So you’ve printed out your resume, highlighted key phrases, and written some great questions for each
of the central bullet points. Now we need to take a deeper dive into the position description – section
by section.

The company description section of the position description is a great place to hunt for the values and
hints about the corporate culture. Remember that much time and energy has been put into mission
and vision statements and this is a big clue on how the company wants to be perceived. Think about
the difference between “customer-focused” and “results-driven” in the mission statement. Most
importantly – this changes the lens by which you will create your cover letter and what you will want to
convey during the interview.

The position overview will provide some details about reporting structure and general responsibilities.
One of the biggest flaws I see in position descriptions occurs in this section – it is often quite difficult to
determine what the actual day-to-day responsibilities are. The verbs, or action words, that are used will
provide some additional context. What’s the difference between “direct” and “oversee”? If you need to
pull out the dictionary and look the words up – there are subtle differences that may have some impact
on how you portray yourself.

Human Resources and the employment relationship reflect one of the fastest growing areas of litigation
in the United States today. And with that comes something most HR folks dread – compliance. If a
company has government contracts, they are required to follow OFCCP. Aside from sounding scary,
this alphabet soup has a big impact on your job search. If a company uses the phrase “minimum
qualifications” in the requirements section this means that they are truly minimum qualifications. The
HR representative is not allowed to consider you for the position unless you have these qualifications.
Do not waste your time on applying for positions that you only have 3 out of 5 the minimum

The additional requirements section is where recruiters puts the “nice to have” elements of a job. If
you have many of these skills and abilities, you have an increased chance to landing the position. You
will also notice that many of the “soft skills” of the positions are mentioned here. Be sure to use those
themes in your cover letter, resume, and for your interview preparation. Here’s one way to think
about it: If the company says they are “customer-focused” you will want to prepare an example story
to demonstrate of when you delivered exceptional customer service. Also, sometimes you will see
a requirement such as “must come to work on time and be ready to contribute” – which sticks out a
little bit or doesn’t have the same voice as the other parts of the description. This may be a clue that
the person in the role before you had problems with punctuality or brought problems at home into the
workplace. In these cases, be sure to highlight your punctuality throughout the hiring process.

In summary, use the key words and phrases used in the position description when you are tailoring your
cover letter, resume, and through the interviewing process. Pay particular attention to the verbs being
used. Make sure that when preparing for your interview that you are able to highlight examples in your
work history that reflect not only the tasks/skills of the position, but also the values of the organization.

And finally, remember to use the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, and why to be able to ask exceptional
questions during the interview. Good luck!

Angela Harris has a 15 year career in human resources, with several years in management consulting and quality. She current works at ASQ, the American Society for Quality, where she works on the development of ISO standards.  In addition to working at ASQ, Angela owns a consulting practice (ASHconsulting), is a Wisconsin Forward Award Examiner, sits on the SHRM Task Force for Metrics & Measures, is on the Board of Directors for the Wheaton Franciscan Foundation for St. Francis & Franklin, and was Executive Director of Milwaukee JobCamps.  She received her M.S. in Human Resources from Marquette University.

Feel free to connect with Resume Survis Lady:

Twitter:  resumesurvisldy




When I work with my job-seeking clients, one of the first skills I teach them is how to read and analyze a position
description.  This is a critical skill that all job seekers must learn.  Once you get the hang of it you will realize it is fun – like solving a riddle.  Think about it this way:  does your resume convey everything there is to know about you and your experience?  Of course not!!  The position description serves the same purpose:  it provides the starting point for a very important conversation.

There are many benefits to learning how to read a position description.  You will:

  • Only apply to those positions you are actually qualified for – saving time and effort
  • Save your reputation with recruiters by not applying to things you aren’t qualified for
  • Be able to better tailor your cover letter and resume
  • Discover what made your predecessor successful (or not!)
  • Be well-prepared for an interview
  • Be able to better guessimate the compensation range for the position

So with all those benefits, I know you are ready to take the first step.


After a quick scan and interest, print out the position description.  This is not a time to worry about trees – most descriptions will be 2-3 pages and the investment you make here is well worth it.  Once you have a job – feel free to make a donation to your favorite environmentally-friendly group.  I have found that I can read more easily on paper versus the computer screen.


I mean actually READ it.  Not skimming.  Not scanning.  Not reacting.  Read the document for COMPREHENSION.
Pay particular attention to the verbs being used in the general responsibilities section.  The verbs not only give you a clue to actual tasks, but also to the level of responsibility of the position.  For example:  there’s a big difference between “Manage multiple communications projects…” and “Deliver web-based content by target deadlines.”


Get out your favorite color highlighter and find the 5 or 6 phrases or sentences that seem to be central to the position.  Use a different color to highlight industry jargon, certifications, or buzz words. You should use these exact key words in your cover letter and resume.  For example:  if the position description says “Must be proficient in Microsoft Office” write “Microsoft Office” – if it says “Word, Excel, and PowerPoint,” write the same.  This will ensure that when a recruiter runs “Google-like” searches in an applicant database, your resume will come to the top.


In the above example, I would want to know WHO I am managing, HOW many projects, and WHAT type of communications they are referring to.  Back in high school, I remember learning the 5 W’s – who, what, where,
and why.  And let’s go ahead and add the how too.  You should have questions for all of the key bullets on the description.  Writing these questions down will have many benefits for the interview process, particularly with the hiring manager.   First, having this completed will show that you took the time to read and understand the role.  Opening the interview with, “I read the position description and I have some questions I really would like to ask you…” allows the interview to become less Q&A style and more like a conversation – which is better for everyone.

In a follow-up blog, I will show you how to look at each of the key sections of a position description and how to use that information to land your next job!

Angela Harris has a 15 year career in human resources, with several years in management consulting and quality. She current works at ASQ, the American Society for Quality, where she works on the development of ISO standards.  In addition to working at ASQ, Angela owns a consulting practice (ASHconsulting), is a Wisconsin Forward Award Examiner, sits on the SHRM Task Force for Metrics & Measures, is on the Board of Directors for the Wheaton Franciscan Foundation for St. Francis & Franklin, and was Executive Director of Milwaukee JobCamps.  She received her M.S. in Human Resources from Marquette University.

Feel free to connect with Resume Survis Lady:

Twitter:  resumesurvisldy


New College Graduate Does Not Equal No Experience

Dear RSL,

I just graduated college and I’m looking for my first “real” job.  My problem is I don’t have a lot of work
experience and I think I’m continuing to get passed over in favor of people with experience.  What can I do?

Congratulations on completing your degree!  I’m sure it hasn’t been an easy road but you’re done, completed and now it’s time to find your place in the world and start your career.  What type of positions have you applied to?  What type of internships and/or projects did you work on while completing your degree?

The first thing you need to do is focus on what type of position you are targeting.  I am going to assume that since you just graduated that you are targeting positions that are in your field of study.  What type of experience is being required in the positions that you are applying for?  Many new graduates have gone through internships and although they might not have been paid for this work, they can count that experience when calculating their overall years of experience.  The same can be said for projects that have been completed while in school, this experience can also be counted.

Between internships and classroom work/projects, most college graduates come away with 1-2 years of experience in their chosen field.  The types of positions that you are targeting will typically have an experience requirement of 0-2 years.  You’ll want to showcase this experience on your resume.  Make sure to include not only internships and class projects, but also any relevant groups/organizations or volunteer work that you’ve done that’s relevant to the position you are applying to.   Highlight your relevant experience to showcase the competencies that you’ve gained and how they relate to the position you are applying to.  And while you’re customizing your resume for each specific position, don’t forget to include a customized cover letter as well:

Resume Survis Lady is written by Billye Survis. To have your resume or job search questions answered by Resume Survis Lady, send your questions to:

Feel free to connect with Resume Survis Lady:

Twitter:  resumesurvisldy

LinkedIn: Resume Survis Lady



Keywords, Keywords and More Keywords!!!

Dear Resume Survis Lady,

It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to update my resume and I’m sure there have been a lot of changes with how to format a resume and what you need to put on it.  I want to maximize the number of times my resume is reviewed and I’ve heard adding keywords are the way to do it.  What are keywords and how do I incorporate them into my resume? 

Ahhh….keywords!  I love keywords!  First of all let me start by explaining what keywords are for those who may not know.  Most resumes are now submitted and stored electronically.  This would include resumes that you upload to a job board such as CareerBuilder or Monster or a profile that you have created online on a site such as LinkedIn.  For most positions you apply to, you will also be applying online through what is known as a company’s “Applicant Tracking System” or ATS for short.  This would be when you visit a company’s career website and apply to a position that
is listed on their site.  All electronic databases have the ability to search the resumes stored through entering keywords or search strings.  Think of it like a search engine such as Google.  If you go to the Google home page to search for a specific product or specific information, you would enter your search string of keywords and hit enter to see your results.  It’s the same with electronic resume banks.  A potential employer can use a search feature to enter specific keywords of things they are looking for.  This could be something like CPM (Certified Purchasing Manager) to PE (Plant Engineer) to Automation experience, etc.

So, should you use keywords in your resume?  ABSOLUTELY! One of the biggest mistakes I see with resumes that are not professionally written is the absence of keywords.  A great example of this is when you list your employment history.  Do you have the industry listed or what each company does? This is an area that is often overlooked when writing a resume.  If a recruiter is looking for someone who has experience in the “specialty chemical” arena, they will often use keywords like: Chem, specialty chemical, specialty chem, chemical.  If you do not have it listed in your resume,
your resume will not be pulled back.

There are different ways that you can include keywords into your resume.  The first would be to include them in the body of your resume as you are writing it.  Enter a short “blurb” about the company after you list it on your resume such as:

XYZ Company, Milwaukee, WI                                                                                                 4/2006-11/2010

XYZ Company is a Recruitment Process
Outsourcing (RPO) company known as a global pioneer of innovative and uniquely
effective talent sourcing and strategy for its clients.

 You can also create a keyword section at the bottom of your resume where you can list in succession all the keywords that are not already listed in your resume:

Manage, Strategic, automation, DCS

There is no limit as to how many keywords you can add to your resume.  Just make sure that the keywords you enter are relevant to your experience.  The goal of submitting any resume electronically; be it to a job board or through an ATS for a position that you are applying to, is to have your resume reviewed.  Having keywords in your resume will help to ensure your resume is not overlooked during the initial screening process.

What has been your experience with keywords?

Resume Survis Lady is written by Billye Survis. To have your resume or job search questions answered by Resume Survis Lady, send your
questions to:

Feel free to also connect with Resume Survis Lady:

Twitter:  resumesurvisldy

LinkedIn: Resume Survis Lady





How Do I Get Started With My Job Search?

Dear Resume Survis Lady,

I’m just starting my job search and not really sure how to get started.  Can you make some suggestions?

The start of a job search can be scary and a bit intimidating but it can also be exciting and a little fun if you do a little research and planning.  There are a lot of questions you need to determine the answers to at the start such as:  Are you staying in the same field?  Are you looking for a lateral move or a promotion?  Are you looking for a higher salary?  Are you open to relocation or do you prefer to commute from your current location?  Is your resume up to date?  Once you have the answers to these questions you are ready to move on to the next step.

The next step in starting a job search is once you’ve determined what you want to do and what type of position you want to target, start doing some research on companies that you are interested in.  When I say research, I don’t just mean going to their website and looking t information and open positions listed there.  I mean also going to LinkedIn and looking up employees that work there.  You will want to take special note of any that appear to be in the field or department you are interested in or Human Resources/Recruiting for later use.  Take a look at their  LinkedIn profiles to find out what their upward mobility has been with the company.  Do they appear to have an upward trajectory or do they seem to be stagnant in their current position?  That will give you a good insight the list of companies you are interested in to 10.

Once you have your top 10 companies identified, the fun begins.  Visit their career websites to see if there are any positions posted that you are qualified and interested in.  While on their career website, check to see if you can create a profile and set up agents to be notified of new  positions as they become available.  Once you’ve found a position, make sure to submit your resume and cover letter, YES COVER LETTER with both of them customized to the position.  Congratulations, you have completed the first step in the application process.

What?  Only the first step?  Yes.  Once you submit an application, you’re not done.  Remember researching LinkedIn to find people that work at the company?  You will want to use that information here.  Use LinkedIn to email those that appear to be a part of the hiring process for the position that you applied to and network with them.  Send them you resume and let them know you are interested in what they do for the company and what the culture is there.  Build a relationship with them.  It’s always a bonus if you have an internal cheerleader!

Best of luck on your job search!

To have your resume or job search questions answered by Resume Survis Lady, send your questions to: or on twitter: resumesurvisldy or connect with her directly on LinkedIn by sending her an invite to connect:

Incomplete degree….list it???

Dear Resume Survis Lady,

I’m working on updating my resume since I went back to school and will be completing my Master’s degree within a few months.  My current job was fine while I was going to school, but now I want to find a position more suitable to what I’m going to school for.  How can I add my new education to my degree without “lying” and saying I have a Masters”? 

You definitely want to “get what you paid for” so to speak and let potential employers know about your intentions to graduate shortly with your Master’s degree.  It’s no easy feat to go back to school at any age, especially if you’re working at the same time.

More times than I can count I have come across resumes that state:  “Bachelor degree candidate” leading me to believe the candidate is a few credits short of a degree.  Most times I am disappointed (although I really should no longer be surprised when it happens) to find out the candidate is far from completing their degree with no intention to complete their degree.  I have always felt it best to be completely honest on your resume.  I don’t believe in “smoke and mirrors” as the truth eventually will come out anyways.  You’re looking to build relationships with potential employers and you do not want to give them any reason to not trust you, so be honest.  How you will want to address your soon-to-be Masters degree is as follows:  MBA (anticipated graduation May 2011).  By listing your education in this fashion you are letting your employer know two things.  The first is that you do not yet have your Masters degree, the second is that you are currently pursuing it and plan to graduate shortly.

I cannot stress enough the importance of open and honest communication with any potential employer.  Anything on your resume, in this case the example of how to list education, that could be seen by a potential employer as trying to hide something or as something that might not be entirely truthful will only hurt you in the end.