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Build Your Personal SEO: The 25 Best Keywords for You in Your Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

Effective selection and placement of keywords is the core of effective SEO (search engine optimization), which is a required part of successful job search and careers today. To avoid invisibility, the "right keywords" (for you, you target job, and your target career) must be included in the "right places" (LinkedIn Professional Headline, LinkedIn Summary, etc.).

Those keywords are, literally, the key to being found in a search.

Keywords are the search terms used by people to find what they want in a search engine, social network, or applicant tracking system.

If a recruiter is searching for someone with experience in Microsoft Word, your name won't appear in search results unless your social profile or resume contain those exact words.

Most software isn't very smart or forgiving. It won't understand that, to be a successful administrative assistant, knowledge of Microsoft Word is required. Consequently, without that term visible in your social profile and resume, your documents or profile will not be seen by a human being.

Even if you have that experience, you are invisible unless your social profile or resume includes the term being searched, like "Microsoft Word" in our example.


Building Your Personal SEO

Look through the list below and choose what is appropriate for you. Develop your keywords based on the following categories of information:

About You, Personally:

  1. Your professional name
    Most people don't think of their names as important keywords, but in these days of search engines and social media, your name is probably your most important keyword phrase.

    You need to consistently use the same version of your name for your LinkedIn Profile, resumes, networking cards, email, and other visibility so recruiters doing research on you can "connect the dots" between you and your professional visibility.

    [Read Your Most Important Keywords for more information on avoiding mistaken online identity.]
  2. Your location (or your target location)
    If appropriate for your location, use both city and state plus regional names -- like Oakland, CA, and East Bay Area, or Manhattan and New York City -- so your profile is in the search results for either.
  3. Your languages
    If you speak more than one language, make it clear the languages that you can speak. Also indicate your level of proficiency -- from "native" through "basic" or "elementary" and whether you can read, write, and/or speak the languages.
  4. College degrees or post-secondary education
    Include your college degree and the school. Also include your major if relevant to your target job.
  5. GPA -- new grads only!
    If your GPA is above average, and you are looking for your first job after college, include your GPA.
    [Read Improving Your GPA After Graduation for a secret, but honest, way to present a better GPA.]

Your Professional Goals:

  1. Your target job title
    The title for the job that you want next, preferably the version(s) used by your target employers is a very important set of keywords. When in doubt about exactly which job title to use, become a slash person - "Project Manager/Senior Project Lead" or "Senior Administrative Assistant/ Executive Assistant."
  2. Your industry
    Specify your industry (current or target): civil engineering, mechanical engineering, management consulting, market research, medical devices, nanotechnology, biotechnology, healthcare, and so on.

Your Work History:

  1. Current and previous job titles
    Your current and former job titles are also important keywords. Focus on the standard job titles that are used now by your target employers, particularly if current (or former) employer(s) used non-standard titles.
  2. Current employer
    If you are currently employed, include the name of your current employer (unless you are in a confidential search).
  3. Former employers
    Particularly if you have worked for well-known and well-respected companies in your industry or field, be sure to include those company names, even if your experience there was more than ten years ago.
  4. Volunteering
    If you volunteer anywhere, include what you do and who you do it for, particularly if it helps fill in an employment gap and/or is related to your career track.

Your Professional Qualifications and Major Accomplishments:

  1. Your skills
    Preferably the skills most in demand for the job you want next (e.g., managing a P&L, using Microsoft Word and Excel, driving an 18-wheeler, leading a project team, etc.) need to be included - even if they are not the skills you use primarily for your most current job.
  2. Licenses relevant to your profession
    Add the licenses you hold that show you are qualified to do the job you want, including the organization who does the licensing and the number of years you have held the license.
  3. Job-specific, profession-specific, and industry-specific tools and techniques
    Add the relevant tools and techniques that you use or are qualified to use because of training, education, and/or experience (e.g. MRI, Mastercam, LEED, etc.).
  4. Job-specific or industry-specific software and hardware
    Include the software required for your target job that you use or have been trained to use, particularly if it's unique to your job, industry, or profession (e.g. SAP, ASP, FileMaker, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word). Add any specific hardware that may be required for your target job if you have experience using it or have been trained to use it, particularly if it is unique to your job, industry, or profession (e.g. heart monitors, scanners, even different versions of smart phones if they are relevant to the job).
  5. Relevant laws and regulations
    If experience, understanding, or training in specific laws or regulations is required for your target job -- and you are qualified -- include the names of these laws and regulations, like ITAR/EAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations / Export Administration Regulations) or Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) compliance.
  6. Internet tools and apps relevant to your job or profession
    Include Internet tools and apps that you use or are qualified to use because of training, education, and/or experience (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Google Analytics, etc.).
  7. Honors, awards, and recognition
    If you've been employee of the month, salesperson of the year, or received other recognition from your employer, a customer or client, or your profession or industry, be sure to include them.
  8. Relevant industry and professional organizations
    Include the industry and professional organizations or societies that you have joined (plus committee membership and current or former officer titles).
  9. Industry, professional, and / or technical names and acronyms --
    The more acronyms; the better, as long as they are appropriate to your experience and education. Include what they represent as well, just in case someone searches on the complete term, like Early Childhood Education (ECE) or ISO (International Standards Organization).
  10. Certifications or other proof of professional or industry knowledge -
    Include all proof of professional knowledge or achievement, particularly focusing on those that are current, like applicable course work, post-graduate courses, professional training, on-the-job-training, and certifications, etc.
  11. Clients and/or categories of clients
    Mention those groups of clients who need your services, like national specialty retailers or SME (small and medium enterprises) for example. If one of your clients was a very well-known or well-respected company or person, like the Department of Defense or Warren Buffett, include those names -- unless the relationship was classified or company confidential.
  12. Major projects
    If you were involved in any major projects, name and describe them, highlighting the relevancy to your target job.
  13. Your publications
    If you have written any books, white papers, or articles, particularly relevant to the job or profession you are targeting, be sure to include it.
  14. Patents
    If you have created anything(s) that was then patented, add them using the complete name(s), keyword-rich description(s), and patent number(s).

Include the words that are appropriate for you and your target job, but don't be inaccurate or deceptive. Marketing "mode" is fine. Scam mode is not a good long term strategy.  People are fired for lying on their resume or job application.

Now that you understand more about keywords for your resume (or for this version of your resume), put them to use. Read How to Optimize the Right Keywords for Your Resumes for methods of researching and using the best keywords. Optimizing your resume for an employer's or recruiter's search should increase the effectiveness of your resume.

More about Keywords:

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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