Keywords: The key to resume success

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Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer with a graduate degree in Marketing and Communication, and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume writing and interview coaching firm. For more information, call 1-888-9-LADYBUG or visit

One of the first things I discuss with my clients pertains to their current career target. Why? Because if I don't understand their target, there is no way I will be able to speak the language of their target audience. This is never more important than when a client expresses a desire to transition into a new field. To illustrate this point, meet Tricia…

Tricia, an experienced retail manager, wished to secure a position outside of retail, defining her targeted positions as business manager, office manager, HR, or related. Knowing that these fields would require presenting very different skill sets, I asked Tricia to send me a representative sampling of jobs she would see herself applying for.

Tricia submitted a handful of job descriptions to me—that she found online—which represented opportunities of interest. I then began keyword mapping so I could gain a better understanding of what needed to be highlighted in order to effectively position Tricia for a career transition.

To perform keyword mapping, I suggest this exercise: (1) Print a representative sampling of job postings (10 or so) you are interested in; (2) read the postings and write desired qualifications, skills, etc. on the left side of a piece of paper; (3) cross-reference the list with your qualifications, transferring the items you possess to the right side of the piece of paper; (4) for items that you "sort of " have, "move" those to the middle of the page. This "master list" will then illustrate an overview of your qualifiers (right side of the page), disqualifiers (left side of the page), and potential disqualifiers (middle of the page). These keywords and phrases then need to be incorporated into your resume, being very careful how you handle or perhaps address items that remain on the left of the paper or fall in the middle. This exercise will provide you with a roadmap for the language you need to speak to develop a targeted resume based on your areas of interest. As a side note, this exercise will also showcase whether your career targets are too diverse. If you find yourself writing furiously by the time you are mapping your sixth or seventh job posting, then perhaps you need to take a closer look at the target of your job search to ensure you are positioning yourself as an expert of something and not everything.

For Tricia, this exercise identified two key areas of interest: one in the business/operations management arena and the other in academic program management. The exercise also isolated the most important aspects of Tricia's background—the skills, experiences, characteristics, and education which would need to be highlighted—including policy and procedure design, workflow management, goal setting, office leadership, budget management, customer service, personnel supervision, compliance, and communications. Armed then with this "roadmap" for the development of Tricia's new resume, I started crafting her background with focus being paid to the areas identified as most important in my keyword mapping exercise.

From what was a crowded and untargeted one-page resume which focused heavily on "retail" experience, Tricia's new resume was clean, uncluttered, and highly focused on the transferability of her experiences. By strategically diminishing the appearance of "retail" on her resume, her skills will be seen as much more transferable, allowing hiring managers to see past the setting in which her experience occurred. In addition, I focused heavily on quantifiable results, presenting a track record tough to discredit. Through strategic content, a focus on results, accomplishment statements introduced by core functional areas (which highly relate to Tricia's current career target), Tricia now looks like a strong business management candidate vs. a retail manager.

View Tricia's before and after resume on

Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at For more about Sam's resume writing services, visit or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).