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The Secret Keywords for Your Job Search: Unveiled!

Have you spent hours searching job boards for position listings?

Do you know what you want but get too many search results when you look for it? 2159980025_4e6b965217

Did you know employers and hiring managers are very sophisticated when they look for candidates, and know just the right key words to use?

Here are a few examples of how recruiters scout candidates 

C++ java -jobs -samples intitle:resume OR inurl:resume AND Cleveland
this is an example of a Google Search for software candidates in Cleveland

("business analyst" OR "systems analyst" or Analyst or BA) and (Retail or POS or "point of sales") and (ecommerce or e-commerce or web or internet) and (inventory or SCM or "supply chain") and ("crystal report*)
this is a search string from a recruiter challenged to find candidates for Business Analyst positions with experience in Crystal Reports. This search string is one that can be used inside job boards.

Today, we're going to help you level the playing field.

I'm working with the recruiting industry insiders who built the products used by 70% of the Fortune 500 to find candidates. We are going to give you a customized string for your job search.

After years of helping companies identify candidates to find jobs, my friends Chris Forman and Tim McKegney founded StartWire, a private social networking platform, to help job seekers find the right jobs.

If you join StartWire by Monday and complete a profile that share your interests--ideal job title, industry sectors of interest and location, Chris and Tim will provide you with your own custom Boolean search string you can use to save time.

Registering on StartWire takes less than five minutes, and you'll get your search string within 48 hours--at the latest. Sound good?

To your success,


(P.S. StartWire will help you find keywords to search for the right job, if you need help finding keywords for your resume, check out this post I wrote on how to find the best keywords through a tag cloud.)

Cross-posted on Secrets of the Job Hunt. Photo by Cayusa.


How Campus Career Centers Work & Why Most Use a Standard Resume Format

This is Part II of my response to Penelope Trunk's post on “How to Manage an Education.”  In my last post, I talked about why you shouldn't count campus career centers out.   

Today, I want to address Penelope's assertion that career centers cater to companies not candidates, and that one of the primary examples of this is found in the entry-level resume since most colleges endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format. I'm going to tackle these opinions one at time.  

On the Statement that "career centers cater to companies not candidates"

On most campuses, Penelope's right: employer needs frequently set the schedule for career center programming. The academic calendar for on-campus career fairs, presentations, and interviews for summer and full-time jobs is often set first by employer priorities--and schedules at peer institutions. (Many employers have a short list of target schools that they visit for on-campus recruiting. Naturally, if your school makes the list--they generally want to stay on the list as this translates into potential opportunites for you!)

Just as there are many different types of colleges and universities--from liberal arts to applied science and engineering, from large public universities to small schools with student populations of under 500--there are many different types of career offices. Frequently, you can assess a career center's mission by its title:

  • Career Services: Office offers comprehensive services to students and employers
  • Career Development: Focus of office may rest more with education than on employer outreach
  • Career Placement: Focus of office often more heavily skewed towards providing employer services and connecting students with advertised opportunity.

The question of whether career centers are catered towards students and employers is a tricky one, and one which varies from campus to campus. Frankly, inside the Ivory Tower, this is often a chicken-and-egg issue: Frequently the budget for career services operations is at least partially dependent on fees raised by employer activity such as interviewing, job postings, and career fair participation. Many of these offices use money raised by employers to pay staff, run programs, and keep the lights on. (This can be a major stressor on Career Services leadership, especially in a lean economy.)

There's also a big misunderstanding in the marketplace on how employers post jobs and how they work with career offices. The companies that do come on campus to interview students typically have more than one thing in common:

  1. They are well-established and large enough to be able to anticipate need for entry-level or junior hires at least nine months in advance (traditionally most full-time recruiting takes place during fall term)
  2. They have specific, pre-defined roles they are looking for.
  3. They recruit at more than one campus.

Most college career centers do arrange their services to  meet the needs of these employers. Again, often their budgets depend on it--and students generally want to be able to interview for jobs.

A vast majority of college career centers in the U.S. follow guidelines for career services and employers established by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. These guidelines are designed to ensure that all students have a fair shot at jobs--and that college career center staff and faculty can't play favorites in recommending one student over another. To me, these guidelines make sense...

But throw in the guidelines, career center staff budgetary restrictions, and employers who recruit at multiple schools and you get the dilemma that Penelope talks about--

Most colleges endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format.

Penelope's right on here: most schools have a standard resume template that pretty much specifies how you should write up your experiences for employer review. If you're at a progressive school, you might be presented with three or four examples of how you can develop your resume. But most places set guidelines for how you need to write up your education and degree information.

These standard formats help schools live up to NACE principals of fairness and they help employers do a quick scan of your skills and experience in comparison with you peers. But, again, Penelope's assessment is on the mark: Standard formats don't help all students, and especially not those who have non-traditional experience that doesn't align well with a rote format.

Outside of the campus career center employer match game, employers and recruiters evaluate candidate resumes in aggregate. Often, a first pass at these resumes is made by scanners looking for keywords relevant to the position. These keywords need to be at the top of your resume, and you need to learn how to play that game, too...because once you graduate--you may lose out on being called for an interview because you don't look relevant enough--even if you actually have the skills! A big reason for this? Most schools don't tell you that your Education section needs to be moved out of first place on your resume after college...In fact, I don't believe I've ever seen a Career Services resume writing guide for alums that includes this information--a major omission--if you ask me. Not creating your resume to align with these systems can lead to this:


Need to update your resume so that it's scannable and passes the relevance test? Check out my e-book, Has Your Resume Graduated from College?

And be kind to your college career center...if you feel something's missing in their coverage of how to find a job--suggest a solution and offer to help them. (Many offices love to hire current students and alums as volunteers, and colleges frequently hire students to help out as student workers. You can make a difference!)

On the "Cookie Cutter" Approach to Job Search: Do You Need a Recipe?

This is my first post as part of new online initiative of over 20 career experts called the Career Collective. Through the Collective, career professionals share their individual perspectives on a common question. We will do this once a month. (Many thanks to Miriam Salpeter and Jacqui Poindexter for starting this initiative). Today's question:


     Are you a ‘cookie-cutter’ job seeker? Do you find that you...

a) Are you witnessing job seekers who try to mimic everyone else in their job-search tactics (i.e., resumes that all say the same thing, job search action steps that mimic what everyone else is doing, etc.)?

b) Are seeing unfocused and/or fearful attitudes (I don’t want to limit my possibilities so I’m throwing out a very big net) derailing job seeker efforts?

    What advice would you give to help job seekers differentiate in this tough market?

In a marketplace filled with advice on how to differentiate yourself, I'm going to advocate for the importance of covering the basics. As my friends have shared with me in the past, "common sense isn't all that common."

Recently, I had dinner with my friend, "Julie," a very senior recruiter. Julie has survived three rounds of layoffs in her New York firm--she's the only executive recruiter left standing for her industry sector. I asked her how she looks at resumes, and she told me how much she loves a traditional format: she looks first for job titles, and then she looks for key performance indicators. Summaries, she said, can be helpful, but only if they highlight and present essential information.

As a resume writer and career coach, I focus on helping my clients differentiate themselves in the market. I like using summaries, alternate forms of organization, and taking a fresh approach to presenting information. But, I think it's also important to note that the essentials are equally important--after all, employers always have key questions in mind when they browse your materials. After all, this is what Julie and her peers look for:

How did you find out about a position?

How do your skills and experience fit the job?

Why are you interested in this job, and in this opportunity--at this organization?

When I worked as a recruiter, less than 30% of the cover letters I received answered all of these questions in a concise and comprehensive way. The ones that did received the strongest consideration. The candidate who applied for every position we listed was never seriously placed under consideration.

As a job seeker, it's important to answer the essential questions first and foremost. Once you've covered these basic ingredients, you can add the other elements that enhance interest: a demonstrated understanding of employer needs, information to show you've researched the organizational culture, a concise summary that showcases your writing ability and unique skills, a unique format that demonstrates your individual style....These are the "value adds" that can push you over the top--but don't ever forget the basics that get your resume read in the first place. Bottom line: You can include your own spin and creativity in the process, but make sure you've got all the basic ingredients as well! Show that you know how to follow the recipe first!

Want to see how other members of the Career Collective have answered this question? Check it out, and let me know your favorite "recipes" for a non-traditional approach!

Career By Choice's Expat Success Tips -Ongoing Career management is No Longer Optional for the Expat in Today's New World of Work 

Gayle Howard: Sabotaging Your Prospects: Cookie-cutter Style

CAREEREALISM: Cookie Cutters are for Baking...Not Job Searching!

Sterling Career Concepts: Job seekers: Break out of the mold!

Dawn Bugni, The Write Solution: Is your job search "cookie-cutter" or "hand-dropped"?

Rosa Vargas, Creating Prints Resume-Writing Blog: Being a Cookie-Cutter Job Seeker is a Misfortune

Heather Mundell, life@work: How Not to Be a Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

Sweet Careers: Passive Job Seeker=Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

Barbara Safani Career Solvers Blog: Cookie Cutter Resumes Can Leave a Bad Taste in the Hiring Manager's Mouth

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Career Trend Blog: Eating Bananas Doesn't Make You an Ape

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers: How Can a Job Seeker Stand Out?

Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters Blog:Avoiding Being a Cookie-Cutter Job-seeker In Your Resume and Throughout Your Job Search

Heather R. Huhman, Break the Mold: Don't Be a Cookie Cutter

Rosalind Joffe, Forget the cookies! Start with vision

Career Sherpa, Hannah Morgan: Are You a Cookie Cutter Job Seeker?

Does Your Hobby Have A Home on Your Resume?

Cue the song that never ends for this post: There are a few debates about resumes that never end. The one I'll focus on today:

Do outside interests matter?


Call me evasive, but my answer generally comes with a bit of a shrug, "it depends."Trapeze_catch


In some fields, interests matter quite a lot to employers, and they actively seek to know them. Recruiters filling positions in corporate finance and investment banking often place a high value on sports--they often look for accomplished athletes who've demonstrated discipline, the ability to compete, and the ability to work with a team. Employers in high tech and engineering often look for musical talent and an interest in sound engineering: Did you know that there's a high correlation between musical ability and quantitative ability?

But what if your hobbies have nothing to do with the skills you use at work. Do they still matter?

I recently asked this question on LinkedIn, and sparked a heated debate. Here are highlights from some of the answers I received:


My philosophy is that if outside interests further the client's goals then I include it. If it/they do not, then no. With a 2-page resume now the "new norm" even for senior executives, every word becomes even more critical.  

Executive Coach

Generally, I believe they detract. In my experience, the "interests" section has a reputation among recruiters and hiring managers as being too "fluffy" or a space filler. In short, they are a turn-off. The exception, of course, would be if the interests truly add significant, easily identifiable value in matching the resume to the job description. However, even in that case, I would would suggest building it into another section of the resume.

Marketing Manager


Personal interests show that you are well-rounded and are great conversation boosters. It's another way to connect with your interviewer.

Technology Director


Interests are no longer represented on the resume. During the interview the candidate can direct conversation to their highlight interests.

  Professional Development Consultant

I received over 20 responses to this question, with similar sentiments expressed throughout. My take-away? It's up to the you--as a job seeker to decide how and when to incorporate interests in your resume. There's no right way or wrong way; incorporating interests is a matter of personal preference. As you conduct your job search, seek out opinions from others who can help you. After all your resume isn't merely a summary of your past experience; a great resume also showcases your fit and expertise for the role you've got your sights on next.

And with that, I'm giving the last word to a senior career consultant from Denver, who answered my question with another question:

Rather than debating the merits of including...outside interests on a resume, it seems to me that [job seekers] ought to be using networks associated with those interests to facilitate connections with the organizations that [they] want to work for. That might be the best use of those ancillary interests.


I'd love to hear your take on this. Have your interests ever helped or hurt you in the job search? Share your thoughts, and let me know if you have any other questions "up for debate."