The Perfect Resume: Easy to Read and Easy to Search

A 21st century resume must follow the old rules of grammar, brevity and clarity, but with a twist – Google must find it first.

What’s the perfect resume for the 21st century? It must be clear enough that a human can read it in less than 60 seconds and optimized for search engines like Google to find among thousands of other resumes.

All the old rules of grammar, brevity and clarity still apply, but with a twist – the document needs to be found by a search engine crawling a database of submitted resumes or the Web, said Irene Marshall, a career coach and resume writer who founded Tools for Transition, of Fremont, Calif. Marshall is also one TheLadder’s Resume writers.

Humans, typically a corporate recruiter or human resources associate, make the decision of whether to pass along your resume to a hiring manager, so everything you write should be grammatical, clear, simple and understandable, Marshall said. But many use specific search terms and algorithms to sift through thousands of resumes in a database to narrow the pool of resumes to read.

What is the search engine looking for? Keywords, Marshall said. Your resume should include all the hot keywords that describe the industries in which you’ve worked, your skills, and more importantly, the skills and jobs associated with the positions you are looking for, she said. For example, if a recruiter is trying to fill a position for “internal auditor,” they will likely search the database of resumes for “assessment,” “compliance” and “regulatory environment.” The result: only resumes that contain those words will make it to their desk.

Search-friendly resumes
Marshall recommends a few simple steps to meet the demands of human and machine:

  • Headline – Resumes should always start with a headline that characterizes a job candidate in the same way a product name characterizes the product – ideally, so the intended audience knows exactly what it’s getting before it even picks up the package.
  • Summary of skills – Follow the headline with a summary that would be the way you’d describe yourself, absent both modesty and unmerited arrogance, and if you knew the characteristics about yourself that others value most.
  • Expertise – The Areas of Expertise section should list all of your major skills, abilities and past responsibilities. These should be written so they’re useful to a recruiter reading them for content, but most importantly, they must contain the important keywords associated with the job you want. Your Areas of Expertise should all be hot-button search terms – terms that will cause you to appear highly in a search of resumes.

Before you write, define your goals
Before you write one keyword of your resume, be sure to define your goal, Marshall said. What job are you really looking for, and what elements of your work history or skills will get it for you? Once you decide, focus your “master” resume on it, then tweak or customize that version to adapt to other opportunities as well.

Marshall typically asks clients to send her ads for three jobs they have pursued or would like to pursue. If they can’t find three, or can’t narrow it down to three, they’re probably not focused enough, she says.

Don’t make or keep a whole list of resumes for different purposes. If you’re spending a lot of time juggling resumes, you probably haven’t defined the goal properly, Marshall said. Focus on the goal, and stick to it; it will maximize your chances with your best opportunities and keep you from wasting time on jobs you might not really want.