Despite hours sweating over your resume, your chances of getting a job can be severely hampered if you don’t understand how to use resume keywords. By the time yo get to the close of this article, you'll realize just how important resume keywords can be to a successful job hunt. Read on for advice on how to unearth the right keywords for a particular job.
What are resume keywords anyway?
Resume keywords are sort of like breadcrumbs that lead you to a job interview. Ignore those keywords and the chances increase that you’ll get lost among the dozens or even hundreds of other applicants. Keywords are the phrases and terms that hiring managers use to screen resumes and cover letters. They typically tie to the skills and qualifications that are needed for a particular job. Recruiters are taking only seconds to scan your resume, so if they don’t see keywords for that particular job, they may completely discard your resume. Even tougher is the applicant tracking system (ATS), which is software used to weed out resumes that don’t include enough keywords.
Read the job ad carefully
If the ad requests that a candidate have excellent written communication skills, don’t write in the Skills or Summary sections of your resume that you’re an excellent communicator. It may sound like a small thing, but software (like an ATS) may not be able to make the distinction. Make sure you use the exact phrasing you see in the ad—write “excellent written communication skills.” Also, if the job ad uses any abbreviations in describing skills and requirements, use those abbreviations in your resume.
Apply resume keywords liberally
The more keywords you use that are listed in the ad, the better. However, don’t lie about your abilities, or make nonsensical statements in an effort to throw in as many keywords as possible. "Recruiters can spot keyword stuffing a mile away," writes Julia Malacoff of Glassdoor. In addition, use resume keywords in your cover letter, follow-up letter, LinkedIn profile, and even in a job interview.
Editor's note: If you think you'll need help incorporating keywords into your resume, consider putting LiveCareer's free resume builder to work.
Learn the jargon
Listen to podcasts that focus on the industry you work in. Also, read industry-related books, articles, and news, visit the websites of the leading companies within your industry, and read reports from said companies. Take notice of the language and terms you see repeated in all of these formats – that’s the key to picking up the lingo that should be used in your resume. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management’s website offers advice on keywords for landing an HR job, and the key terms to use for education and training credentials.
Consider an informational interview
To get inside scoop on the best resume keywords for a particular job, consider trying to secure an informational interview. While it can be helpful to learn more about resume keywords through informational interviews, many employers and employees shy away from them because they’re so time consuming. So, unless you have high in-demand skills or a contact willing to help you get that informational interview, focus on gleaning as much information from other sources as possible.
Resources for resume keywords:
Some sources that can be helpful for determining resume keywords include:
Jobscan is a tool that gives jobseekers an instant analysis of how well their resume is tailored for a particular job and how it can be even better optimized for an ATS. This blog entry from Jobscan provides extensive guidance on resume keywords, including a list of the top 500 resume keywords for 2018. also provides examples of how to tweak your resume to better fit the job description.
United States Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook can better acquaint you with the key skills needed in a wide variety of positions. These key skills typically translate to key resume keywords! For example, a human resources specialist will "recruit, screen, interview and place workers." They also handle tasks related to “employee relations, compensation, and benefits and training.” If you’re applying for an HR specialist role, those are all important terms that you will want to try and use in your resume.
O*NET was developed under the sponsorship of the Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. The site contains hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors of nearly 1,000 occupations in the U.S. This free database is continually updated, and can be a great resource for helping to determine keywords that are relevant to your industry.
New York State Department of Labor
The New York State Department of Labor offers an industry keywords section that profiles "high impact phrases" to use. The site also provides lists of keywords arranged by industry, from administration to law to transportation.
The Dummies reference brand by Wiley is popular for addressing everything from how to play a guitar to how to find a job. "Keywords are arbitrary and specific to the employer and each employer search. So the keywords (qualifications) in each job ad are the place to start as you customize your resume for the position. But you need to make educated guesses on which keywords to use when you’re warehousing your resume online and not responding to a specific job ad," the site’s section on resume keywords explains. This section of the site also includes common resume keywords for such industries as customer service, manufacturing, banking, and administration/management.
When using resume keywords, always remember that you don’t want to sound cliché or outdated. What may work now may need to be changed in six months in order for employers see you a relevant. Just remember to always use the job ad you’re responding to as the baseline for determining which keywords to add to your resume. Look for terms and phrases that are repeated in the job ad when noting the skills, talents, and qualifications that a candidate must have.