All large companies, and many small and medium-sized ones, use Applicant Tracking Systems to sort through resumes. These software programs take in the resumes of applicants and make them searchable so that hiring managers can seek out candidates for openings.

For you the job seeker it means that in order to get a human being to review your resume, you now need to understand how to be found in these electronic systems. Thankfully, it’s not all that difficult. Hiring managers use a search engine, not unlike Google, to browse the Applicant Tracking System for candidates. Therefore, resume search optimization is based on the same principles as optimizing a web page – it’s all about keywords. Now you just need to pick the right ones!

As an executive recruiter, I understand precisely how hiring managers are searching their Applicant Tracking Systems and here’s how to pick the right keywords:

Don’t Try to Be a “Jack-of-all-Trades”

Some candidates try to cast a wide net by making their resume general, stuffing them with generic keywords like “leadership” and “management”. The rationale is that these vague terms will make the resume come up in a wide variety of searches and be seen more often. The reality is that the opposite occurs and the resume becomes more or less invisible to the Applicant Tracking System.

Specificity is the key to an SEO resume, which makes absolute sense if you just…

Think Like a Hiring Manager

When a company is searching the Applicant Tracking System for candidates, the hiring manager has a very specific idea of what experience the ideal applicant has. Most people won’t do a search for “leadership”. They will do a search for specific skill such as “social media marketing”.

Let’s take a test case. If you wanted someone to fill a senior software development position, what would you search for? Probably terms like “senior” and “VP”. Definitely “software development”. And then most likely the various programming languages you need the candidate to be proficient in. Go for these specific terms.

To get into the groove of thinking like a hiring manager…

Study the Job Description (And Others Like It)

The easiest way to start selecting keywords is to print out the job description and underline specific terms that you think the hiring manager might use to select resumes. These should be your primary keywords. But all effective keywords may not be in the job description. Look up job descriptions for similar roles and repeat the exercise for strong, specific keywords and phrases. Finally, weave these keywords into your resume.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a one-time exercise. For every job you apply for…

Customize Your Resume

The old wisdom was to have a single resume and tailor it to the position with the cover letter. But Applicant Tracking Systems have changed all that. Don’t be afraid to have multiple versions of your resume that you use when applying to different positions. If you are applying for a job at a public relations agency, you should not be using the same resume you use to apply to an in-hour public relations role.


The number one rule is to always stay truthful when pursuing resume optimization. If you don’t have a skill, don’t try to deceive the system into thinking you have it. SEO resumes are simply about conveying the experience you have in a way that makes your easy to find.

What other techniques have you used to SEO your resume? Share your tips with us below.