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Understanding Keywords for Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

Most resumes end up in a database of some sort: in the resume database of a job board, in an employer's applicant tracking system, in social networks like LinkedIn and Google Plus, or in a recruiter's email inbox.

Regardless of where they are stored, those resumes need to be "find-able" when someone types in their search terms. Those search terms are commonly called "keywords."

Having your resume appear in the search results when the right words for you are used for a search is called "Personal SEO" (or "Personal Search Engine Optimization").

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Keywords for Job Search

The keywords most relevant to your job search are the words and phrases someone would use to describe you, your accomplishments, and your next job (as well as your current job). 

[Related: The Top 25 Keywords for Your Job Search]

You must be sure to include those words and phrases, where appropriate, in your resume and your professional social media activities so your resume and profile will appear near the top in search results.

In the past, we focused on "action verbs" in our resumes -- for example: "Managed a P&L..." or "Created and implemented a marketing campaign..." And, action verbs are still very important because they describe your job and may be used in a search.

However, you need more than action verbs in cyberspace. You need the keywords -- the right words -- used by someone searching a resume database, applicant tracking system ("ATS"), or social media for qualified applicants to appear in your resume, so that your resume will appear in the results of their search.

Think of the education and experience you have had and the job you want, your accomplishments and awards, and brainstorm the nouns, noun phrases, and verbs that would be used in the description of the requirements of that job, using the suggestions in the section below.

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.

Where and When Keywords Are Important Now

We need the right keywords in both our resumes and also in our social media profiles. And, they are not exactly the same keywords, unfortunately. Today, for a successful job search and a successful career, we need two sets of keywords.

1. Keywords in Resumes

The keywords you include in your resume will usually be customized to the job you are applying for because that is when we use resumes most often now. We've left behind the days of a one-size-fits-all-opportunities resume.

Now, resume customization is a necessity. We must be sure to include exactly the right words in our resume (the right keywords), or the resume will not be found in the search results because it won't contain the right keywords for the opportunity.

Read Resume Keyword Success Secrets for more information on how to customize your resume with the right keywords.

2. Keywords in Social Media

On the other hand, we need less opportunity-specific keywords in our social media profiles, like our LinkedIn Profiles, because the people searching will be using a variety of different terms.

So, we need to use a different set of keywords in our social profiles -- more general, focused on industries and professions and groups of employers rather than one specific employer and opportunity.

Read How to Identify Exactly the Right Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile and Social Profile Keyword Success Secrets for more information on finding and using the best keywords for your social profiles.

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 Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, 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 onGoogle+.