The Classic Job Search Approach
Most people don’t read a job posting carefully before applying (more on that later). Most people also approach the job search reactively, usually when they face an unwelcome scenario like a layoff.
There’s the common misconception that the job search is a numbers game. The more resumes you send out, the greater your chances of securing an interview. Most positions don’t get filled this way.
Research shows that 50-80% of jobs get filled through networking and LinkedIn recruiter keyword searches, with as many as 70% of jobs never getting published (aka the hidden job market).
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use online applications. Just don’t make them your exclusive job search strategy. I’m under no delusion that my clients will not apply online. Most of them do, and I imagine you will too.
My most successful clients use multiple job search methods while directing their efforts towards higher ROI strategies, like LinkedIn networking.
This post will equip you with the best strategies for online applications that will help increase your chances of getting found by HR and recruitment teams in their applicant tracking system (ATS).
You must tailor your resume to the specific job posting.
Spamming your resume to multiple positions, especially multiple ones at the same company, prospective employers will see you as a mediocre candidate for many jobs vs. a strong candidate for your specific career target(s).
The exception to this rule is if you’re applying for positions that don’t require specific qualifications, like food service or retail jobs. In that case, it makes sense to go for a quantity-over-quality approach. We won’t be covering this in our post.
Before you start, you must have a clear career target.
If you’ve worked with me on a resume project, you may remember that most of our work is creating a “master” resume document that reflects your job target(s). You will modify this “master” version by adding and modifying keywords or removing irrelevant details to strengthen your candidacy.
This sounds like a lot more work for fewer applications.
Technically yes, BUT remember, it’s not the number of applications that matters but the ones that employers are seriously considering. Be intentional when applying online and focus on targeting your applications toward specific companies.
For more details on how to build an organized job search strategy, you may find Scientech Resumes 6-part STEM Job Search series helpful. Part 1 guides you on how to build a list of target companies.
Now, let’s analyze and break down a sample job posting for keywords.
1) Analyze the job posting
Most job seekers perform a cursory glance over a job posting, certainly not enough time to determine if you meet the qualifications and if the job and the company interest you. There is data to back this up.
A Ladders eye-tracking study analyzed how jobseekers read and evaluate job listings and found that the average job seeker spends anywhere from 49-76 seconds reviewing a single job posting.
Not only will this help you understand if you’re qualified for the position, but you can also identify any potential red flags to help you decide if it’s worth applying.
Most job postings include 3 core sections:
- General company overview
- Job responsibilities summary
*This section is where you will focus most of your keyword identification efforts.
Read the entire job posting. Job titles can be misleading and differ depending on the company.
Years of experience are a good reference point for whether you’re under-/over-qualified. For instance, 0-3 years denotes entry-level, 4-10 years is mid-level, and 10+ years typically signifies a senior position.
- Does the company (and role) interest you?
- Can you picture yourself in the role?
- Does the role align with your expectations?
Job searching is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining, especially when applying online. Dedicate your energy to the right place and target jobs you truly want that fit your goals.
If the job sounds interesting, go to the company’s website to learn more about its mission, values, key products, services, etc. You might discover recent news that matches your background and skillset, which, in turn, you could emphasize in your resume and other documents where appropriate.
2) Examine the requirements/qualifications.
Most job postings are poorly written, primarily by HR departments and the Hiring Manager, with maybe some input from the hiring decision-maker and the department.
If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve likely seen posts with a long list of requirements. Most of those requirements are “nice-to-haves.”
Pay particular attention to requirements or qualifications that ask for industry-specific experience!
What about preferred qualifications?
Don’t agonize over these unless you meet them. If you do, you can emphasize that in your STEM resume and cover letter.
Exercise: Sample Job Posting – Senior Chemical Engineer
Renewable fuel for zero-emission mobility is the key to a sustainable future! At Company X, our mission is to decarbonize transportation using our revolutionary technology that processes ammonia as a renewable fuel.
Integral to our success is a Senior Chemical Engineer who will take a leading role in the chemical engineering team, which supports and helps build our prototype products.
What You’ll Be Doing:
- Manage chemical engineers and projects to develop and optimize novel chemical reactors for catalytic reactions.
- Take the lead to facilitate problem resolution and identify key performance metrics.
- Search opportunities to improve the performance of the reaction system.
- Facilitate testing of reactors in experimental systems with reliable and fast data acquisition.
- Arrange testing of chemical reactors to be implemented in prototypes.
- Create a scaling strategy from prototype to real-world product.
- Ensure proper workplace safety during laboratory activities.
- A BS/MS/MA with 8+ or a Ph.D. with 4+ years of experience in a chemical engineering-related field. (e.g., Chemical Engineering, Process Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or similar).
- Hands-on experience in industrial laboratory or chemical engineering processes.
- Prior experience in reactor development and chemical process operations.
- Have led and developed a team of chemical engineers is a plus!
- Has knowledge of chemical reaction system and theory.
- You enjoy working in a fast-paced and agile environment!
STEM Job Posting Analysis & Breakdown
Remember, a critical sign that a skill is an important keyword is if it’s repeated more than once in the job posting AND in multiple sections of the job posting.
For example, in the first 2 bullet points in the Requirements section, the keyword chemical engineering appears 3 times! This word also appears in the Overview section.
Now, let’s look at the job-/industry-specific (or hard) skills:
While the main focus is on job-specific skills, this posting also includes transferable elements, such as “managing chemical engineers and projects.” On that note, you might include the following soft skills, if relevant and appropriate:
3) Tailor your resume to the job posting.
Now that you’ve identified the keywords, you will want to integrate these keywords into your resume and cover letter, where appropriate. Try to mirror as much of the job posting language as appropriate without exaggerating or lying.
There are 3 core areas where you’ll concentrate your resume customization activities:
Stake a claim on the position(s) you want to target. When you apply for roles, I advise you to change your branded headline to match the title of the position.
In the example above, you would change your resume headline to Senior Chemical Engineer.
See part 2 of the STEM Resume Breakdown for more information.
Highlight distinguishing features from your background, such as years of experience, job-specific knowledge, and certifications/licenses.
You can also emphasize multiple promotions, large-scale projects, professional recognition, foreign languages, etc.
For more details, see part 3 of the STEM Resume Breakdown.
This section is one of the optimal places for integrating keywords, especially for skim readers (i.e., recruiters), who will quickly scan your resume to pick out key selection criteria for the role they want to fill.
Check out part 4 in the STEM Resume Breakdown series for more details.
While the 3 sections I mentioned above will be the most critical for your positioning strategy, you can also integrate keywords into other parts of your resume, such as:
Companies can leverage location-based keywords, especially for non-remote positions. Some ATS can reject resumes without contact information, whereas other let employers set a radius for applicants (i.e., 15 miles from the company site).
You don’t need to include your full address. City, state, and zip code are enough information to keep you in the running for non-remote/hybrid roles without putting your information at risk. Pay attention to any roles you apply for and note if they specify a location.
Part 1 in our STEM Resume Breakdown provides more insight.
This section is great for integrating keywords into the context of your achievements, contributions, and success stories.
For example, using the job posting above, you would combine a strong action verb with a keyword from the job posting, such as “led a team of chemical engineers in reactor development and chemical process operations.”
Check out part 5 in the STEM Resume Breakdown series for more details.
Most job postings screen for applicants with specific educational qualifications. The above posting asks their candidate to have a BS/MS/MA or a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, Processing Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or a related field.
Include the long form and acronym (i.e., Master of Science (M.S.)), as you cannot know if an ATS will be programmed to look for the acronym or the long name.
Our final post in the 6-part STEM Resume Breakdown covers this topic.
Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s get you where you want to go with greater results!