A friend recently told me that my resume and pitch were “so 2007.”

At first I rolled my eyes. (After all, 2007 was practically yesterday.) But when I heard what this person had to say, I had to admit that my resume and pitch were pretty much the template you find on a career advice website.

Here are the two things I was missing: keywords and numbers.

Say it with keywords

So I rewrote my resume to bring it into 2014. The first thing I added was keywords.

A “keyword” is just an industry-standard word. They’re the words clients would use to describe what you do. And when clients are scanning their eyes over your resume, they’re the words that will pop out at them.

Why keywords?

1. Clients look for keywords. Most clients aren’t just looking for a generic copywriter or marketer. They’re looking for someone with specialized experience in their particular field. Even if you take on a wide range of clients, customizing your resume or pitch by drawing out the most relevant past experience you’ve had -- and describing it using the same keywords they use in the posting -- will make you a much more attractive candidate. As we’ll see in the example below, it also serves to highlight the richness of your past gigs and forces you to get specific about your achievements.

2. HR Departments look for keywords. If you’re applying to a large company, the first person who will eliminate 90% of the resumes and pitches in the stack will be an HR person. That person probably has had the job described to them, but might not understand what experience is related or not. The specific keywords in your pitch that match the ones in the job listing they’ve received will get you in with the 10%.

3. Robots look for keywords. Some companies now use an Applicant Tracking System to sort out resumes. Those robots essentially do keyword searches on your resume, so a perfectly qualified person may end up at the bottom of the stack without the right words. These kinds of robots are increasingly being used to scan LinkedIn for candidates, so if you’re duplicating your resume on LinkedIn, this is an equally important place for keywords.

Be careful that you’re not being convoluted about what you did. Make it easy: describe what you do in keywords. Put a few keywords in your bio. When you describe gigs, use keywords.

How do you know what keywords to use in a resume or pitch?

You steal them.

The job posting is littered with keywords that you should steal. Use them instead of words you use that mean the exact same thing. Remember the semi-knowledgeable HR and robot filters.

What keywords does the client use to describe themselves? What words do they use to describe the gig? Look at their website, their about page, their Twitter account, their marketing materials. Replace the words you’ve used in your template resume and pitch with those words.

Note: This isn’t about lying, this is about honestly renaming and thoroughly describing what you’ve done. Let’s look at a detailed example of this.

Here’s a random job posting. I have bolded what I think are the keywords, and sometimes put in parentheses what hints they’re using in what words they want to hear.

Digital Copywriter - Freelance

Creative Circle - New York, NY

Our client, a men's skincare brand, is seeking a freelance Digital Copywriter.

The ideal candidate will have at least 5 years of experience writing for e-commerce and digital projects. You must be able to provide our client with data showing how your writing increased traffic, lead to converts or contributed to business goals (SHOW US THE MONEY. WE WANT A TECHNICAL, NOT DESCRIPTIVE RESUME). You will be writing for landing pages, home pages, product pages, blog posts and e-mails and should have a portfolio that proves you can do all of the above. You must be able to appeal to a customer's emotion (NOT PURE TECHNICAL WRITING) and also create informative, engaging (DON’T SEND US DRY STUFF) copy about skincare.

You should be collaborative (YOU CAN TAKE A LOT OF EDITS, SAY THE WORD TEAMWORK) and efficient (FAST), able to adapt your writing style based on feedback (AGAIN, YOU CAN TAKE A LOT OF EDITS).

This role begins as soon as the client meets the right candidate and will last for several weeks. This role could turn into ongoing freelance work.

I think the most important things I’ve gleaned from this posting is that they’re looking for a copywriter who writes emotional, engaging, customer-converting copy, but who also understands the business goals of that copy.

Plus they’ve devoted a whole paragraph to essentially say: don’t be persnickety, let us edit your stuff.

Let’s say the following was a job listed on the generic version of your resume:

BloggyWoggy, Freelance Copywriter

X/2013-X/2014

Wrote website copy and blog posts for a popular health news source.

After you look at the above job description, this could become:

BloggyWoggy, Freelance Digital Copywriter

BloggyWoggy is a health and lifestyle blog that hired me to increase viewership and email subscribers, with overall goal of driving affiliate ad sales.

X/2013-X/2014

  • ”5 ways to improve your health today” (LINK): engaging, emotional blog post with a male target audience gained 500+ social shares, led to 3% conversion to blog subscribers.
  • Lead collaborative effort to rewrite homepage copy (LINK), decreased bounce rate by 7% and increased traffic by 4% in 2 weeks.

See what I did there? I changed the job description in a way that is still 100% honest. Even if my previous gig didn’t call me a digital copywriter, all of my work was digital. Then I described the business in a way that made it clear I have written about health and lifestyle (related to skincare). I also included their business goals, and showed how 2 specific projects contributed to these goals. I included about 6 keywords that were in the job description.

Again: do not lie to add keywords. Just describe what you did using different words!

Say it with numbers

You’ll notice from the previous example how powerful that item on my resume became when I added the statistics they asked for?

Let’s look at another, just to hammer it in: Which freelancer would you hire?

I redesigned the blog landing page and post pages.

I redesigned the blog under a tight, 2-week deadline, optimized the blog for social sharing, and increased social referrals by 22%.

Yes, I thought so.

Most clients don’t ask for statistics in your resume or pitch. Most clients don’t ask for business goals.

You should always provide them anyway.

How do you find statistics?

But first, you have to ask past clients for stats. As soon as you finish a gig, you should be asking your client if they have any hard numbers or at least qualitative assessments of the impact of your work.

The kinds of numbers you can use:

  • Deadlines (time)
  • Money saved, money earned
  • Pageviews, statistics off Google Analytics
  • Number of satisfied clients you’ve had
  • Number of customers your client attracted because of your project

If they don’t have numbers, ask for soft results. did they get compliments on their new business cards? Were they able to do something with all the time you saved them as a freelance project manager?

It’s crucial that you ask questions and grab these results while they remember them -- right after a project ends. We covered the fine art of asking for testimonials and results here.

We live in a results-oriented world. Clients don’t just want to know that you did something. They want to know that you did it successfully.

Some other posts that might interest you:

How to find gigs on LinkedIn

How to find gigs on Twitter

How to find good-paying clients online