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Resume Keywords: What They Are, Why They Matter

Most new jobs come from networking, but that doesn’t mean you should skip applying to job openings, whether it’s through a corporate website or a job search board. However, if you’re applying online, there are certain things you need to do, in order to make sure that your resume gets to a human being and doesn’t wind up in a black hole.

The goal is to get past the applicant tracking system, the software that stores resumes and allows recruiters and hiring managers to search them for qualified candidates. How do you do this? By using the right resume keywords.

resume keywords

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In brief, keywords describe your skills, achievements, and training, so that both robots and humans can understand who you are and what you can do.

How to Choose the Best Resume Keywords:

  1. Review the job description.

The first place to start is with the job description itself. Look for words that describe the job to which you’re applying, e.g. “marketing manager,” and words that describe the ideal candidate’s experience and qualifications for the role, e.g. “marketing plans,” or “budget management.” Ideally, your resume should contain all the applicable keywords from the job description.

  1. Look at other, similar job descriptions.

Don’t stop your keyword strategy with the job listing itself, however. Hiring managers may be looking for more than what they’re able to fit in a brief posting. You can cast a wider net by looking at their competitors.

“… also check out similar job postings from other companies,” advises Jenna Mucha, Talent Community Manager for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, speaking with Fairygodboss founder Romy Newman at The Huffington Post. “That way you can anticipate or include terms that go beyond the posting. You should even check out the LinkedIn profiles of other people who are in similar roles.”

  1. List your skills and accomplishments – even the obvious ones.

Your ability to use Microsoft Office isn’t the most impressive part of your skillset, but don’t leave out the obvious stuff. Remember that you’re trying to get a software application to see your greatness, so that you’ll get a chance to impress a real person. Alison Doyle at About.com’s Job Searching site offers a list of occupation-specific skills, as well as action keywords for resumes and cover letters.

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Other Tips for Using Resume Keywords to Get Past the ATS:

  1. Target your resume to each job opening.

It would be easier if you could just send the same resume to multiple job openings, but if you want to get a call back, you’ll need to be specific and targeted. Tailor your CV to each job description, and you’ll stand a much better chance of hearing from a person.

  1. Don’t be afraid to be sneaky…

“The box for keyword relevance is not checked when you simply add the keyword to a ‘skills’ section on your resume,” Newman writes. “Your keywords should be thoughtfully woven into your background bullets, ideally in several places throughout your resume.”

You’ll do better in search if your resume is incorporated throughout, but Doyle writes that some candidates list keywords at the bottom of their resume, to get past the ATS. If you’re having trouble getting your keywords in, this could be an option.

  1. …but don’t lie.

One thing you absolutely shouldn’t do is lie on your resume – that counts small fibs like including keywords that don’t match up to your experience, as well as big lies like inventing a new job title. Worst-case scenario, you get called on your lie, and suffer the professional consequences; best-case scenario, you get the job … only to discover that you can’t really do what you said you were going to do. Either way, it pays to be honest.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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