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Choosing the Best Keywords for Your Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

Keys to Success - KEYWORDS!

The keyword terms you use in your LinkedIn Profile, as well as in your resumes and job applications, are very important in determining how often you are found by employers and recruiters searching for qualified job candidates in LinkedIn, an applicant tracking system, or a search engine.

In addition, the frequency, variation, and placement of those terms determines how high up in search results your profile appears.

Use your keywords carefully and thoughtfully. Avoid tricks like "keyword stuffing." Keyword stuffing looks like this:

keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword, keyword

Keyword stuffing hasn't worked since 2000 because the software that analyzes resumes and applications recognizes it very easily.

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


5 Secrets for Selecting and Using the Best Keywords for You

Search for the job you want next on a mega-job site like, and note what unique, job-specific words are used in those job descriptions. Or 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, don't claim a skill or accomplishment you don't have! In these days of search engines and open records, fabrications will stand out, and they will ruin opportunities for you.

We often view our own 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.

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 haven't 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 Profile, IF they are ever found.

The chart below reflects analysis of the terms used by employers in Indeed's extremely useful JobTrends. This free tool analyzes the terms used by employers in millions of job descriptions since 2014.

As clearly indicated in the image below, the term "MIS Manager" (the orange line at the very bottom of the graph) is rarely used in job descriptions today. It has been completely replaced by the term "IT Manager" (the blue line at the top).

Indeed JobTrends MIS vs. IT analysis

So, someone who used the term "MIS Manager" on their LinkedIn Profile and resumes would be invisible in employer applicant tracking systems and job board resume databases, as you can see from the chart above.

Double-check the terms you use for your job search by comparing them in JobTrends.

3. Be complete.

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

For example, assume you are looking for a job that typically requires the use of Microsoft Office products. You are experienced in their use, but you are not sure which of those product names to use.

Indeed Job Trends analysis of Microsoft Office Products

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

The next most used terms are "Microsoft Word" (the orange line) and "Microsoft Excel (the green line). If you had room for only 3 terms, this analysis shows you the terms to use - Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel. 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 Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint."

However, if someone was searching only on the phrase "Microsoft Word," 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 inconsistent.

In your use of keywords, don't 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 can't 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"?

Project Manager JobTrends

Well, "PMP" (the blue line) beats "Project Management Professional" (the orange line) 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.

Don't waste this opportunity by describing yourself as a "Project Management Professional."

NO recruiter is searching the Internet or LinkedIn for a "project management professional" because that would be a waste of their time. A generic search like "marketing professional" has too many records in the results. So, much more effort would be required to find the "right" people for the opportunity.

Continuing our example above, assume you are an information technology project manager who holds the Project Management Professional certification. Which terms should you use for your LinkedIn Professional Headline?

Since LinkedIn only allows 120 letters and spaces, you need to choose your terms and structure the Headline very carefully.

If you are an IT Project Manager, 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 with Indeed's JobTrends to see which terms employers use most often in their job descriptions. Also include these terms n the body of your LinkedIn Profile, like your Summary, and the descriptions of jobs you have held, when appropriate.

How to Customize Indeed's JobTrends for Your Keywords!

You can do the same thing with Indeed's JobTrends that I did in the charts above.

Just type the terms you want to compare into the boxes at the top of the page (after you delete the "Data Scientist" and "Devops" examples already there, as you see below).

Indeed JobTrends query form

Put quotation marks around phrases (like "IT Manager" and "Microsoft Office"), and click the blue "Find Trends" button. Then, Indeed will show you a chart, like the charts above, which compares how your terms are being used.

Here are step-by-step instructions for leveraging Indeed's Job Trends for your job search: How to Identify Exactly the Right Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile

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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