Resume Keywords


As many as 80% of employers use keywords to decide which resumes are wortha look. Using the right resume keywords can get you noticed and earn you an interview.  Keywords are used in job descriptions to describe critical job qualifications. They can be degrees, programming languages or other specialized skills. Essential resume keywords are usually positioned higher up in a job description, appear most frequently and are listed as required rather than preferred skills.

The Importance of Resume Keywords

To illustrate how keywords can get you the job, let’s meet Sarah, a recruiter who works with several Fortune 500 companies.  Her highest priority is to find an Executive Assistant for one of her best clients in San Francisco.  Sarah’s first step is to turn to her Applicant Tracking System and search her company’s resume database.  In Sarah’s case, this database holds 700,000+ resumes.  To target top candidates for this position, she searches the database using keywords reflecting her “must haves” – Executive Assistant, San Francisco, Microsoft Excel, Outlook, and Travel Arrangements.

Sarah’s search yields 60 resumes with 90% match or better. She gives the first few resumes the 10-second scan on the hunt for more detailed qualifications. Sarah decides to call four candidates for a phone interview. Two pass the phone screen and are invited for an in-person interview. One lands the job.  If you were applying for this job and your resume didn’t have the right keywords – even if you had all the necessary qualifications – you wouldn’t have stood a chance.

How to Use Resume Keywords

Step 1: Create your keyword list

Look at three job descriptions for the position you’re seeking and note the “must haves.”  From this list, identify the qualifications that you possess and use them as a starting point to write a skills summary.  Names of processes, hardware, company names and educational background are all things that a hiring manager notices.

Step 2: Add a Summary of Skills to Your Resume

Using the keywords from your list, add a Skills Summary section at the top of your resume.  Here’s an example for an Executive Assistant:

Summary of Skills

  • Advanced Microsoft Office Skills including MS Word, MS Excel, MS Outlook, MS Power Point.
  • 3+ years experience as an executive assistant for Fortune 500 executive.
  • Extensive experience in making travel arrangements, expense reporting and scheduling.

Step 3: Weave Keywords throughout your Resume

Also work the top keywords into the body of your resume.  For example, degree requirements would appear in your education section.  According to Science Careers, describing accomplishments and contributions with action words will not only make a resume more interesting, the words will also convey results.  Action words such as “enhanced,” “formulated,” “generated,” and “integrated,” will draw the eyes of the hiring manager into the paperwork, especially when most resumes still list duties. 

Don’t worry about repeating the same keywords more than once.  In fact, keyword frequency counts in many applicant tracking systems so this can work in your favor.  When possible, use different forms of the same keyword to account for different search terms including abbreviations and synonyms. So if you reference your MBA, also include the phrase Masters of Business Administration.

LiveCareer’s Resume Builder

Our Resume Builder tool contains hundreds of keywords applicable to your individual situation which can be added at the click of a button. 

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