding an informal focus group. Take your name off the résumé and pass it around to five or more impartial readers. Ask them to tell you what's most intriguing to them, what's putting them to sleep and what's downright obnoxious.
After you've made any necessary changes, post the résumé on an online job site and see how many hits it gets. Then tweak it a bit by adding more key words or rearranging your experience. Repost and see if you get more traffic.
Up your 'Google score'
Many recruiters now use search engines to get a better picture of applicants. To ensure that you're presenting your best face online, it's important to manage your "Google presence," Sullivan says.
To get a positive "Google score," make an effort to attend professional workshops and conferences that are likely to list your activities online, give presentations or contribute to an industry periodical. You might even consider starting a blog, but remember to keep things professional.
If you're trying to break into a company with a surplus of applicants, you need to be strategic about separating yourself from the pack. Try reaching out to people who already work in the organization. You can do this by joining professional organizations they take part in or going to events where you'll have the opportunity to mingle with employees and in-house recruiters.
If the people in charge of hiring can put a face to the name when your résumé comes across their desks, you're far likelier to land an interview, Sullivan says.
You may also want to take advantage of seasonal lulls when both recruiters and hiring managers have more down time. The holidays are a particularly good time to submit a résumé, according to Sullivan, because most people wait until the new year to start their job search.
Send it, send it and then send it again
Finlly, be persistent. If the organization you're applying to is inundated by applications, yours stands a good chance of getting lost in the mix, so don't hesitate to send it repeatedly.
"No computer system in the world punishes you for having too many résumés," says Sullivan.
By Marshall Loeb