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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."


Friends Share "Resume Tips for a Bad Economy"

I write a majority of the content on this blog, but I also like to share the "best of the best" as I see it. Here is one such post, which comes to us via author Lauren Hasson, the "Resume Girl," and Lindsey Pollak (who posted it on her blog).Resumegirl_thumbnail

Résumé writing in a bad economy means taking extra steps to make sure you get noticed. Sending out more résumés does not necessarily improve your chances. But submitting résumés that are well written could mean the difference between getting the job or not. Here are The Résumé Girl’s top ten tips for résumé writing in a bad economy:

Tip #1: Include a List of Your Qualifications Right Up Front

Tell the reader who you are and what you want right away. Don’t make them search your résumé for this information because, unfortunately, they won’t. They’ll move on to the next. In the first section of your résumé, reiterate the key points in your cover letter. Be specific as to the kind of position you’re looking for. After all, they will only spend a few seconds with your résumé. Do them a favor and give them a cheat sheet.

Tip #2: Customize Your Section Headings for the Position It might sound tedious, but customizing the section headings of your résumé is a great way to highlight the relevance of your résumé for the reader.

For example, instead of writing “Work Experience,” tailor it to the job you’re applying for by highlighting the type of experience it is, like “Public Relations Experience.” If you do, even the busiest reader will take notice! You can also use this method to highlight your different levels of relevant experience. For example, you can list your “In-House Experience” separately from your “Agency Experience.”

Tip #3: List Your Most Relevant Qualifications First Many jobseekers believe that their work experience needs to be listed in chronological order.

However, listing your most relevant qualifications first will keep the reader from getting bogged down with filler information that doesn’t apply to the position and catch their eye. If you don’t have any relevant experience, put your education immediately following your summary of qualifications.

Tip #4: Include Only Your Most Relevant Experiences Depending on the position you’re looking for, you probably have past work experience that doesn’t apply to the targeted position.

It’s tempting to include all of your work experience, whether it’s relevant or not. But including only your most relevant work experience shows the reader that you’re clearly qualified for the position. You only need to include irrelevant work experience if it’s the only experience you have.

Tip #5: Consider Emphasizing the Position Title

Instead of the Organization Big name organizations look great on a résumé and are sure to impress any reader. But if you’ve had a great, relevant position at an organization that’s a little more obscure, consider highlighting the position rather than the company name. After all, you can develop fantastic skills without working at a Fortune 500 company. However, if you have worked for a high profile firm or organization, definitely list the company name before the position title.

Tip #6: Describe the Experiences that are Most Relevant to the Targeted Position

You might think that you need to devote the majority of your résumé to the experience where you spent most of your time. However, this is yet another résumé myth. When writing a résumé in a bad economy, I recommend using the 80/20 rule: if 20% of your experience is relevant to the desired position, use 80% of your résumé to discuss it. Even if it was for only a short time, describe your relevant experience in detail. Use the majority of your résumé space to paint a picture of that experience for your reader. (Note: I recommend that you still ensure that all of your experiences get air time, don't leave off any job.)

Tip #7: Use Action Verbs to Describe Your Experience in Detail

Using action verbs to describe your experience will show the reader just how skilled you really are. For example, instead of writing, “responsible for” certain duties, explain exactly what those duties were. “Organized, planned, and coordinated corporate events and conventions,” for example, gives the reader a clear idea of how you spent your time in this position and enables them to ask you specific, targeted questions in an interview.

Tip #8: Sell the Résumé in a Custom Cover Letter

The cover letter is your chance to shine and tell the reader about yourself. It’s also the place to explain why and how you are perfect for that specific position. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to tailor your application to the individual organization and position. Tell them why you want to work for them and what you can bring to the table in a way that’s direct and concise.

Tip #9: Send the Résumé and Cover Letter in Separate PDF Files

Sending the résumé and cover letter in separate PDF files accomplishes two important things. When the two items are in separate documents, the reader won’t have to scroll through your résumé or cover letter to find the information they are looking for. It will save them time and hold their interest. Also, the vast majority of résumés have formatting issues and highlighted misspellings. A PDF file will ensure that your résumé functions properly without software or translation issues.

Tip #10: Consider Investing in the Services of a Professional Résumé Writer In this competitive market, your résumé needs to be in top shape.

Because you can’t go back in time and change your experience, education or skills, you need to highlight the best of your abilities in your résumé. A professional résumé writer knows how to do just that. They can emphasize your best assets quickly and clearly in your résumé and their objective perception of your skills and background are also beneficial in describing your strengths with more clarity. Most of all, a professional résumé writer can help you get the job fast which means money in the bank. The money invested in a professional résumé writer can get you closer to a regular paycheck. The job market is tougher than ever. But all is not lost. With a few skillful tweaks to your résumé and cover letter with the help of a professional résumé writer, you can find professional success and beat the odds in this challenging economy.

(Note: Lauren Hasson aka "the Resume Girl" and I both provide resume writing services to private clients. You can more information about Lauren and her services here. To learn more about how I can help you, visit my website "Best Fit Forward" or drop me a line!)

Getting Hired at a Start-Up: How to Be More than Lucky

If you are in the market for a new job and the Fortune 500 crowd isn’t appealing—or available,
you may want to consider a start-up.

The speed and intensity of start-ups are appealing to many job candidates. Interns and entry-level hires often extol the common virtues of working in an early-stage company: you get to assume diverse functional responsibilities, you are valued for your ability to take initiative and figure things out on your own, and you are able to work closely with senior leadership from the get-go.

That being said, the same organizational attributes that make a start-up sexy can often make it difficult to get hired in the first place: hiring is often placed on the back burner simply because it takes too long—and there isn’t enough time to move through the process.

Several years ago, I was a career counselor at the University of Pennsylvania and received a unique first-hand glimpse at the hiring process from a Wharton School alum who had just received generous angel funding. When asked about his hiring process, this was his response,

When we first started we got some great press in major news outlets and we received an enormous amount of resumes which we just stacked up—the pile grew to over two feet. One day, we were finally ready to interview candidates and I said to my partner, ‘How do we make the first cut? What should we look for?’

He grinned at me, walked over to the pile and said, ‘I have a minimum criterion for all of our candidates: they all have to have one thing in common. They have to be lucky.’

He pulled out two inches of resumes, and threw away the remaining ones. And that is how we started the hiring process.

My take-away from this anecdote: there is less uniformity in the hiring process in a start-up environment, particularly as the Federal reporting requirements for employers with a small number of employees are less stringent than in large organizations.

If you want to work in a start-up, you’ll want to be more than lucky—you need to be noticed and in the right place at the right time. Here are three tips to get started:

  1. Companies don’t know how interested you are until you tell them. Learn all you can about what the company is doing and mention your interest when you apply.
  2. Make it easy for a company to hire you—i.e. if you have a contact within the organization, submit your materials to that person—but also monitor the “careers” website of the organization and submit your materials that way. (This streamlines the process for them, and speeds up the hiring process).
  3. Be persistent in the follow-up—and be prepared to get started if an opportunity becomes available.

(Note: These tips are transferable, and can be used in the general job search as well.)

To Create a New Resume, Forget the Paper

In recent weeks, I've joined an ad-hoc emergency "response team" assembled to help people whose careers have been affected by the fall-out on Wall Street. In the process, I've been reviewing resumes of very successful young executives, many of whom have spent their entire professional career at the same institution. I have noticed a common set of questions based on the same general theme: how should you rewrite your resume post-college, particularly if you have been using the same template for years?

Biggest question: Where does the education section go? Do I keep it on top, or move it down? (The answer is--of course--it depends. If you want to make a career transition into an area that is more aligned with what you study, the Education may stay on top...if your work experience is more relevant, the Education section may move down).

If you need to rewrite your resume, here are three ways to get started:

1. Review tips from the pros: Career Hub offers free e-books on resume writing, networking, and interviewing.

2. Get started by developing a sense of what employers want and knowing what you look like "online."

To get a sense of the skills and experiences you should seek to develop and highlight in your new resume, read job listings and position descriptions.

To develop a sense of how your current experience measures up, search for yourself online (so you can see what an employer would see). Given that an increasing number of employers are using LinkedIn and other social networking tools to find candidates and make hiring decisions, it's a smart move to try to influence what they will find. 

3. Start your resume re-write online by beginning with a LinkedIn Profile.  LinkedIn has a strong search engine ranking and offers you substantial but a controlled amount of space in your profile section; it is a great site to write a resume draft--especially because you can seek out the profiles of others who work in your space (and make observations on what works and what doesn't). If you do this carefully, you'll find that you have a concise summary of skills and experiences that you can then use as a base for your resume. An added bonus--your voice will sound consistent aross both your LinkedIn and your resume since your skills will be presented in a similar way.

Want extra help? Consider contacting the Career Services office at your alma mater, or hiring a career coach. In my private practice, I work with clients on LinkedIn profiles--it's a great deal of fun and a good way to get started.


Is the Resume Dying?

In addition to the postings I write for this blog, I also write pieces for Career Hub, a website of career advice from industry experts. It's a great site, and I recommend in particular the free e-books on resume writing and interviewing.

This week on Career Hub, there's a great debate about the future of the resume. In the employment industry this is an ongoing question: are online sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook rendering the resume obsolete? Here is my response to the debate--I encourage you to read the post and weigh in. Counter opinions welcome!

While resumes are still the de-facto standard for applying for jobs (and are generally required both for the application process and so that the employer can meet Federal standards on record keeping) , I agree with Barbara Safani: the resume is increasingly viewed as one component of the application process--with online information playing a greater role in the overall search process.

The Google search on a candidate has become another standard practice--your online presence from LinkedIn to "digital dirt" can reveal just as much about you and your work as your resume. As early as 2006--an ExecuNet survey reported that 77% of executive recruiters admitted checking out candidates online during the employment process. In my opinion, building and maintaining your online presence has become a critical component of the job search process: In my private practice as a resume writer and career coach, I work with clients on "web-based" presence as much as I do on "paper."

Beyond the "Google" and online factor, Web 2.0 has also heavily influenced how resumes are evaluated: when you apply online for a position through a company or job board portal, your resume is frequently ranked based on "relevance" for this position. Elements affecting relevance include level of experience and key words (look at position descriptions and ads to identify potential key words, then use them in your resume).

In sum, technology is changing the role of the resume in the overall process, but resumes are still essential in the employment process. As such, it's no less important to have a clear, concise resume today than it was previously.

Quick Tip for Resume Distribution: How to Be Found

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on online applications. Another great way to improve your chances of getting noticed by employers is to name your attachments carefully...

How many people do you know who say they love filing e-mails and renaming documents? When you consider that many U.S. workers spend an average of 40 minutes a week deleting spam alone, it isn't hard to imagine that a lack of e-mail management can result in your credentials getting lost in cyberspace.

One easy way to reduce the chances of this happening is to submit your documents to employers so that they can easily find them.

When you send your resume in for a position, always name your documents so that employers can tell that you've sent them, and what position you are applying to. Examples:

John_McCain_U.S._President_White_House_Cover Letter

This makes it easier for employers to track your application materials and to distribute them to other people as well. (Note: If you are currently a student, I also recommend including the name of your school in your document title).

This is a good rule of thumb to follow with both online applications and e-mails: while many online ASP systems store documents, some show document names and others do not. Don't take a chance...To your success.