Why “Key Wording” Your Resume Is A Bad Idea

Occasionally a client will request that I rewrite his or her resume and “key word” it to apply to a specific job posting. Key wording means using as many of the exact same words as possible from a job description. Some “experts” suggest that this will make a resume be more easily identified as a good match for the position.

I disagree with these “experts” and consider this type of forced manipulation to be, frankly, a terrible idea. Here’s why:

Accomplishments translate.

A well-written resume that includes your most important and relevant  accomplishments and experiences won’t need unnecessary added key words.  If your resume includes the things you’ve accomplished in your career (items such as the number of people you’ve trained, the number of employees on your team who’ve been promoted, data on exceeding goals and deadlines) AND speaks to how you accomplished them (through your network, designing new training programs, etc.), it will resonate with the most important people in the hiring process.

The job description may not accurately reflect the position.

A job posting may not actually include the specific things for which the hiring manager is looking. Job postings are often written and posted to a website by the HR department, not the hiring manager. There could be a long bullet point list of requirements on HR’s written description, but the priorities of the hiring manager may not be well-represented. For example, on a 20-point list on the job description, the hiring manager’s highest priority may actually be number 17 on the list — if you’re key wording your resume for the top 5 or 10 items, you may not even be considered for the position once your resume reaches the hiring manager.

It’s an unreliable approach.

Focusing primarily on the key words in your resume is like trying to cheat the system, and that will be apparent to anyone seriously considering you for the job. Too much focus on key words could force you into saying things that don’t fit your background, or that you can’t back up in an interview. It’s dangerous territory.

Reminders on what you should do on your resume:

  • keep the formatting simple and easy to read
  • include the expected sections like: Education, Qualifications, Professional Experience
  • don’t make spelling or grammatical errors
  • repeat important skill-related words a couple of times, but more than that looks forced (and uncreative)

Most importantly, don’t solely rely on the automated resume submission process to move your career forward. Use your contacts and network to learn about opportunities and get interviews. Work with a professional like Merrfeld to develop an action plan and a consistent and clear message for your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, etc. What you have accomplished to far — and the heights you can reach — can’t begin to be encapsulated in a mere list of key words.

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