Talk Like a Human

The resume is one of the first SEO-optimized documents. Long before search engines scanned online job applications for keywords, even before office supply stores had a section labeled "resume paper", people have been loading their resumes and cover letters with words copied straight from the job description in order to demonstrate they have the exact skills the employer is looking for.

This tactic has created huge databases of resumes and online employment summaries that look like entries for a buzzword competition but don’t “read” well at all. I met one applicant whose printed resume included a full paragraph of key words separated by commas – a questionable tactic online, but outright ridiculous to see on paper.  

SEO is important – your resume and social media profiles need to have enough industry-specific content to appear in employer and recruiter search results – but eventually, a real person is going to read them and they’ll want to see how well you communicate, not how well you can do SEO. Here are few things that will make your job search documents more readable:

Introduce Yourself the Way You Would In-Person

No one would introduce themselves in real life with, “I’m a results-oriented member of a dynamic team focused on delivering innovation and efficiency,” yet that type of intro is common on LinkedIn. Your online summary is your introduction, so let people know who you are, not just what you’ve done. My recent favorite was an online summary that started, “I enjoy solving business problems.” To me, that sounds like a real person.

Be Brief

The hiring manager who will be reading your resume has a stack of applications on top of their regular workload, so focus on the information that’s relevant to the work you’re interested in and/or the job you’re applying for. Don’t overestimate how closely someone will review your resume – you need to be able to quickly summarize how you bring value to your employers.

Don’t Repeat Yourself

If you clearly define your work history in your resume, you don’t need to say it all again in your cover letter or online summary. Some overlap is fine, but instead of being repetitious, look for ways to further communicate why you’re the best choice for the open position.  

Go Easy on the Buzzwords

You can get a lot of advice about buzzwords, including mine. Flavor-of-the-day terms like “thought leader” and “innovator” are so overused that they’ve lost any real meaning. Industry jargon can be necessary to establish your expertise, but buzzwords make you sound more generic than exceptional. 

Be smart about including keywords, but remember that across every industry, communication skills are a high priority for employers. Make sure your resume and social media profiles demonstrate that you have the skills they’re looking for – and that you can communicate them clearly.