How to Make Your Resume Searchable

I previously covered some of the systemic problems that exist in recruiting today. In it, I mentioned that one of the first steps in the recruiting process is a candidate search engine that analyzes many millions of candidate resumes and professional profiles to find ones matching a given set of criteria.

Whether you like it or not, any resume you send to a recruiter gets packaged with millions of others and sold. The same goes for any site that lets you build a professional profile. So it’s already likely you’re in many databases that recruiters pay to have access to and search, and someone is making money on what you’ve written. Here’s how you can make the best of it.

A Note on Text Search

Resume Audiences
The three main audiences of your resume.

Two of the (many, many) rules text retrieval systems usually follow when ranking documents are:

  1. How rare are the terms being searched?
  2. How often do the terms appear in the documents relative to their size?

The first means that if your resume has rare terms and someone searches for those same rare terms, your resume will be boosted higher. Also, rarer terms are weighted more heavily – specifically, those terms appearing in fewer documents. So if a searcher typed “database” (more common) and “MongoDB” (less common), it will rank a resume only mentioning “MongoDB” higher than one only mentioning “database”.

The second means that longer documents are penalized if they don’t use the term often. This is usually calculated with word count – so a resume with 100 words mentioning “MongoDB” once will have a higher score than one with 1,000 words, but will be scored the same as one with 1,000 words that mentions “MongoDB” ten times.

The combination of these two mean you want to be as concise as possible for smaller text fields in your profile like “degree” and “job title”. The more words you put in them, the lower your profile will be ranked.

Recall that you are writing your resume or professional profile for three completely different readers:
1. search engines
2. sourcers
3. hiring managers

In this post I’m just focusing on (1). It may be a good follow-up article for me to muse on how to handle writing for groups (2) and (3).

Check Your Spelling

It should be obvious that computers aren’t great at guessing what you mean when you misspell things like names and titles. Until someone tells the search engine otherwise, “software” and “softward” are completely unrelated even if a human can understand it immediately. If you don’t spell things on your resume well, it will not be searchable. I’ve encountered terrifyingly large numbers of misspellings in degrees – literally over 100 different ways of misspelling “bachelor”. I haven’t decided whether the ten common misspellings of “doctorate” are more worrying.


Use the full name of the degree – no abbreviations. Think “Bachelor of Science in Computer Science”, not “BSCS”. There are many uncommon abbreviations that recruiters simply will not know and won’t bother to look up. My favorite is “EDM” which is a “Master of Education”, not “Electronic Dance Music”. Further, they aren’t going to include abbreviations they don’t know in their profile searches. And do be sure to include the level of education; resumes simply listing “CS” as the earned degree could mean many different things – you won’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Avoid including explanatory text like “Earned a BA in Communications” or “BA in Communications and a Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies”. The “earned a” is superfluous, and if the minor really is important then it should be listed as a separate degree. For real though, only the hiring manager is likely to care about your minor, and if at all only a very slight amount.

If you are interested in working in an English-speaking country, don’t go for the fancier-sounding “baccalaureate” over “bachelor”. You are even more likely to misspell it. I’ve seen cases where applicants even went as far as including the accent, but in the wrong place. If the search engine isn’t using a text normalization technique (e.g. one that removes accents, you’re out of luck). Similarly, English-native recruiters rarely think to type “baccalaureate”, so if you go that route you are unlikely to appear in results anyway.

School Name

As a best practice, use the name of the university on the institution’s LinkedIn profile. Not “Cambridge”, but “Cambridge University”. In this case “university” distinguishes you from “Cambridge College” graduates. Not “MIT” but “Massachusetts Institute of Technology”. And, dear god, never use something like “U of M”; there’s no way to figure out what school you are actually claiming to have attended.

Avoid including the name of the specific college within your university that you attended. If you went to Berkeley and got a business degree, that is the same as saying you went to the Haas School of Business. Candidates are very inconsistent with how they include school names, with everything from “Haas Berkeley” to “University of California, at Berkeley, the Haas School of Business”. It’s just difficult for the search engine to know that your profile should be ranked the same as the person who typed “University of California at Berkeley”.

Don’t combine multiple schools you went to in one line or entry. If you write “Harvard, Stanford, UCLA” as the name of the school you went to then you run the danger of not being found when someone searches for any of those schools. At best, your score will be one-third other candidates.

Company Name

Much of the advice from the School Name section applies here.

Use your employer’s name as listed on the organization’s LinkedIn profile. If you worked for a specific well-known division or product of your company (e.g. “Walmart Labs” or “YouTube”), use it instead. Otherwise, mention the division or product in your job description.

Again, avoid explanatory text. Mentioning “internship” is accurate, but will just cause you to be ranked lower. By all means, include it in your job title, but the company name field is not the place. For “Contractor”, the best place for this is the job description.

Job Title

You can put whatever job title you want on your resume. Your resume isn’t something for former employers to check, it is how you are presenting yourself to future employers. Obviously don’t lie or misrepresent yourself, but feel free to choose a common synonymous title over the specific one you may have been assigned. I’ve seen too many cases like “Integrated Data Network Engineer Level IV” who will never be found among the deluge of “Network Engineer”s.

If you are a contractor, the most common practice (of many, many different practices) is to append “(Contractor)” to the job title. This is up-front and honest, but I feel unfairly penalizes them in searches. Beginning your job description with “Contract work for …” is fine, and makes it more likely you’ll be seen.

Search ONET OnLine to get ideas of common job titles in your field. If you’re willing to do the full legwork, look for the occupation whose description most closely matches your functions in the Standard Occupation Classification and either use one of the examples directly, or take it back to ONET as inspiration for a search.

Don’t use meaningless job titles. Many people list things like “Specialist”, “Summer Intern”, or “Assistant” as their title and there’s no way to know what they mean. If you are a specialist, say what you specialized in. If you were an intern, be complete and say you were a “Software Developer Intern”.


Much of this isn’t obvious advice. We’re dealing with imperfect systems that aren’t optimized for resumes being used to search resumes. If you were only writing for humans proficient in your job functions, your resume should look very different. But this is the system we have for now, and you’re part of it whether you want to be or not.

Do remember that you can always send recruiters and hiring managers an updated resume when they contact you

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