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I know that many companies use software to narrow down the pile of resumes by searching for specific phrases. I would like to know how strict/forgiving the screening software is. For example, if they are searching for "Object Oriented Programming", and I write "Object-Oriented Programming" or "Object Oriented Design", will they find that? What about OOP? I could list them all, but that seems redundant. Are there any tricks I can use to make sure that my resume hits all the right keywords?

This question also applies for companies that use a human screener in HR.

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    standard advice seems to be include words from the job listing verbatim where applicable, hard to say how picky any given human or computer screener will be – Rarity Aug 3 '12 at 17:17
  • this really seems like a question asking how you can game the system. – acolyte Aug 3 '12 at 17:47
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    @acolyte, there is nothing wrong with being strategic about keyword selection. I think that folks who know their fields very well can probably choose keywords wisely (or "good enough"). But beyond a certain point, one's effort is better placed at finding human contacts rather than writing the most perfect resume and hoping that it gets placed into to the short list by the screening software or HR intern. – Angelo Aug 3 '12 at 18:13
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    I'm not trying to "game the system", I just want to know how I can avoid getting my resume getting penalized for not having skills that I actually do have, but listed in a slightly different format. Do you think it's actually worthwhile using tiny microscopic white font to list every conceivable variation of the keywords? – luddite Aug 3 '12 at 20:25
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    @luddite - You seem to think trying to "game the system" is a bad thing. When you send a resume you have only one goal, to get an interview, because that is really the only way you can stand out. If you are 100% honest on your resume, then you have nothing to fear, once you get into an interview. The key is to be able to answer ANY question about your resume. – Donald Aug 7 '12 at 11:32
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This is largely a career based trial and error, IMO. I suspect it changes radically over time, and changes with career field. My general take is that search engines are sophisticated enough that "Hello World" and "Hello-World" and even "hello world" will read as the same thing, besides, it would throw readers for a loop to see all three things spelled out separately In that case, pick the most common format you've seen.

They also seem to be acronym compliant most of the time. Mileage will vary of course, and be ware of very overloaded jargon. A good test is to feed your acronym into Google and see what comes up - if the first page or two is 90% the topic you meant - you're good, it's pretty common. But if the first few hits are for wildly divergent topics, figure that the acronym is muddy and spell it out, putting the acronym in parens.

Speaking purely to the computer world - the automated searches I've seen (and this is just conjecture -- I don't do this for a living) have been centered around technologies not practices. So "Java", not "object oriented". And the more specific the better - "Swing", "Hibernate" and "Struts" are going to produce closer matches and more interest than JEE. Think of terms like OOP as something so general you may be saying "computer science" at this point.

Here's my process for tuning for what I want:

1 - make an attempt to be honest and accurate in my resume/profile. Enunciate the cornucopia of hitwords for those areas were I am most keen to continue working.

2 - post, collect responses.

3 - periodically - I did this weekly/biweekly - review the cross section of responses from all sources. Do they slant in a way that you don't like? Review the resume and update accordingly. For example, I had so many softare web development hitwords that it didn't come through that a management role was table stakes for me. So I updated with many more words relating to managment, certification, policy and project management to redirect the search critieria, and whittled down the JEE stuff.

Rinse and repeat.

One of the nicest things about the job search these days is that you can rebroadcast your resume really easily on most sites, and a new update seems to trigger the search engines for a re-scan. So it can be a bit like back-ward engineering the engines - think of your resume as a net, and job hits as fish. When you don't like the fish, change the shape of your net. :)

  • I know that a lot of these keywords are fairly meaningless- anyone can say that they "know" C++ for example- but isn't it also true that a lot of automated search software will automatically throw away your resume if you lack any of their search terms? So for example, if they search for "Computer Science" or "Object-Oriented Programming", your resume could be thrown out if you don't explicitly list those? Anyway thanks for your response. – luddite Aug 3 '12 at 21:31
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    Yes - if you have absolutely no terms in the giant "or" statement of the search engine, I would suspect you get thrown out. But putting Object Oriented Programming will return you either few hits or no good matches, while listing the specific languages you are competent in will get you closer to jobs looking for those languages. In general - spend less time worrying about gaming this system and more on presenting yourself as a viable candidate. In all honesty - my good leads have all been searches based more on my career pattern than my hitwords. – bethlakshmi Aug 3 '12 at 22:39
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I would like to know how strict/forgiving the screening software is.

This is obviously wildly variable, depends on the software being used, and how thoroughly the keyword list has been built.

The pro-tip for dealing with companies that use these kinds of screeners is to fill the white space of your resume with the keywords, making the font size as small as possible and making the text white. So, if you say "Object Oriented Programming", at the end of your resume in white, 6pt text you can include "Object-Oriented Programming, Object Oriented Design, OOP, etc." and your resume will be included in the list for review, even if it was actually looking for "Object Oriented Design".

This question also applies for companies that use a human screener in HR.

This also obviously depends entirely on the human being that is doing the screening. Generally I'd say that a human screener is going to give you more wiggle room, but it all depends on the personality and knowledge level of that person.

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