SEO – Search Engine Optimization is what many websites are utilizing to broaden their visibility on the internet, and reach the top of the search results on search engines such as Google. Keywords and content relevancy are two major factors taken into consideration in SEO: what keywords you want your website/pages to be found by and what relevant content is on your site that is of interest and beneficial to users.

In many ways a resume should optimized similarly; what are the skills and experiences you want to highlight on your resume, and what content are you using to support your claims of skill and experience?

Search engines display webpages in their results based on the outcome of complex algorithms which intend to best match the intent of a user inquiry to the most relevant webpage. Applicant tracking systems, much like search engines, will use algorithms that determine the relevancy of resume content to a search string used by recruiters or hiring managers to return the most “relevant” results (resumes).

So how can you best optimize your resume for these types of searches to make your resume more visible?

1.)  Use variations of essential keywords used in a job description.

In SEO, marketers will choose keywords based on user intent and try to optimize webpages so they are most relevant to those keywords. In a very simplified explanation, if a user searches for “cat food” on the internet, a page will be more likely to show up if it has the keyword variations such as “food for cats” or “kitten food” being used naturally throughout the content of the page. This tells search engines that the page is about cat food, and can provide people searching for that keyword valuable information about their inquiry.

Ideally, the algorithms used in an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) will find phrases similar to the search string content. When using job titles use variations of those words throughout the resume, “Human Resources Manager” could have keyword variation by using “human resource management” or “management in human resources.” As you’re working on your resume, always ask yourself how the person who will view your resume going to search for it in the first place (ie. review the job description for how they refer to the job title).

TIP: If certain positions or certifications use acronyms, include both the full title and the abbreviation. For example: “Certified Public Accountant (CPA)” increases your visibility because it allows the ATS to find the full title, the acronym, or both terms.

Try using the “Trends” tool from to search for the more commonly used job titles and skills. Search their variances for other possible keywords to use in your resume; if one of your skills is being used frequently in searches, be sure that it’s included on your resume. If you prefer a visual representation of what words are most commonly used in a job description, try entering a job description into a word cloud creator like Wordle to help you visualize the most frequently used keywords. Keep in mind that not all of these will be the ideal keywords for your resume but they can be a good hint.

2.) Tailor your resume to the jobs for which you are applying.

SEO takes the content surrounding keywords into consideration. To continue the “cat food” example from above, if the title is about “cat food,” the content should be about cats and what they eat, food ingredients, etc., not about dogs and their dietary preferences.

To optimize a resume for a particular job/skill set design resume content around the qualifications for and description of the position. Use relevant and similar terminology to what is listed in the description, emphasizing the specific skills that you have that are also detailed in the job description. Be sure that the context in which you are using them is applicable to your experience and can be expanded upon if you are asked about them. Use the job description as a guide, but do not copy information straight out of it—be honest. Simply sprinkling in keywords as skills will not cut it, hiding text to try to fool the algorithm will be found, lies on resumes are not tolerated by employers and will most likely be thrown out.

One helpful site is, which provides percentages of how essential titles and skills are broken down in a resume or job description. This can be a great tool in tailoring your content towards specific keywords.

3.) Be sure your resume has a simplistic design.

Much like a website, a hard-to-read resume can be a turn off to those viewing it, and can also lead to dismissal by an ATS, despite fantastic content. Creating a visual hierarchy using text will allow a resume to be more easily read by both humans and computers. Avoid using imagery, boarders, fancy fonts, and shading to define different areas or important sections; allow text to do just that, using differing font sizes or bold and italic text. All text should be actual text—not images that contain text in them—as the ATS will more than likely not be able to read the image properly. Simple bullet points or numbering should be used instead of stylized images for bullets, as these can cause disruption in the reading, or parsing, of the resume. Try to avoid using special characters like @, ^, #, or accent marks as not all ATS will correctly read them. Additionally, avoid using resume templates or creating your resume using multiple columns, tables or text boxes as these can all cause trouble when being parsed by an ATS. Length is not the issue here—use two or three pages to accurately describe your work history if necessary, but do so in a smart and visually coherent manner. In the case of humans and computers alike, simplicity and readability it are key.

TIP: Use your creative design sense when drafting resumes for creative positions. For example, Graphic Designers will need to have a special graphic quality to their resumes to show their knowledge and skill as well as displaying personal branding and identity through their resume design.


By: Renee Walrath