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Build Your Personal SEO: The 25 Best Keywords for You in Your Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

Build Your Personal SEO: The 25 Best Keywords for You in Your Job Search

Effective selection and placement of keywords is the core of effective SEO (search engine optimization). Effective SEO is an essential part of successful job search and careers today.

Keywords are, literally, the key to being found in a search.

Keywords are the search terms used by people to find what they want in a search engine, social network, or applicant tracking system.

If a recruiter is searching for someone with experience in Microsoft Word, your name won't appear in search results unless your social profile or resume contain those exact words.

To avoid invisibility, the "right keywords" (for you, you target job, and your target career) must be included in the "right places" (LinkedIn, your resumes and applications, and other online visibility).

Most software isn't very smart or forgiving. Most systems won't understand that, to be a successful administrative assistant, knowledge of Microsoft Word is required. Consequently, if the term "Microsoft Word" is used in the job description, your documents or profile will probably not be seen by a human being unless it contains that term.

Even if you have that experience, you are invisible unless your social profile or resume includes the term being searched, like "Microsoft Word" in our example.


Building Your Personal SEO with Your Best Keywords

Think like a recruiter filling the job you want next. How is that job described in job postings? What skills, tools, etc. are required?

Look through the list below and choose what is appropriate for you. Develop your keywords based on the following categories of information:

Keywords About You, Personally:

  1. Your professional name

    Most people don't think of their names as important keywords, but in these days of search engines and social media, your name is probably your most important keyword phrase.

    You need to consistently use the same version of your name for your LinkedIn Profile, resumes, business/networking cards, professional email, meeting name tags and badges, and other visibility so recruiters doing research on you can "connect the dots" between you and your professional visibility.

    [Read Your Most Important Keywords for more information on avoiding mistaken online identity and Personal Online Reputation Management for the new necessity today.]
  2. Your location (or your target location)

    Use the best location for you, but DO have a specific location because using a country is too generic. Not having a location will handicap you in most searches. If appropriate for your location, use both city and state plus regional names -- like Oakland, CA, and East Bay Area, or Manhattan and New York City -- so your profile is in the search results for either.
  3. Your languages

    If you speak more than one language, make it clear the languages that you can speak. Also indicate your level of proficiency -- from "native" through "basic" or "elementary" and whether you can read, write, and/or speak the languages.

    When you speak and write more than one language, you are able to legitimately have more than one LinkedIn Profile (one for each language). This is great marketing and personal SEO as well as proof that you are proficient in more than one language.
  4. College degrees or post-secondary education

    Include your college degree and the school. Also include your major if relevant to your target job.
  5. GPA -- new grads only!

    If your GPA is above average, and you are looking for your first job after college, include your GPA.
    [Read Improving Your GPA After Graduation for a secret, but honest, way to present a better GPA.]

Keywords for Your Professional Goals:

  1. 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."
  2. Your industry

    Specify your industry (current or target): civil engineering, mechanical engineering, management consulting, market research, medical devices, nanotechnology, biotechnology, healthcare, and so on.

Keywords for Your Work History:

  1. Current and previous job titles

    Your current and former job titles are also important keywords. 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.
  2. Current employer

    If you are currently employed, include the name of your current employer (unless you are in a confidential search).
  3. Former employers

    Particularly if you have worked for well-known and well-respected companies in your industry or field, be sure to include those company names, even if your experience there was more than ten years ago.
  4. Volunteering

    If you volunteer anywhere, include what you do and who you do it for, particularly if it helps fill in an employment gap and/or is related to your career track. The work done and the organization's name are excellent keywords.

Keywords for Your Professional Qualifications and Major Accomplishments:

  1. 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 use primarily for your most current job.
  2. Licenses relevant to your profession

    Add the licenses you hold that show you are qualified to do the job you want, including the organization who does the licensing and the number of years you have held the license.
  3. 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, LEED, etc.).
  4. Job-specific or industry-specific software and hardware

    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, ASP, FileMaker, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word).

    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).

  1. Relevant laws and regulations

    If experience, understanding, or training in specific laws or regulations is required for your target job -- and you are qualified -- include the names of these laws and regulations, like ITAR/EAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations / Export Administration Regulations) or Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) compliance.
  2. 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, AWS, AdWords, etc.).
  3. Honors, awards, recognition, and patents

    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. If you have created anything(s) that was then patented, add those terms to your social media profiles (LinkedIn has a section specifically for patents) using the complete name(s), keyword-rich description(s), and the patent number(s).
  4. Industry, professional, and/or technical names and acronyms

    The more acronyms; the better, as long as they are appropriate to your experience and education. Include what they represent as well, just in case someone searches on the complete term, like Early Childhood Education (ECE) or ISO (International Standards Organization).
  5. Certifications or other proof of professional or industry knowledge

    Include all proof of professional knowledge or achievement, particularly focusing on those that are current, like applicable course work, post-graduate courses, professional training, on-the-job-training, and certifications, etc.

    Note: If you hold a federal government security clearance, be very cautious about publishing the level of clearance on social media. If you are applying for a job that requires a specific clearance you hold, you can usually include that clearance in the application, assuming that the job is not a scam.
  6. Clients and/or categories of clients

    Mention those groups of clients who need your services, like national specialty retailers or SME (small and medium enterprises) for example. If one of your clients was a very well-known or well-respected company or person, like the Department of Defense or Warren Buffett, include those names -- unless the relationship was classified or company confidential.
  7. Major projects

    If you were involved in any major projects, name and describe them, highlighting the relevancy to your target job. If the project didn't have an official name, create a descriptive one, like "Corporate-wide WiFi implementation." Then, briefly describe the project, including the important and relevant keywords, and quantifying it if possible.
  8. Relevant industry and professional organizations

    Include the industry and professional organizations or societies that you have joined (plus committee membership and and current or former officer titles).
  9. 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.
  10. Your languages

    Last, but NOT least, if you can communicate in more than one language, include those languages plus the term "multilingual" or "bilingual" in your profile. Then, to demonstrate your skills in those languages, create a LinkedIn Profile in each of them. LinkedIn allows and encourages this, and it's a great way to gain attention for jobs requiring people who can speak and write in more than one language.

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.

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:

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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