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Keywords are descriptive words, mostly nouns, that best capture an idea, an object, an experience, or even a concept. You use them every day in your Google searches or hashtags on social media! 

In human resources, keywords are hard skills that you may have acquired through either education and experience. They are usually associated with specific industries.

And while some keywords can apply to skills within a variety of industries – like Project Management or Customer Service – others are more sector-specific, like Electrical Engineering, Lean Manufacturing, or Product Design.

Why Should You Care?

Keywords have become a key tool in candidate selection. Recruiters and employers select resumes based on the keywords they contain – for them, it’s the most efficient way of checking if your skill-set and experience are a close enough match to their requirements.

And in fact, checking for keywords is now fully automated by Linkedin and Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software, which a fast-growing number of employers are using to pre-select candidates. Think of them as a search engine for employers to find suitable candidates!

So basically, using the right keywords throughout your application can determine whether you’ll be invited for an interview or not. Failing to do so will cost you the opportunity.

Did You Know?

  • A lot of recruiters don’t read your resume, but scan your summary of skills to check it against keywords. If you have the keywords for a job they know of, they’ll pass your resume onto the employer who will invite you to an interview. Tip: if you’re working with a recruiter, make sure to include a summary of your qualifications at the top of your resume!
  • More and more employers use ATS software to scan your resume for keywords. If the software doesn’t find the requested keywords in your resume, it will reject it and a real person will never come to read it. Conversely, the greater the match of keywords it finds, the higher your ‘hit ranking’ will be, and the greater the odds your resume will be chosen and reviewed by an actual person. Hence the importance of including the right keywords in your resume.
  • On Linkedin, recruiters search for keywords in the ‘Skills and Expertise’ and ‘Experience’ sections of online profiles to find suitable candidates. The Linkedin Recruiter application allows companies and recruiters to search and flag candidate profiles containing the skillset they want. So employers feed the software words that describe their ideal candidate and the software goes searching for those keywords amongst its members (you included!).

How Do You Find the Right Keywords?

In correcting hundreds of resumes, we’ve seen too many applicants who have the right experience but can’t express it in the right words.

For example, some may say that they ‘calculated costs and revenue’ when they should be saying that they ‘computed and updated the company’s financial statements’.

So make sure you use powerful keywords that:

  • will enable recruiters to find you,
  • your recruiters can understand, and
  • make you sound like an insider.

And here’s our process for finding the keywords to include on your resume:

1. Study the Job Posting

Study the job posting very carefully and make a list of the keywords in it. Employers spend a lot of time writing these postings, telling you exactly what they need.

Your job is to show them that you are the closest match to their ideal applicant – and the best way of doing that is by using the same words they’re using. So feed their keywords back to them!

For example:

Job Posting at Google

2. Scan Through Similar Job Descriptions

Scan through job descriptions for a similar open role at other companies to pick out additional keywords.

3. Find Your Peers

Find professionals on LinkedIn who are working in the role you are targeting and check for keywords included in their ‘Skills and Expertise’ and ‘Experience’ sections.

Like this person who occupies the role listed above:

Job Posting at Google

Can you spot the keywords this person listed in his experience previous to getting hired by Google?Job Posting at IBM

4. Use the Company’s Corporate Language

Companies often develop their internal language. What one may call ‘User Experience’, another might name ‘Customer Service’, or ‘Product Launch’ or ‘Product Introduction’.

The differences are subtle, but using the company’s exact vocabulary will ensure you’re using the correct keywords throughout your application. Something you want, right?

5. Do Your Research

Do your research! Do an in-depth search for industry jargon:

  • Check Google results,
  • read websites of leading companies and professional associations,
  • use the Company’s ‘Insight’ Page on LinkedIn,
  • go through forums, and
  • find a few popular industry-specific blogs.

6. Use Our List of 1000 Keywords

Check out our list of 1000 industry-specific keywords (PDF).

The job listing you are targeting should remain your primary guide for identifying keywords, but there’s no harm in packing your resume with a few extra ones for good measure. As long as they’re relevant of course.

How Should You Use the Keywords?

Now that you have a list of keywords to use on your resume, your next job is to tweak your vocabulary throughout your application to incorporate those keywords:

  • Are you using different words to describe the same thing? Add the right keyword(s)!
  • Are you missing experience related to some of the keywords? Delete bullet points that do not relate to any of the keywords on your list and write relevant new ones!

Match the Keywords to Each Job Application

As you may have guessed already, assess the keywords contained in the job posting and on the company website for EVERY single job you apply to. We can never emphasize enough how important this is. Even if you are applying to very similar roles, this is still necessary!

For example, many startups list roles in Business Development that sound the same. But when looking closely at the listings, you may notice that some of them include sales responsibilities and client relations, while others focus on KPI management.

Even if it may seem like the same role, there may be some key differences in responsibilities. So can you submit the same CV to these different employers?

The answer is no. Review your resume content against the keywords used in each job description to update it as required.

Include up to 12 Keywords in Your Summary Qualifications

As we mentioned above, some recruiters only look at your summary of qualifications…well, when you have one because 95% of applicants don’t include one! – so make sure to use the right jargon.

Then, the rest of your resume should focus on proving every one of these bullet points from your summary.

How Should You NOT Use Keywords?

Here’s a word of caution. Only include keywords you can support through verifiable work experience. For example, don’t list Project Management in your skillset if you cannot provide a concise example of how you organized a project and brought it to the finish line.

If this means you may not be eligible for the job you are targeting, maybe it’s not the right job for you at this time. But you could become eligible very fast!

Enroll in an online course about project management, and explain in your cover letter that you are taking steps to improve your skills for this role. Think to include one or two relevant successes in your explanation 🙂

And while we’re imparting cautionary advice, here’s some more. Make sure you understand what the keywords mean! An employer can tell right away when you are ‘posing’ and misusing company jargon.

The employer might then think you don’t know what you are doing, which could severely cripple your application.

You can easily prevent this if you:

  • conduct careful research as we advise above,
  • if you can, get someone with experience in the industry to review your resume!
Written By
As a co-founder at Build Your Tomorrow, Mirona Agachi enables millennial job seekers to build job applications that will open the door to their dream careers with step-by-step and word-for-word resources. Start building your own career with her popular ebook ‘10 Steps to Give Your Resume The Ultimate Upgrade' or by following her on Twitter

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