Home Insights Preparing for job applications using keywords, formatting, and tailored resumes and cover letters

Preparing for job applications using keywords, formatting, and tailored resumes and cover letters

8 mins read
Beth Smith

Landing a new job in today’s competitive market requires careful preparation of your application materials. With so many candidates applying for each open position, you need to make sure your resume and cover letter stand out from the crowd. As a Senior Talent Acquisition Associate at Inizio Engage, Beth Smith reads a lot of resumes in her role and knows the importance of focusing on key strategies for optimizing your job search documents to catch a recruiter’s attention and land you your dream job.

“Preparing your resume and job application isn’t just about ticking off a box; it’s the foundation of your journey towards your dream job. The effort you invest in these documents reflects your commitment and professionalism. It’s the first impression we have of you, and it’s what sets you apart from other candidates. Your application materials are your opportunity to show that you’re not just interested in any job – you’re determined to land your dream job, and that’s why it’s crucial to put time into their preparation.”

Use Keywords in Your Resume

Thoroughly researching the job posting is a critical first step when preparing your application materials. Set aside time to carefully review the entire job description, making note of key requirements, responsibilities, and skills listed. Also look for industry-specific terminology and keywords that are relevant for the role. Incorporate the keywords and terminology you identified directly into your resume where possible. This helps ensure that applicant tracking systems can match your background against the job requirements. It also signals to the hiring manager that you have the qualifications they are seeking.

When structuring your resume, keep in mind that recruiters often only have a minute or two to do an initial review. Format your resume like a news article – highlight the most important information like your work history and education at the very top of page one. This allows the recruiter to quickly see if you have the necessary years of experience and required degrees or certifications for the role. Leading with these details gives them a high-level snapshot of your background to evaluate if you may be a fit for the position. It’s critical that a recruiter can easily confirm you meet the minimum education requirements within the first few seconds of scanning your resume. Otherwise, they may move on to the next applicant. Lastly, check for spelling and grammar errors that could reflect poorly on your candidacy. Ask a friend to review as a second set of eyes.

Optimize Your Resume for Applicant-Tracking Systems

In addition to incorporating relevant keywords, also optimize your resume formatting to align with applicant tracking systems. These automated systems scan resumes for keywords and experience that matches the job description. For example, if the role title is „Virtual Sales Representative,“ use that exact wording in the position title on your resume.

With hundreds of resumes per open position, recruiters will often search within the tracking system for resumes containing pertinent keywords. If a recruiter is looking for candidates with „Virtual Sales“ experience, and that phrase doesn’t appear on your resume, you likely won’t make it through the initial screening process.

To further optimize for applicant tracking, use a simple, consistent structure and format throughout your resume. Avoid fancy templates and complex formatting like text boxes or tables, as these can confuse the tracking software. Stick to a standard chronological or hybrid resume format using the same fonts, margins, and heading styles in each section. This consistency allows the tracking system to easily scan and parse your resume content.

Quantify your Resume Bullets

The specific job titles and work history you highlight on your resume do carry weight. Be selective – only include positions that are relevant for showcasing your background related to the role you’re applying for.

For each title listed, use a few concise bullet points to summarize your responsibilities and achievements. Incorporate action verbs like „Accomplished“, „Directed“, or „Completed“ to emphasize capabilities and results. Carefully compare the bullet points to the details in the job posting. Make sure your bullets directly align with the hiring manager’s needs and the required qualifications. This allows them to easily scan and see you have the right experience.

When describing your accomplishments, provide tangible results and metrics if possible. For example, state that you „Increased sales by 20% over 2 years“ rather than just „Improved sales.“ Quantifying your achievements in this way helps convey you are a proven, results-driven candidate. Avoid overusing unique industry jargon and abbreviations since the reader may not be familiar with them. Spell out acronyms on first use and explain niche terms where needed. You don’t want a recruiter to discard your resume simply because they don’t understand your shorthand.

Also be sure to explain any substantial gaps in your work history. Addressing these gaps reduces confusion and shows you have nothing to hide. For part-time roles, only include them if highly relevant and they strengthen your candidacy. In most cases, prioritizing your most applicable full-time experience is best and helps keep your resume concise. But some part-time work may be worth including if it provides skills directly related to the position.

Cover Letters: Should You Still Submit Them?

Opinions are mixed on the value of cover letters in today’s job application process. In an informal poll at our company, recruiters overwhelmingly said cover letters are not useful for evaluating candidates. The majority opinion in our hiring department is that cover letters have become outdated and are often skipped over. In the fast-paced world of high-volume recruiting, most hiring managers simply don’t take the time to read cover letters anymore.

Our recruiters focus efforts on more effectively screening resumes. Since resumes contain the hard skills and qualifications needed for the role, they are seen as a better use of a recruiter’s limited time. So, should you still submit cover letters? “My tip is to invest the effort instead into polishing your resume and tailored bullets to showcase how your background is a match. Use the limited space in a resume strategically to tell your story and fit for the position.”

Formatting and Readability

When constructing your resume, be mindful not to overload it with excessive wording or detail. Recruiters often have to sift through hundreds of resumes, so concise, scannable content is key. Trying to squeeze 20 years of experience across 2 pages can create a dense, hard-to-read document. Instead, carefully tailor the content to the specific role and your top qualifications.

Read the job description carefully and edit down your resume to what’s most relevant. Keep in mind a recruiter or hiring manager is trying to quickly understand your background and fit. An overwhelming barrage of information slows that process down. Follow the rule of quality over quantity – select your most impressive positions and quantifiable achievements.

In general, adjust your resume length based on your experience level. Recent graduates may only need a one-page resume with limited roles. For mid-career professionals, the standard is around 2 pages. Senior executives with extensive experience can go slightly longer if needed. Regardless of length, be concise and impactful. Follow any specific application instructions on page limits as well. A tight, focused resume showcases your value quickly.

When saving your resume file, use your full name in the document title (e.g. JohnSmithResume.pdf) rather than just „Resume“. This ensures recruiters can easily locate your resume among other candidates if needed. Also use a professional personal email address on your resume rather than something cute or inappropriate. A Gmail address provides a free, straightforward option suitable for job applications. Your contact information is key, so present it in a formal way.

Land Your Dream Job with a Strategic Job Application

Whether you’re a first-time job seeker, or executive level applicant, by thoroughly  reviewing the role to identify relevant keywords helps your resume make it through applicant tracking systems. Carefully highlighting your most relevant skills and experience upfront enables the recruiter to see your qualifications quickly. Quantifying achievements and aligning bullet points with the job description conveys you have the right background. Though cover letters may not always be read, a customized one can provide added context. Following formatting best practices enhances readability, while optimizing length and checking for errors polishes your application. With the right preparation, you can feel confident that your resume presents you as a qualified, results-driven candidate. Show the hiring manager you are determined to land your dream job by investing time to make your application documents shine. Strategic, high-quality application materials signal your commitment and professionalism, making recruiters take notice.