Choosing and Using Your Best Keywords


KEYWORDS: The search terms used by people to find what (or who) they want in a search engine, social network, applicant tracking system, or other database

The words you use for your job titles, skills, experience, education, location, and employers determine how often you are found by employers and recruiters searching in LinkedIn, Google, or an applicant tracking system.

These are your keywords.

The frequency, variation, and placement of those terms determines how high in search results your LinkedIn profile appears (and higher is definitely better since very few people look past the first page of search results).

Place your carefully-chosen keywords carefully, appropriately, and thoughtfully in your LinkedIn profile — in your Professional Headline, About (formerly Summary), and the descriptions of your jobs and your employers.

Remember, when your profile or document is found, a live human being will see it, so use the keywords naturally, but carefully, in your documents and visibility.

Avoid tricks like “keyword stuffing” (see below) even if using white text on a white background.

your keyword, your keyword, your keyword, your keyword, your keyword

That (above) looks both desperate and dumb — not the impression you want to leave. Most of the software that analyzes resumes and applications recognizes it very easily and discards those ps, applications, resumes and other documents which try to leverage this out-of-date attempt to trick the systems.

Instead, after careful analysis (see below), use your keywords naturally and appropriately in your documents.

5 Secrets for Selecting and Using the Best Keywords for LinkedIn

People searching for candidates qualified for a job typically use the terms (the job title, requirements, location) which are used in their job description. So, job descriptions are THE source of terms for you to use in your Linkedin p.

Search for the job you want next on a mega-job site like or a target employer’s career site. Note what job-specific words are used in those job descriptions. Then, test different versions of the terms, as described below, to see which is used most often.

  1. Be thoughtful and creative, but NOT inaccurate.  

Take the time to go through The Top 25 Keywords for Your Job Search to dig out the terms that are important to employers — but terms that you might not have thought to use. The time you spend in this analysis will have a very good payback for your job search and career.

No matter how tempting, do not claim a skill or accomplishment you do not have! In these days of search engines and public records, employers will discover those fabrications, and opportunities will be ruined.

We often view our skills as not very important and not worth mentioning. But, those skills may be rare and of great value to an employer. So, be thoughtful and thorough in your analysis.

Remember! Your name is your most important set of keywords because it is used so often in searches by recruiters, employers, network members, family, and friends. Read Your Most Important Keywords to understand how to choose and effectively use the best version of your name.

  2. Use up-to-date terminology.  

Make sure you are using current terms used for your industry and profession. These are the words that up-to-date employers will be using in their job descriptions, and the terms they are using to search through LinkedIn and applicant tracking systems.

If you have not been in a job search for a few years, check out a few job postings for the job you do (or want next) at your target employers. Look at the terms used, particularly the job title and the job requirements. Are those the terms you are using for your LinkedIn profile and any job applications you submit?


Assume you have been an “MIS” (“Management Information Systems”) manager for the last ten years. As the job has changed in that period of time, so has the job’s title. Now, the vast majority of employers call that job “IT” (or “Information Technology”) manager.

This means that you would need to describe yourself as an “IT Manager” or, possibly, as a “MIS / IT Manager” in order to be found by recruiters searching for someone to do that job. Without using the current term in your professional visibility (LinkedIn profile) and job applications (and resumes), you would not be found by someone searching for an “IT Manager.”

Continuing to call yourself a “MIS Manager” not only excludes you from search results, it also stamps an “out-of-date” sign on your applications or p, IF they are ever found.

As clearly indicated in the images below, the term “MIS Manager” (the top image) is rarely used today, now visible in only 2 jobs. It has been nearly completely replaced by the term “IT Manager” (the second image) in job titles which is included in 608 job titles.

Job title includes the term “MIS” — 2 jobs
MIS Manager Jobs

Job title includes the term “IT” — 608 jobs
IT Manager Jobs

So, someone who used the term “MIS Manager” on their LinkedIn profile and resumes would not be visible in the vast majority of employer applicant tracking systems and job board resume databases, as you can see from the charts above.

When you use out-of-date terminology in your LinkedIn profile, you will not be found, except by those few employers who are also out-of-date (which might not be a good places to work long term).

Double-check the terms you use for your job search by comparing them using the current job descriptions in Indeed. Further refine your Indeed search to include your location or the names of target employers to have the most relevant search results specifically for you.

  3. Be complete.  

Usually, the best strategy is to include all of the relevant terms, when you have the space for them and where appropriate.

For example, assume you are experienced using Microsoft Office products and looking for a job that typically specifies that candidates need those skills. You have the skills, but you are not sure which of those product names to use.

Searching through the job postings on Indeed could show you some very interesting things —

Job descriptions including the term “Microsoft Office” — 332,692 jobs
Jobs including the term Microsoft Office

Job descriptions including the term “Microsoft Excel” — 220,139 jobs
Jobs including the term Microsoft Excel

Job descriptions including the term “Microsoft Word” –188,625 jobs
Jobs including the term Microsoft Word

Job descriptions including the term “Microsoft Outlook” — 98,450 jobs
Jobs including the term Microsoft Outlook

Job descriptions including the term “Microsoft PowerPoint” — 82,938 jobs
Jobs including the term Microsoft Powerpoint

The chart shows us that most employers use the full term “Microsoft Office,” and fewer name any of the separate products. However, since the products are clearly often named in job descriptions, including those names is a smart idea.

The next most used terms are “Microsoft Excel” and “Microsoft Word. If you had room for only 3 terms, this analysis shows you the terms to use – Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Word. If you had room for all of them, the order is clear.

Yes, this repeats the term “Microsoft” several times, and you could drop the word from the names of each of the products, like this:” Microsoft Office, including Excel, Word, Outlook, and Powerpoint.”

However, if someone was searching only on the phrase “Microsoft Excel,” your profile might not be included in the search results because that phrase would not be included. Being complete, if a bit redundant, is smart in this situation.

  4. Be carefully and thoughtfully inconsistent.  

In your use of keywords, do not be consistent, repeating the same keywords over and over, inside your document because people searching are not always consistent. As you’ll see in the example below, the same thing may be described in several different ways.

Use the top two or three versions of important terms in your document so that the document appears in search results on any of the most-often used variations, because you ca not be 100% sure what someone might type into a search bar.

To be smartly inconsistent, check job descriptions to see the words and acronyms your target employers use to specify the job you want.

Assuming you held the Project Management Professional certification, which is better — “Project Management Professional” or the abbreviation “PMP”?

Job title includes the term “Project Management Professional” — 4,895 jobs
Jobs containing the term Project Management Professional

Job title includes the term “PMP” — 17,710 jobs
Jobs containing the term PMP

Well, the abbreviation “PMP” beats the full term “Project Management Professional” sufficiently to be the best bet to use (and the shortest – YEA!). But, the term “Project Management Professional” is also popular and clearly defines the term. So, the smartest move would be to include both terms, and it can be done easily and gracefully like this —

Project Management Professional (PMP)

So, both terms are included, covering searches on either term.

  5. Place those keywords where they’ll be noticed.  

Your LinkedIn Professional Headline is the most important place to include the top keywords for your job search. That field can be as long as 120 characters which allows you to include important keywords in addition to your job title.

Do not waste this opportunity by describing yourself as simply and only a “Project Management Professional.” That term never appears in a job description, so few recruiters will search for it.

Instead, be as specific as possible about what you do so you will be found more easily by recruiters searching for someone like you.

For example, when searching for someone to fill an IT project managers position, the recruiter would likely use the term “IT Project Manager” not “Project Management Professional. ” Then, they would screen those initial search results for people who had the appropriate IT expertise included in the descriptions of their jobs and, as appropriate, their education and certifications, volunteering experience, and the rest of a LinkedIn profile.

Continuing our example above, assume you are an information technology project manager who holds the Project Management Professional certification. Since LinkedIn only allows 120 letters and spaces, you need to choose your terms and structure the Headline very carefully.

These are samples of what your Headline could look like, depending on what you actually do:

IT Project Manager, specializing in ecommerce and web app development, Project Management Professional (PMP) certified — IF accurate for you!

IT Project Manager, certified Project Management Professional (PMP), secure ecommerce B2B / B2C transaction specialist — IF accurate for you!

While you are constructing your Professional Headline, compare terms to see which are used most often by employers in their job descriptions.Also include these terms n the body of your LinkedIn profile, like your About, and the descriptions of jobs you have held, when appropriate.

The Bottom Line on Searchable Keywords:

Using the right keywords for your job search and career is essential! Research Indeed, your favorite job board, or your target employers’ career sites to find those keywords. Then, carefully leverage those terms used in job descriptions to highlight your qualifications. For most professions, LinkedIn is a critical location for keywords.

More about Keywords:

Susan P. JoyceAbout 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.
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