Job-hunting is never easy.

And it’s even harder today, when automated software programs skim your application and can ruin your chances of getting that perfect gig before you ever get the chance to talk with someone at the company.

Most of us dream of making a full-time author income, doing what we love—writing!—instead of working a 9-5 job. But let’s face it…you may still need that day job, if only for the health insurance. Or maybe you love your work and just enjoy writing on the side. That’s great!

Regardless of the reason, many of us still need to update and send out our resumes from time to time. And when we do, there’s not much more frustrating than spending time polishing up an application, complete with fantastic cover letter, only to hear nothing in response. Did they even get your application?

Instead of waiting and wondering, it’s time to overhaul how you think about your application to get better results.

Rather than looking at your resume as a summary of your career and accomplishments, think of it as a marketing document. When you’re looking to attract people to buy your book or visit your website, you optimize your campaign for what potential customers are searching for, right?

Do the same to your resume!

Understanding the System

To optimize your resume, you need to understand how it’s being reviewed.

These days, many applications are being screened by “talent management systems,” also known as applicant tracking systems (ATS), software that scans a candidate’s responses and matches them up to a description of the position.

If your application doesn’t pass this arbitrary test, your chances of talking to a hiring manager are pretty much zero.

So to increase your odds, you need to work that system.

It’s pretty much the same set of techniques used to implement search engine optimization (SEO) on a website—you’re collecting information on what your target audience wants to see, then serving it back to them in a neat, skimmable form.

Naturally, in a job-hunting situation, this only applies to skills and experience you actually have—don’t make stuff up or pad it out! But spinning how you present your experience to more closely match what an employer is looking for is smart, not shady.

Here’s how to use SEO tactics to improve your job search results and land the job of your dreams.

use keyword targeting on resume

Use Keyword Targeting

Every resume you send out should be customized to the job you’re applying to.

But this goes deeper than just changing the “objective” section at the top to mention the job title. You should revamp your bullet points for each position to closely echo the keywords that appear in the job description itself.

By targeting your resume to the exact keywords used in the posting, you’re demonstrating that you have the precise qualifications the employer is looking for.

Finding Keywords

Where do these keywords come from? The job listing, of course!

These are always loaded with keywords you can repurpose in your resume, usually in the Requirements or Qualifications section.

If you’re applying for a marketing job, you’ll probably see a lot of terms like analytics, conversion, site traffic, customer engagement, social media, lead generation, and content management.

Working in HR? You’ll probably run across terms like talent management, benefit policies, employee engagement, social practices, recruitment, and so on.

Highlight the terms that come up the most in the job posting, then work them into your resume.

Where To Use Keywords

Keywords can appear all throughout your resume, from the summary or objective block at the top of the page through all the bullet points and descriptions of responsibilities in your past work experience.

The “skills” section is a great place to add any keywords that you haven’t worked in elsewhere.

The more places you can inject relevant keywords into your resume, the better—you’ll light up the screening software and also appeal to the human hiring manager who checks out your application next.

If you can fit the keywords into your cover letter as well, even better!

Make It Clickbait

Once you’ve made it past the automated screening process, the next step is engaging the human HR manager reading your application.

SEO to the rescue again!

We’re all guilty of falling for a click-bait headline from time to time—there’s just something irresistible about those 7 Weird Tips for Walking Your Dog.

Use that to your advantage on your resume! While this isn’t the time to get cute and clever—recruiters are busy people who skim potentially hundreds of resumes a day—you can use the theory of clickbait to make your resume more active and memorable.

Rather than repeating the same tired verbs over and over—responsible for, responsible for, participated in, responsible for—try punching up your language using your creative writing skills.

Don’t settle for “increased efficiency by 20%.” Think like a marketer and go with “slashed waste, eliminated unnecessary meetings, and turbocharged communication to increase efficiency by 20%.” Much more engaging…and informative, too!

Keep It Skimmable

Our average attention span is already small, and it’s falling—soon, goldfish will look like Zen masters of concentration compared to your average smartphone-wielding human.

While long-form reading is still popular, that’s not the experience you want to give a hiring manager. They’re looking for something bite-sized and easily digestible—a resume they can skim for the highlights.

Give them what they want!

Just like when writing a blog post or promo piece, you should break your resume down into small, simple chunks. Ditch anything that isn’t specific, targeted, and relevant—“great team player,” “highly motivated,” and “results-oriented self-starter” have to go.

Pretend you’re editing a novel and get out your red pen. Anything that doesn’t immediately speak to your keyword targeting and clearly, concisely describe your relevant experience gets slashed.

Fluffy modifiers like “great,” “excellent,” or “highly”? Gone.

Generic puff pieces like “Looking for a rewarding, challenging position”? Bye-bye.

When you’ve killed the clutter, break your resume into clearly headlined sections, like Summary, Past Experience, Education, Skills, Certifications, and Awards. Treat these like section headings in a blog post, bumping them up a font size or two so that the recruiter can easily skim to what they’re interested in.

Then keep the information in each of those sections streamlined, using subheadings and bullet points to organize everything for easy reading.

By reconfiguring your resume to highlight target keywords, using memorable language, and creating skimmable sections, you can increase your chances of getting past the software gatekeepers and impressing the hiring manager. It’s all about optimization!


Use SEO tactics to overhaul your resume, boosting the results from your next job search.

Ready to give up the grind and write full time? Here’s how!



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Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design. In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!