7 steps to finding a job online

The secret, says a longtime recruiter, is knowing how to "reverse engineer" your resume. Also, if you're a new grad, must you include a so-so GPA?

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By Anne Fisher, contributor

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I have two questions for you. First, I graduated from a top engineering college in June and have been applying for jobs all summer with no luck.

I've targeted five companies I'd especially like to work for who I know are hiring entry-level engineers. I sent them my resume online and registered on their web sites, but have heard nothing from any of them. I don't want to be a pest, but should I call or e-mail to make sure they have seen my resume?

My second question is, am I right to leave my grade point average (GPA) off my resume? I excelled in my engineering classes, but my overall GPA isn't very good (2.8), mostly because I worked my way through school by doing three part-time jobs, so I didn't have much time to study. But should I put it on my resume anyway and then hope I get a chance to explain why it's not so hot? --Wondering in Waukegan

Dear Wondering: Your resume may be getting tossed aside by the computerized screening systems that most employers use these days to winnow huge numbers of resumes down to a manageable few, says Mark Lyden, who wrote a book aimed at new grads called "Do This! Get Hired!" ($16.00; see www.dothisgethired.com) that's jam-packed with insider tips on getting the job you want -- from how to get an interview to coming out on top in salary negotiations.

"If your resume doesn't contain the exact same keywords and phrases as the job description for a given opening, using precisely the same terms, you are probably going to be invisible to these systems -- and to the people using them," Lyden says. Yikes.

Luckily, there are ways to make sure you show up on employers' radar screens, says Lyden, a veteran college recruiter at Boeing. The key is what he calls "reverse engineering" your resume, and you can do it in seven steps:

1. Pinpoint the jobs you might want. Before you do anything else, go to the websites of the five companies you have targeted and get the job descriptions of specific openings that interest you.

2. Take your cue from the job descriptions. Next, "mark the precise words and phrases that describe the skills and knowledge someone has decided are necessary for each job," Lyden says.

3. Rewrite your resume for each opening. Use the keywords and phrases you highlighted when describing any relevant experience you have. Be precise. Let's say a job description reads "Must have experience with finite element analysis," an engineering specialty often abbreviated as FEA. If your resume says "Experience in FEA," you could be counted out.

"The person doing the screening may not know that FEA stands for 'finite element analysis,' so your resume may never get a second glance," says Lyden. "It sounds crazy and unfair, but it happens all the time."

Tailor each resume you submit to match those exact key phrases from the job description. If you have no training or experience in a given area of the job description, concentrate on the ones where you do have some knowledge.

4. Create a heading on each resume that says "Interest Areas." Take all the keywords and phrases you highlighted from the job description and list them under this heading, even if they've already been mentioned in your resume's "Experience" or "Education" sections.

It seems redundant, but some computer screening systems are set up to scan the "Interest Areas" part first, so again, it's a way to not get tossed aside in the first round of screening.

5. Rewrite your profile on each web site. When you register on employers' websites, make sure your online profile includes those same keywords and phrases -- especially if the company asks for your "interest areas."

6. Then -- and only then -- apply for the jobs that interest you. If you've already applied for specific jobs, follow the five steps above and reapply.

7. Keep customizing your resume, and updating your online profiles. As you apply for more jobs, repeat the process above for each one.

Now, about your second question, regarding your less-than-stellar GPA: "For some reason, employers are stuck on 3.0 as the lowest GPA they will consider," Lyden notes. "So a 2.8 cumulative GPA may be a problem for you."

Some college career centers advise students to leave a low GPA off their resume altogether, but "this is a huge mistake," he says.

Instead, since you mention you did well in your engineering courses, he suggests listing your GPA in the major. Simply list "Major GPA: 3.6" (or whatever the number is). That should help you get a foot in the door, so that if anyone asks about your overall GPA in an interview, you'll have a shot at explaining that you held down three jobs to pay for school -- quite a feat, by the way. Good luck!

Talkback: Have you found a job through a company website? What worked for you? If your grades in college were mediocre, how did you overcome that in a job search? Sign in to Facebook below and tell us. To top of page

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