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 a social network like LinkedIn, 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 in applicant data in databases rather than paper stored in physical files. Then, web job sites started appearing in 1994, and keywords became 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.
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. Make a list of the following:
- Your professional ("screen") name
- The job title of the job that you want next.
- Standard job titles that are used for your current and previous jobs, particularly if current (or former) employer(s) used non-standard titles
- Skills you have that are required for the job you want (e.g., managing a P&L, using Microsoft Word and Excel, driving an 18-wheeler, leading a project team, etc.)
- Your location, or the location you want for your next job (e.g. Greater Los Angeles, Eastern Massachusetts, Omaha, etc.)
- Names of job-specific, profession-specific, and industry-specific tools that you use or are qualified to use because of education and/or
experience (e.g. MRI, Mastercam, etc.)
- Software and hardware that you use or have been trained to use, particularly if it's unique to your job, industry, or profession (e.g. Microsoft
Project, SAP, etc.)
- Names of techniques that you use or are qualified to use (e.g. Six Sigma, LEED, etc.)
- Industry and professional organizations that you have joined (include committee membership or association officer titles, as appropriate)
- Trade shows and conferences that you have attended and/or where you have presented papers
- Professional and/or technical acronyms -- the more; the merrier, as long as they are appropriate to your experience and education
- Certifications, licenses, or other proof of professional or industry knowledge you have achieved
- Classes of employers who need your services, "national specialty retailers,"
- Applicable education that you have (degrees, majors, applicable course work, post-graduate courses, and certifications, etc.)
- Other jargon (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
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+.