Guide to the Best Keywords for Your Job Search
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 "search engine optimization" (or "SEO").
So, what are Key Words?
For job seekers, the "key words" that matter are the words and phrases a recruiter or employer uses while searching through resumes or social media. The words we type into the search box on a search engine like Google are "keywords."
The keywords most relevant to your job search are the words and phrases someone would use to describe your next job (as well as your current job). You must be sure to include those words and phrases, where appropriate, in your resume so your resume will appear near the top in resume database search results. For an example see our sample ASCII text resume
Think of keywords as the jargon or "buzzwords" used by insiders in a profession or industry. It's how insiders describe themselves and others in their profession. These are the terms they give to the people writing job descriptions as the job requirements.
Keywords are the nouns, noun phrases, and verbs used by recruiters searching through applicant databases and Web job sites for resumes meeting the requirements on job descriptions. ["Assistant" and "manager" are nouns. "Administrative assistant" and "marketing manager" are noun phrases. "Managed" is a verb.]
Key words are a relatively new requirement that developed when employers and agencies began storing resumes as files in computer databases, often called "applicant tracking systems" (or "ATS"), rather than paper stored in physical files. Use of resume databases started around 1994 and has expanded substantially since then. As a result, keywords have become more important.
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 key words - 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 a 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.
Look through the job postings you find for the skills, experience, professional certifications or organizations, etc. that will tell you what keywords will be used. If you can, get a copy of the job description for the job you want, and pick out the noun and noun phrases used. As appropriate (you do have the skills, education, etc.), add those words and phrases to your resume when you apply for that job.
One of my favorite sites for testing the appeal - or not - of keywords is Indeed.com's Job Trends page. Go to Indeed.com/jobtrends, and type a couple of versions of keywords you are considering into the search box. Indeed will show you which version is being used most frequently today as well as the trend in the usage (up or down) since 2006.
Developing Your Keywords
When developing your list of job-related keywords, be creative, but not inaccurate. Don't claim a skill or accomplishment you don't have.
Search for the job you want next on a mega-job site like Indeed.com, and note what unique, job-specific words are used in those job descriptions.Develop your keywords based on the following categories of information:
- Your professional name
A relatively unique version of your name that you use consistently in your professional communications, including social profiles, publications, blogs, resumes, networking cards, and other visibility. This is particularly important when a recruiter or employer is verifying the "facts" on your resume by comparing it with your LinkedIn Profile.
- 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" as appropriate for you.
- Current and previous job titles
Your current and former job titles are also important keywords. Again, 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, like "sales star" for a sales rep position. Substitute "sales rep/sales representative" to replace the non-standard term. Again, become a slash person when necessary.
- Your current or your target city, state, and Zip code
Use city and state as well as regional names, like Oakland, CA, and East Bay Area in your profiles so your profile is in the search results for either. This enables you to be found in very specific searches as well as "radius" searches around a city or a Zip code.
- Your current or your target region's name
Use local regional terms for a geographic area like East Bay Area or Brooklyn, as appropriate for you, for those searchers who use those terms rather than city, state, and Zip.
- 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 used primarily for your most current job. Use searches on target employer websites or Indeed's JobTrends to figure out which skills are most in demand.
- 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, Six Sigma, LEED, etc.).
- Software relevant to your job or profession
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, WP, etc.). If widely-used software like the Microsoft Office set of products are sometimes mentioned in job descriptions for the job you want, be sure to include those keywords, too - don't assume that they are so widely used that they don't need to be mentioned.
- Hardware relevant to your job or profession
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).
- 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.).
- 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 (or the most current or relevant recognition) in your social profiles.
- 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) particularly when you find the organization named in job descriptions.
- Professional and/or technical acronyms --
The more acronyms; the better, as long as they are appropriate to your experience and education. Be sure to include what they represent as well, just in case someone searches on the complete term rather than the acronym.
- Certifications, licenses, or other proof of professional or industry knowledge -
Include all proof of professional knowledge or achievement, particularly focusing on those that are current (not expired or out-of-date).
- Categories of employers
Mention those groups of employers who need your services, like "national specialty retailers," for example.
- Applicable education
Include job-specific education you have (degrees, majors, applicable course work, post-graduate courses, professional training, on-the-job-training, and certifications, etc.).
- 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.
- Websites and media
If you write - or have written articles - published on any well-regarded websites, publish your own blog, or have been widely quoted in various media, include the names of those websites and media.
- Other jargon
Include any other common "insider" words, terms, and acronyms specific to the profession and/or industry that describe your work, typical products and/or services involved, and the people who do your job.
- Trade shows and conferences
If you have attended relevant trade shows or conference, particularly if you have been a speaker or presented a papers, include them.
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.
Warning: Don't "fib"! Don't include keywords that are not appropriate for you. These days, it's too easy for an employer or recruiter to check Google, LinkedIn, and other sources to see if you have the experience you claim to have.
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:
- Understanding Keywords
- Social Profile Keyword Success Secrets
- Internet Resume Keyword Success Secrets
- Your Most Important Keywords
More about Internet Resumes:
More about Social Media:
More about Resumes:
- 4 Killer Tactics to Get Your Email and Resume Read
- Managing Resume Red Flags
- Triple the Value of Your Resume
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, 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 Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.