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Many job application portals use an automated process to rank your resume based on how many "keywords" it matches. I have heard that due to this, you should tailor your resume for every position by "keyword bombing" your resume.

I see a few issues with this approach:

  • Even though the practice may be widespread, it could turn away potentially good candidates.
  • It would be pretty obvious when a human reads it, which can't reflect well on the candidate.
  • Most people will not match the HR's description exactly.
  • A candidate may only get matched to menial entry level position, even though he is qualified for better positions.

It is time consuming to rewrite your resume for every position, and difficult to back it up with, "yes, I do match your description exactly." In fact, my other experiences enable me to learn on the job or at least pick it up quickly, even if I do not have all the skills matching the description.

I am aware of the option of using a generic resume, with a cover letter carrying additional details describing how my skills match to a specific position. However, very often, an employer does not want you to follow up, and will instead contact you only if you "pass the initial screening."

In view of these scenarios, is it an acceptable practice to stuff keywords in your resume to improve your chances of passing the initial automated screening? Is this practice acceptable to hiring managers or does it actually hurt my chances of getting a good job?

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    as revised, the question seems valid and acceptable. there may be dupes but it seems relevant to almost every novice job applicant and should generate much traffic and follow-up if an opportunity to supply constructive answers is provided. – A.S Jan 23 '17 at 15:04
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    Can you back up Many job application portals use an automated process? If this premise fails, the question is of not much value. – Jan Doggen Jan 23 '17 at 16:36
  • "It would be pretty obvious when a human reads it, which can't reflect well on the candidate." That's why keyword bombing is useless. Eventually, a human will read it and decide that you have a bunch of keywords and no narrative. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 23 '17 at 19:31
  • I don't think recruiters are in a position to judge those who keyword bomb, when it was their shitty process that specifically selected those who keyword bomb. It's the inevitable emergent behaviour of such a system. What do they expect? – Alexander Jan 24 '17 at 12:02
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Acceptable? Perhaps. Effective? Not sure.

The goal of keyword bombing, as you describe, is to get through the filter for HR departments, and improve your algorithm-matching on massive job boards.

If this is your aim, maximizing keywords probably makes sense. I would question whether this is a reasonable goal, however. Do you want a job at a company where they evaluate candidates primarily based on keyword matching?

When I receive resumes full of keywords, my first assumption is that the candidates are listing everything that they have touched, regardless of expertise with a given skill.

While this approach can increase your chances of being matched for a position, do you really want to do that work? Let's say you list Lotus Notes on your resume....

Rather than try to satisfy the needs of a giant pool of potential jobs, consider spending your time in finding high-value job opportunities, by using your personal connections, or doing additional research on specific companies you like.

When you have a smaller list, it's easier to spend the time crafting a (shorter) resume that actually speaks to your strengths, and creates a more personal message to the person doing the hiring.

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There is a difference between "keyword bombing" and tailoring. In tailoring you make sure that you are clear that you have the required technologies. If they say HTML5 then don't just say 10 years of HTML. If they say FMV and you have done it, make sure you use the term.

In the situations where I have worked on hiring either internal transfers or open positions the system has been used to identify those that met the minimum standards. If there were 5 required key technologies listed the software would separate the applications by that threshold.

If when the window closed we had enough resumes that met the threshold, we would look at all of those that passed the screen and determine which ones would be called in for an interview.

If we didn't have enough resumes that passed the screen, we would look at those that failed to see if they also deserved to be interviewed.

At no time did the software count keywords from the desired but not required requirements to see how the applicants ranked. That evaluation was done by people either before, during, or after the interviews.

The software also used the information in the text boxes so it wasn't possible to use hidden text in headers, or micro fonts.

If a resume passed the screen, but looked like it was a bad advertisement, or it just was a regurgitation of the requirements it would never result in an interview. Too many that fell into that category would result in us looking at those that failed the screen for potential candidates who should be interviewed.

The problem with keyword bombing is that you could pass the screen, but never get an interview. The sentences don't help the human know you deserve an interview.

The cover letter information is used to determine if you get an interview when we have a requirement to interview 10 people and 30 passed the screen. But only helps if you also passed the screen. The greatest cover letter doesn't help if you don't pass the initial screen, and dozens of other people do. The cover letter is also used to evaluate you during the interview and after the interview.

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I think that your premise is correct. I certainly have spoke with many HR vendors that discuss keyword sorting.

I think there are basically three steps to the resume process:

  1. Recruiter, employment website, big company uses a computer to filter through your resume to spit out 20 resumes instead of 2000 to a prospective employer.

  2. HR rep or internal recruiter hands off resumes to hiring management team.

  3. Hiring manager goes over resumes.

So keyword bombing may get you to step 2 (if there is a step 1) but you will have to do so in a subtle way that you look professional and not a manipulator for steps 2-3.

And for the tech field you may be able to get away with this a bit more. I know if I saw a Developer's resume that totally manipulated HR sorting software I would probably give that person extra consideration (hint - I did this about 10 years ago and put my keywords in size 2 font in white in between regular lines on the page).

  • @JoeStrazzere - hence I said about 10 years ago. I wasn't saying that this would be effective today. Just an example of a stupid way to rig a system. The question wasn't asking how to rig a keyword bomb. – blankip Jan 24 '17 at 4:28
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If the goal is to make it through the filters to actually get a human to look at your resume then keyword bombing would be acceptable practice. To do this legitimately each time is a significant barrier, especially if you are in an industry that is low demand. It's a valid concern that you'd hurt your chances once you reach the human read stage of the process by making your resume kind of sound like everyone else who made it through the filter. To mitigate this I'd suggest hiding the keyword text within your resume. Put it in the header or footer at font size 1 and white. It'll likely get you past the filter without harming human reading of the document.

  • of course putting them in the header at font size one wont work when most systems ask you to submit the information via a series of text boxes. – mhoran_psprep Jan 24 '17 at 0:24
  • @mhoran_psprep That may be industry or region specific. When I was last applying for jobs in 2014 text box entry related to jobs was usually limited to company name, title, start/end dates experience and specific technologies/skills were a part of the resume upload. I could be wrong but with this set up I'd imagine that the keyword filter would search the uploaded file rather than the text boxes since there weren't places that fit to enter in this information. – Myles Jan 24 '17 at 14:28

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