How Keywords for a Resume Work: Writing Tips and Tricks

How to Use Resume Keywords to Land the Job? May 15, 2020 · 11 min read

Think about the stack of resumes on a recruiter’s desk. With so many applications to wade through, it’s understandable they only spend seconds, or minutes if you’re lucky, looking over your details to see if you measure up.

A sobering thought, right?

Scary as the prospect of being judged so quickly is, you can definitely increase your chances of being noticed.

There are keywords you can include in your resume which are going to maximize your ability to get through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and then get noticed by a hiring manager.

An ATS works by scanning your resume for essential details the hiring company wants to see, so you need to give them what they’re looking for.

This begs the question, how do you know what the keywords are and how to use them effectively?

Where do the keywords belong on your resume?

Keywords in CVWhat keywords actually are?

Coming up, we’re going to look at:

  • What keywords actually are and why you should be using them?
  • Where to look for the keywords for your application?
  • How to work them into your resume to get to the interview stage?
  • Where to put keywords in your resume?

With plenty of examples and other information that will see you on your way to landing your dream job, too.

What are keywords in a resume?

Let’s tackle the basics first, what are keywords for resumes?

Resume keywords are phrases or words that are important for describing the function or the expectations of a job role.

The words are usually regarding the abilities, credentials, skills, and qualities that a recruiter wants to see in their ideal candidate.

Keywords in job openingStart your research for resume keywords from the job description.

The next thing you’re going to want to know is…

What are keywords in a resume?

Below are some popular industries and some examples of the types of keywords you’re likely to need:

  • Accounting & Finance: Financial analysis, excel, global banking, trust, corporate tax, financial planning, risk management, treasury, credit analysis, deposit
  • Education & Learning: Private lessons, curriculum development, lecture and practical classes, computer skills
  • Food Service & Hospitality: Catering, preparing food for service, stock inventory, proven cooking experience, culinary school diploma, cooking methods
  • Information Technology: Operating system, SaaS, database, wireless, architecture, SQL, JavaScript, Scrum master, Agile Scrum Methodology
  • Management: Managing projects in Jira, development progress reports, problem-solving, relationship management skills, PMP certification

These keywords, and more, are able to help your resume make a computer ping and whir with delight as it scans through your resume.

These are really important to work into your resume and work them in the right way.

Why is this so important?

The first time your resume is read it may be read either by a computer program, or a human.

Keywords can help your resume to pass ATS software and attract HR’s attention to the most important sections you want to highlight.

If your resume lands with a company, it will get scanned into an ATS (an applicant tracking system); a piece of software that speeds up the hiring process and makes the job of a recruiter easier.

Pro-Tip
As smart as the Applicant Tracking Systems are, they still can’t make out typos. Be sure that all of your spellings are checked and double-checked before clicking “submit”.

Then, once you’ve made it past the computer, the recruiter will take a quick look through the pile that remains and skim over them to find the keywords they’re looking for.

Without enough of the keywords the computer has been taught, your application will descend into a digital abyss, never to be seen by the recruiter who no doubt would have loved you.

At the same time, if your resume lands directly in the recruiter's hands, it should also be filled with keywords, to show your most prominent skills and qualifications.

Never fear, there’s a way to avoid the depths of computerized oblivion and attract recruiter’s eye.

Here’s what you need to do with your keywords…

How to find keywords for a resume?

For the best chance of success, keywords for resumes need to be specific for the role you’re aiming to land.

Sounds simple, but you need to know what those keywords are.

This is where you need to put in some leg work…

Where to find keywords and what they may beShort checklist about resume keywords

We’ve got a handy checklist with some really powerful and effective ways to hunt down the perfect keywords for your resume.

  • Check out job listings. Carefully read the job description and look up adverts for the same job title and note the keywords that likely match your potential employer’s criteria. Use our list further up to guide you, and note that the higher up the ad the words are, the more important they are.
  • Scour the website of the company. Read through their About Us page and mirror the words the company uses about itself to show you match their values. The job posting might have valuable information about the company too. When a company describes itself as “creative” be sure your resume uses words like create, creativity, and creative, for example.
  • Read through the skills section on LinkedIn. Head over to your LinkedIn profile and find the “Add skill” button towards the bottom of the page. Next, type one of the skills, mentioned in the job application into the search bar and you’ll get a dropdown of skills that are similar. For example, type in “social media” and you’ll get associated skills like “social media outreach” and “social media optimization”. This way you’ll find more keywords related to the skills you need to add to your current resume.
  • Have a chat with an industry recruiter or insider. Speak with a recruiter or a person already on the inside at the company that you’re applying to and get some information. You won’t probably get their ATS keyword list, but you can still ask about the general things they look for in terms of skills, experience, and background for a certain role. Listen out for the jargon and skills, these are what they likely put into their ATS.
  • Read ads for ‘one-up’ jobs. Check out listings for roles the next rung above you on the career ladder, so if you’re a sous chef, look at head and executive chef roles. You’re looking for the skills that crop up in all the adverts, and once you’ve found the ones that you match, get them added to your resume. This will make you stand out from other applicants who haven’t started looking to the next level.

Get to grips with these tricks and you’ll be adding in keywords that are highly relative to the job you want and targeted to the company and role.

Don’t forget…

Here’s different types of language to be searching for when hunting for keywords to use:

  • Industry-specific skills - Social media management, event planning, and logistics coordination
  • Soft skills - leadership, communication, creativity, engaging clients, persuasion, and team management
  • Hardware and software programs - Adobe Suite, Microsoft Office, Office 365
  • Job titles - customer service representative, WordPress developer, and chemical engineer
  • Training and certification - Java script, food hygiene certification, and ITIL
  • Education - MEd, BSc, and PhD
  • Industry jargon - resource planning, increase end-user engagement, and technological implementation
  • Company names - name check national or international brands if you’ve worked for them
  • Locations - Zip codes, city, or state names can be used to narrow down candidates local to the company

The more specific your choice of language and more focused you are in your writing, the more chance you’re going to have to prove your mettle and get the job you’re applying for. The more relevant keywords you use, the more chance you’re getting past the ATS. Just remember not to overuse them.

Pro-Tip
Get the keywords you’ve found into your cover letter too because this could get scanned by an ATS. Even if it doesn’t go into the system, when a recruiter reads your letter they’re more likely to pick you for an interview if you’ve done your research and used keywords well.

What Resume Keywords Should be Included?

To get on to the shortlist for the role you’re hoping to get, you need your resume to rank high up in the Applicant Tracking System and to make it attractive for the recruiter’s eye.

To get there, you need to use the right keywords.

Yet…

Once you’ve got your keywords, you’re probably looking at a long list and thinking…

How on Earth you’re getting all of these into one short resume?

So, how many keywords should there even be in your resume?

👍 As a rule of thumb, place them whenever appropriate. Using more than you actually need will start to feel really obvious, plus bots don’t like spam.

Pick the right resume keywordsShort checklist about choosing resume keywords

Mix things up with different types of keywords.

Pepper your resume with industry buzzwords, a mix of hard and soft skills, certifications, and others that have made it onto your list.

By diversifying your keywords, you’re demonstrating that you have the full gamut of qualities demanded by the job role.

Pro-Tip
Some ATSs pick up on different tenses, pluralization, and word variants, but the majority only pick up exact matches. If the hiring manager has set “team leader” as a term, you’re not getting anywhere with “led a team” or “leadership in a team setting”.

Where Do Keywords Go When you Write a Resume?

Whether it’s the person who’ll interview you or a computer reading your resume, they’re both going to want to see keywords cropping up all over.

You can fit them into your summary statement, key job titles work well in your work experience section, the skills section is the obvious place to include your hard and soft skills, and indeed anywhere else where the words fit and sound natural.

Be strategic about your keywords

  • When you’ve got real-world experience, put your keywords into your work experience section. This is also true of your education section.
  • If you’re freshly graduated or switching industries so can’t demonstrate relevant experience and skills, still have a skills section that will highlight your knowledge, and offer a chance to get some keywords in.

It’s important to not pack out your resume with too many keywords.

Overusing keywords is nearly as bad as not even trying to use them at all.

Give every keyword some context

Another key pointer is to not just make a list that’s purely keywords.

Take the keyword and put it into a sentence that highlights an achievement.

An example would be, someone applying for a food store management role. The job description may say something like:

Looking for a manager for our food and beverage store, experienced in managing a large team, with a high engagement score, and able to manage the budget.

In this case, an applicant will be writing:

“…Food and Beverage Manager at New York Marriott Marquis; team leader for 25 staff with an employee engagement score of 97%, experienced in managing the budget for small and big businesses…”

This way you’ve wisely used the keywords mentioned in the job description.

Summing Up

An ATS and a hiring manager are going to do a quick scan over your resume to see if they spot the keywords they’re looking out for.

Without including the correct experience and skills, whether you have them or not won’t matter; you’re getting nowhere fast.

What do you need to do to get through to the next stage?

You need to find the words the system or the potential employer wants to read, and then make sure that you use those keywords when writing up your resume.

How do you know which keywords are needed? Once you know them, how do you actually go about putting them in your resume? How to avoid spamming a bot with keywords?

  • First, look at job description and note down the terms that keep cropping up
  • Find associated keywords by mining the LinkedIn skills section or in similar vacancies
  • Chat with a current employee at the firm or a recruitment manager
  • Read through jobs on the next level up from you to see what next-level expectations the recruiter might have

Now it’s time to ask these three important questions:

  • What words does the company use to define the role and responsibilities?
  • What’s the exact language used in the core needs for the job?
  • Can I match my skills and experience to the responsibilities that I’ll have?

When you’ve done the same or similar role before or you’ve got the exact qualifications they want, be sure it’s listed on your resume and use the exact same words and phrases they do.

It’s worth noting…

  • Mix up your keywords with skills, industry language, and qualifications
  • Spread out the keywords all the way through your resume and cover letter
  • Don’t get keyword happy and overuse words, and don’t put anything untrue

Now you’re armed with the information about the keywords you need to use and where to find them, you can make sure that the content on your resume sparkles for the computers as well as humans. Once you get past the ATS you’re on track to landing your dream job!

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