key words

Posted: June 24, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

I recently read an article that listed 10 words employers don't want to see on a resume.  After each word, the article listed a percentage of employers that did not like a given word.  None of the words had more than 20% rating, which means that most respondents didn't care about a given word.  Worse still, many of the words listed in the article are often featured in job posts.  My take away from this article is that we should worry much more about showing why we are qualified to do a job than worry about one word a hiring manager or HR manager might not like.  Anyone who rejects a resume based on one word must have a great pool of talent.  My advice is to find words that show your strengths and qualifications.  That is what employers want to see.

Posted: April 5, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

When describing your work history on a resume, be sure that you show how your level of responsibility fits what prospective employers need. Review the samples below and note how it is possible to describe “scope” or “weight” depending on your career level. Demonstrate how your previous experience will let you fill the role you are applying for.

Early Career:

Worked as lead and assistant analyst for several projects. (Marketing, Project Management)

Prepared journal entries and government reporting as well as annual, quarterly, and monthly consolidated financial statements. (Accounting)

Contacted college instructors to promote books and materials from an academic publisher. (Sales)

Researched clients’ businesses and determined what events/awards would raise their profile and brand. (Marketing)

Mid-level and Managerial:

Oversaw facilities and service along with supervising 150 employees.

Supervised a team of 20 in delivering services to seniors, homeless, and victims of child abuse. Oversaw a $1.5 million budget for department operations and program costs.

Oversee radiology and MRI operations at an orthopedic practice that has had as many as 14 physicians.

Executive Experience:

Quickly took on increased leadership roles over 15+ years at 3 large corporations, moving from a positions as Process Engineer to Brand Manager to COO and President.

Directed operations at three casual dining American restaurants located in Wheeling, Illinois (Chicago), San Diego, California, and Naples, Florida. Managed annual revenue of $10 million and a staff of 100-120, including three Executive Chefs.

Direct finance and operations for a $500 million portfolio of student housing that generates $50 million in annual revenue. Collaborated with the CEO in establishing policies for acquisition, pricing, and sales.

Hired to turn around regional accounting operations in Russia and former territories of the U.S.S.R. ($175 million annual revenue) for a global leader that provides technical support to the energy industry. Reported to the European CFO headquartered in Zurich and a Regional Sales VP in Russia.

Posted: April 2, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Should the language of a resume be specific or general? Really, this isn’t a good question. The language of a resume should fit the kind of job you are applying for. It should show how you are qualified to fill the level of responsibility that the employer needs. Sometimes the terms will be broader. If you’re looking for a sales job that cuts across different industries, you will talk about sales in more general language. However, if you’re only seeking a sales job in IT, your language needs to reflect your background in that industry. That language needs to be more specific.


Beware of simply taking the job description for your current job and repeating it point by point. That language works for the job you are leaving, but it doesn’t show your next employer how you fit her needs. I recommend gathering 5-10 posts for the kind of job you’ll be seeking. Write your resume to appeal to the needs of these employers, speak to their key words, and match your technical skills to what you see in the job posts. A good review of the job posts will tell you how specific or general the language in your resume needs to be.

Posted: February 22, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

Many clients despair that they cannot find key words for their occupation.  In fact, they are easy to find if you look in the right places.

1.  Start with job posts.  For key word research, I recommend using 8-10 posts.  Note what words are repeated from post to post, especially for hard skills and technology.  For example, terms like cost analysis, budgeting, MS Excel, accounts payable are the kind of words that employers will look for when scanning resume.

2.  Perform a similar review on any LinkedIn contacts who are in similar professions.  Pay careful attention to the skills section in each profile.

3.  Research any job descriptions for the function you perform.  These documents can be very detailed, so be careful about selecting key words that match the job function you want to perform.

4.  Some websites post key words.  The problem is that these lists often cover all types of a profession from entry level to executive.  You need to identify those words that fit the level of experience for the kind of you want to pursue.

It’s important to have the right key words in your resume and LinkedIn profile.  To find them, study what your potential employer is looking for and how similar professionals describe themselves.  That’s the model for key word success.

Posted: August 13, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

This is the only question that matters when you’re writing a resume or interviewing for a job.

Too often, job seekers talk about what they did on their last job.  They use the language of that company and discuss their duties in specific details that only apply to that job/company.  Prospective employers do not care about all of this information.  It is not relevant to their business problem.  Your challenge is to show how your previous experience and education will be a benefit to your next employer, not the last one.

I recommend that you start your job search by studying job posts for the positions that interest you most.  Review 5-10 job posts.  Identify common requirements and repeated “key” words.  If you build your resume and prepare for interviews by focusing on what employers need, you will find that you have more interviews and faster job offers.  It’s not about what you did in the past.  It’s all about what you have to offer you next employer.

Posted: May 24, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’m reading a book on career management that dismisses resumes as “historical.”  While it’s true that resumes summarize work history, their more important function is forward looking – to show why you are qualified for the kind of job you want, not the one you are leaving.

Many of the clients that ask me to review resumes fall into the historical trap.  They focus on their most recent jobs and are very detailed in discussing that job.  Being overly specific often makes it hard for an employer to see how a candidate fits their needs.  This problem is even worse when a job seeker uses the language of her old company, language that only someone who works for that company would understand.

I frequently recommend that clients find 5-10 job posts and send them to me.  I review them to understand the requirements and skills employers are looking for.  I also track the repeated “key words” that are so important.  By looking at these documents, I am able to focus the resume on the jobs my clients will apply for.

The key to a successful job search is to keep looking forward.  You should only discuss your past to the degree that it shows how you are qualified for your next job or career move.  In writing your resume and interviewing for jobs, keep your focus on what your next employer needs.  It’s all about the future – and finding a better job.

Posted: March 15, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Clients frequently express concern about having their resumes scanned by applicant tracking software.  They worry about having the right key words that will let their resumes filter to a human reader. My advice is to base your resume (and interview presentations) on market research.  Build a market profile by collecting 5-10 job posts for positions you would apply to.  As you review all of the posts, the key words will be the ones you see repeated from post to post or repeated within a single posting.  Find ways to repeat key words in your resume without making it sound clumsy or artificial.  One way I do this is to list 6-9 key words as part of the profile at the top of each resume. If a specific job posting emphasizes different words, you can adapt your resume for that application.

While it’s important to have key words on your resume, remember that you still need to demonstrate your ability to perform duties.  I also recommend that every resume highlight achievements and success stories.  All of these elements are needed to create a resume that will make prospective employers call you to schedule interviews.

Posted: January 30, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Why should I care?

Every element of a good resume should put itself under the microscope of this question.  If you’re including information that the employer doesn’t care about, you’re wasting that person’s time, which means your resume will quickly end up in the recycling bin.

How can you know what an employer is looking for?  Start with some good old fashioned research.  Put together a market profile by collecting 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you (I recommend 10 if possible).  Note what elements are repeated from post to post.  Those are your keywords.  Pay attention to aspects like skills, certification, and education. Taking a little time up front will let you know what the employer wants, which should be the first step in writing a resume that gets you noticed.

Posted: November 5, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Clients frequently worry about whether their resume will be found by “robo-screeners,” software that screens resumes for key words.  I tell them that the real concern should be knowing what the employer wants.  If you do that, the key words will take care of themselves.

How can you know what employers want?  My advice is to do what companies do: market research.  In the job search world that means putting together a market profile.  Collect 8-10 postings for the kind of jobs you will apply for.  What qualification and requirements are repeated?  Those are your key words.

A market profile will also give you a great guide for writing your resume.  Rather than just presenting a summary of your experience, a resume based on a market profile will present yourself as some who is qualified for the job you want, not the jobs you are leaving behind.  By focusing on what the employer needs, you will be creating a resume that is relevant.  You will also be preparing for interviews because you will be better prepared to speak to what the employer needs.

This part of the job search is not a mystery.  It’s about the hard work of research and analysis.  If you want to get a good job, start with a market profile.

Posted: May 30, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

A client recently told me that she uses LinkedIn to learn more about her field and navigate the job search.  Her idea is great, but it needed a little discipline.  I suggested that she start tracking the information using MS Excel. Save a file under a name like “job search data.”  Then create three worksheets.  One to track potential employers.  One to capture job titles. And, finally, one to record key words.  Excel will let you sort these terms, which is especially important for key words.

Each of these worksheets needs a different kind of follow up.  The employer list can be used to build a favorites folder, which should be checked once a week.  The titles list will be a guide for online searches of job databases.  Finally, most importantly, the key word list will be vital for writing and updating your resume.  This is the one area where I would recommend going beyond LinkedIn.  Find 10-15 job posts for positions you would want to apply to.  When a word or phrase is repeated more than 3 times, consider that a key word and add it to your worksheet.

Treat your job search like a sales campaign.  Most good sales campaigns begin with market research.  Using Excel, LinkedIn, and job posts, you can develop a good tool that will give you more control over your job search.  It will also give you better results.  Hit the target!