To Scan or Not to Scan: The Age of the Keyword-Optimized Resume

You’re done. You’ve had it. Your car… for years it’s pulled left when you steer it straight and it’s always made grating sounds, even though you’ve always handled it with care. Now, it’s stalling out when you step on the gas. It’s time to replace it.

You’re excited about the prospect of improving your automotive situation, but before you can, you need to decide how you’re going to go about looking for your new wheels. First, you’ll need to figure out what kind you want and what you’ll need it to do. Then… what? Go to the nearest dealer and walk around the lot? Open up the yellow pages to see what dealerships are in your area and then go look? Or, better yet, you could go online and search for cars in your area with the features you want and see what comes up. Yes! That sounds like the most efficient approach.

So you hit the Internet, go to your favorite search engine and look for some automotive For Sale listings. You’re a little surprised by the results: Although you see a lot of good matches for your criteria, you’re also shown several cars that only have a few of the features you are looking for. In addition, you are shown a bunch that have none of what you’re looking for and only came up because someone was dishonest or careless with their listing! Finally, you realize that the sporty little coupe with the low price tag on the corner lot you passed the other day didn’t turn up in your searches regardless which keywords you used.

Believe it or not, this decision process is similar to the one you face when looking for qualified job applicants. Once the need has been identified and you know what “features” (i.e. knowledge, skills and abilities) you are looking for, you’ll want to have an efficient, yet robust, method of finding the best candidates to interview. So after you post the job opening and the resumes come flooding in, how should you proceed?

Resume Avalanche

You could (try to) read every resume that comes in the door and make callback determinations that way. Do you have enough time for that? I think my eyes would pop out of my head.

Or you could automate the process by using keyword scanning software. That would select just the resumes that contain words you choose. Sounds good! So, you install the software and choose some keywords related to the position and start the process.

Hold on a minute. Remember the trouble you had finding the right car?

Before you decide to use a resume scanning tool, consider the possible drawbacks:

  • Keyword Conundrum -- You’ll want to be very careful about which keywords you choose to search for. You’ll miss out on good candidates if you:
  1. choose irrelevant words,
  2. omit desirable ones, or
  3. choose some irrelevant words while not weighting the desirable ones properly.
  • Shotgun Spray -- Job seekers who are wise to the practice of scanning will sometimes load resumes and cover letters with a variety of commonly-searched keywords in an effort to grab attention and score an interview… whether they are qualified for the job or not. This can be a real time-waster for you.
  • Formatting Fuss -- There’s going to be some customization for you AND the applicants. There will be restrictions on how resumes and cover letters can be submitted for consideration, and if you hire for a high-demand field, you may miss out on talent finds an easier submission process elsewhere.

Don’t misunderstand; scanning can still be a useful practice. Many job applicants have “optimized” their resumes, which means they’ve put in words and phrases relevant to their desired position (hopefully in sync with their experience!) and therefore are more likely to be chosen for review. So it’s become less common that good candidates get overlooked just because they don’t know how to market themselves very well.

Also, let’s not forget the speed factor. Keyword scanning can churn through high volumes of resumes in no time. And with the current high unemployment rate, job applicants are breaking down the doors. Given the time it takes for a person to read the average resume and cover letter and make a determination, minimizing the time spent on resumes would be ideal.

In short, weigh the option carefully. Just like with the automobiles listings on the web, the resumes you seek will be optimized to catch your attention (or might not be optimized, leaving you missing potentially great candidates). Whether you are buying a car or hiring for an open position, the goal is to find the best fit… but it’s up to you to figure out how to go about it.

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