By Megan Dempsey
My secret to landing interviews for jobs that I probably wasn’t even qualified for has been to utilize what I now call “keyword-dropping” in cover letters and even my resume. Kind of like name-dropping in an interview, keyword-dropping suggests to your reader that you are specially qualified for the position, even if you’re not.
As you read a position announcement, highlight keywords describing necessary skills, tasks, or programs that you have experience with. By focusing on keywords – not details specific to the position – you can highlight any experience you have with that skill, task, or program to demonstrate your qualifications, even if you have no specific experience in that field.
Here’s how keyword-dropping worked for me. When I began applying for librarian positions fresh from library school, I had very little actual library experience – and zero experience in a public or special library setting. However, I was keenly aware of the universal skills I had developed in my other job experiences. I began to notice that “customer service” was a hot keyword in librarian position descriptions, and I had plenty of experience with that, having worked in and then managed a very customer-service oriented specialty retail shop for more than ten years in total. As a store manager, I was responsible for budgeting, scheduling, training, and many other things that kept appearing as keywords in these job descriptions, and I knew I was qualified for the positions. By highlighting these universal skills, I landed a job that most new graduates would never consider themselves qualified for. Although I had to learn the specifics of working in a library, my previous work experience prepared me enough to accept and succeed in the position immediately.
Keyword-dropping is effective whether a live person is reviewing your application or you are posting your resume online. When applying directly to an employer, I always send a cover letter with my resume that names the employer specifically and uses as many keywords from their job description as I can. This alerts the employer that I am interested in their company, that I am aware of who is receiving my resume, and that I have reviewed and fit the necessary qualifications. If you create a template cover letter that highlights your experience and achievements, it can be quickly modified to address a specific employer and include keywords from that employer’s job description that fit your qualifications and skills. Use a lot of action words in your resume and simply replace your words with words from the job description to tailor a generic resume for a specific application.
Additionally, when an employer utilizes an automated service or head hunter, they typically identify keywords to search for in posted resumes on websites like Monster.com®. To be found by employers, your resume must contain keywords that match the keywords in their job descriptions. For this reason, employers in fields where you have no experience may contact you because your resume keywords match their needs. In times of limited job opportunities like these, job seekers should be open to opportunities in new fields where their skills and training are relevant even if the context of the job is new. Keyword-dropping highlights your universal skills and shows your adaptability as a potential employee – qualities that potential employers will be searching for in the enormous pool of applicants.
Posted 3/2/11. Originally written for the American Library Association's Get A Job site, 2009.
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