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Before the internet, job applicants would submit their resume to a hiring manager, the manager would scan through all of the ones on her desk, and select a few to interview for the position.

This process is now automated online by hiring software which algorithmically chooses which resumes would be best for the manager to consider.

So what does this mean for you, a job applicant of the modern age?

Resumes now require SEO.

Okay, I might have lost some of you so let’s take a step back and cover the basics.

Hiring software uses a similar search and ranking technique as Google. This video explains it really well. Google checks each webpage for how relevant it is for certain keywords and returns a prioritized list of websites every time you search.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to the playbook of techniques that websites use to rank higher on Google.

If a website doesn’t rank well on Google, people won’t find it. If your resume doesn’t rank well on a hiring manager’s search keywords, they will never see your resume or ask you to interview.

So yeah, this is serious stuff!

Writing a good resume isn’t enough anymore. Ignoring optimization will leave your resume collecting dust like an old abandoned train car.

To get a job interview, your resume needs to rank high enough within hiring software so a manager can find you.

This post will explain resume SEO for hiring software. Next week’s will tackle the persuasion of hiring mangers.

Understand the Process

To get an interview, your resume needs to impress a hiring manager. To get to the hiring manager, you have to get through the hiring software. But what is hiring software?

Hiring software accepts resumes, processes and filters them for hiring managers, and can automate communications to applicants.

The industry is diverse, each company with their own secret sauce for ranking resumes. Despite this, every ranking formula significantly relies on keyword analysis (which is what our resume SEO optimizes). Here’s how it all works [1]:

  1. Hiring software parses your resume to extract all relevant text and remove your formatting.
  2. Parsed text is categorized as education, contact information, skills, or work experience for easier search.
  3. Hiring managers type in search keywords to find relevant candidates (ie. “PHP developer”, “software engineer”…).
  4. Resumes are prioritized and scored based on semantic [2] keyword matching and years of experience.

Therefore, there are two parts of this funnel to optimize.

  1. Make your resume easy to parse
  2. Match the right search keywords

Software doesn’t care what font you chose

When hiring software parses text out of your resume, it leaves behind all of your carefully chosen formatting.

But wait! Once my resume gets a high score, then a hiring manager will see my beautiful resume!

Think again. Managers will only see the parsed data within the search results. Only rarely might they hit download/view to see your resume.

A gorgeous design can’t make up for a resume that doesn’t parse well.

For perfect parsing, think simple.

  • Use text focused software like LaTeX, Microsoft Word, or Apple Pages (I write mine in Pages but might switch to ShareLaTeX soon). All of these programs export to a simple PDF document that parses well.
  • Write in the main body of the document or use simple, non-overlapping text boxes.
  • Use basic page formatting and font choices to show your eye for design
  • Refrain from unnecessary logos [3] or graphics that can confuse simple parsing engines.
  • Don’t use Photoshop or other design software that is not primarily for text. It will slow you down when personalizing resumes and increases risk of output as a PDF image (which is useless for parsing since it’s an image, not text).

I’m no expert designer, I don’t pronounce it “aluminium”, but I do know that good design gets out of the way.

Don’t get me wrong, design is important and can be a distinguishing aspect for your resume, but readability and parse-ability come first.

If you submit your resume online, most managers won’t see your design. If they do, they’ll spend maybe 15 seconds scanning to see if you’re worth an interview.

Don’t doom your resume with a distracting design that doesn’t parse well.

Learn the language of the job posting

SEO for both websites and resumes requires both excellent research and strategic execution. Here’s how I do both.

First, I look for specific terms, technologies, or verbs to target for a specific job posting. I look for the frequency that they appear in:

  • The specific job listing I’m applying to
  • Other related posts from the same company
  • Similar job posts from different companies (I look on their websites, university co-op listings, Glassdoor…etc)

Consider unique aspects of the company I’m applying to.

  • Do they use a specific sprint planning method?
  • Do they organize their teams in a certain way?
  • Do they reiterate the same desired soft-skills in each post?

Identify terms or groups of synonymous terms that are specific to my desired new job.

  • What’s their technology stack?
  • What are similar technologies where my experience would be an asset? (Java -> Android, AngularJS -> React/Javascript…)
  • What are they building? Have I built something similar?

Hiring software uses semantic matching. This means that the keywords on your resume can still rank highly on non-identical search keywords, the keywords just need to mean the same thing.

For example, searches for software developer will also pick up resumes that include software developer, programmer, software engineer, and hacker since all are job descriptions that would have similar experience.

I tend to prioritize sets of synonymous terms for the technology stacks, skills, position title, and verbs used most frequently in job postings.

Put keywords everywhere, strategically

Second, once I’ve researched and chosen my keywords, I integrate them into my resume’s job descriptions, personal mantra, and skills sections. I swap out skills or terms depending on the prospective job postings.

Despite using over a dozen different frameworks on that hack, this description focuses on my use of a Google Maps Javascript API and PayPal API for a front end dev opening.

If I’m applying to a bunch of AngularJS centric front-end dev jobs, then my technologies will mostly stay the same but skills or other terms may change. Between a full-stack dev and a database admin application, my list of highlighted skills would vary greatly.

Skills sections from two resumes that were submitted for a generic dev job (left) vs a javascript centric job (right).

For the first of each generic job position, I’ll save major changes (skills, description changes…) as a new template so I can efficiently write quick personalizations for each job posting.

A few of my resume templates for the types of jobs I was applying for in January 2015.

Within my personal mantra section, I’ll adjust words or remove entire phrases that may not be as relevant to a position I’m applying to. I’ll be talking more about this section in next week’s post but here’s one on a current resume.

Mantra section from my resume that focuses on core soft skills and competencies, organized by priority for the specific job posting.

Taking the time to personalize your resume to a specific job posting pays dividends. Your resume will rank higher in hiring software because of your deliberate keyword optimization.

Focused impact statements in job descriptions towards the language of a specific job posting will stand out to hiring managers among the generic “Spray and Pray” resumes from other applicants.

Next in andrewnotes:: Hired

What ties your resume together? Does every sentence contribute to the same story? Would your resume be considered a persuasive argument for you to get an interview?

Read next: How to write a persuasive resume.

[2] semantic means similar meaning, the search algorithms will look for synonyms to the given search

[3] Coming from a website conversion rate optimization background, I recognize that strategically chosen logos can imply credibility, reduce reader doubts, and draw attention. This is the primary reason why I have them on my resume. For example, Google for Entrepreneurs and Y Combinator logos draw attention and provide credibility to my startup experience at Teknically.

For most situations, I’d recommend against logos. It’s a very fine line between deliberately drawing attention to a specific job and simply adding logos because you can. Listing Adobe, software, or company logos that have no brand recognition will generally not help convey your content better. For my next major resume revision, I’ll likely say goodbye to my logos for better readability and use of space.

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Andrew Paradi

Andrew Paradi

I study computer science at University of Waterloo, develop software at Atomic, code hacks like this, produce vids, and play piano.


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Andrew Paradi

Growth Focused Developer

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