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by Rob Porter | December 05, 2023

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During a job search, your resume is arguably your most important tool. It takes time and experience to craft an effective resume, and it’s important to keep up with resume trends as they relate to your industry, the type of resume employers like to see, and the keywords that hiring managers are looking for. Today, we’re going to talk about resume keywords, and how you can implement them in your resume. Let’s begin.

What are Resume Keywords?

Resume keywords, or “buzzwords,” as they’re often called, are words or phrases that are instantly recognizable to a hiring manager. There are many different types of resume keywords, such as industry-specific keywords, keywords that relate to hard and soft skills, and keywords that are used by companies on their job listings.

During the hiring process, a hiring manager will only look at each applicant’s resume for about 30 seconds unless something really stands out. The hiring manager also knows the keywords that were used on the job listing and will quickly scan an applicant’s resume for similar keywords and phrases. In addition to this, you’ll often have to contend with automated software that’s designed to identify resume keywords, but we’ll get into that in just a bit. The bottom line is, resume keywords are essential if you’re looking to land a job.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Many companies implement applicant tracking systems (ATS) when narrowing down large groups of candidates. ATS is software that scans each applicant’s resume for relevant skills and keywords, and then ranks candidates based on their compatibility with the job listing. When using ATS, companies can greatly reduce the time it takes to review resumes—here’s how it works.

When a company receives a stack of resumes, the hiring manager then feeds those resumes into the ATS, programming it to look for certain skills and keywords. Next, the ATS scans the resumes and separates them into categories based on their compatibility. In this case, ideal candidates that possess each of the skills the ATS was looking for will make it to the next phase of the hiring process, while the remaining resumes will either be marked as low-priority or discarded altogether. Typically, the number of candidates who make it to the interview process represent a small percentage of the initial applicants.

A Targeted Resume

Now that we know what resume keywords are and how ATS works, it’s time to put together a targeted resume. The first thing you should do is conduct some research into resume keywords that are specific to your industry. Then, take a look at some job descriptions and take note of which keywords they have in common. In certain cases, you may also want to tailor your resume to a job listing, ensuring that unique keywords are used.

Let’s say you’re looking for a job in marketing. During your research, you might come across industry-specific keywords such as “analytical skills,” “market research,” “CMS,” “stakeholder management,” and “content management,” among many others. These types of keywords are best used in bullet points so they’re easy to identify. For example, you might take “stakeholder management” and turn it into a bullet point that says “Collaborated with key stakeholders to execute a series of successful marketing campaigns.” If you have quantifiable examples, you might say “Collaborated with key stakeholders to execute a series of marketing campaigns, resulting in a [percentage] increase in sales.”

When it comes to hard and soft skills, pay close attention to each job description. If you have experience with programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and the job description lists “MS Suite” as one of the requirements, you should use the keyword “MS Suite,” rather than listing all the programs separately. This will help you get past the ATS, and you’ll also save room on your resume for additional information.

A job description may also contain keywords such as “verbal and written communication,” “teamwork,” “problem-solving,” and “adaptability,” just to name a few. It would be to your advantage to mirror keywords and phrases such as these on your resume, taking the time to tailor your resume to each job description whenever necessary. Using the above example of the marketing associate, you might include something along the lines of “Adapted quickly to new industry trends and techniques, resulting in a [percentage] increase in online engagement.”

Keep in mind that when tailoring your resume, there’s a fine line when it comes to including keywords. If you don’t use any keywords, you probably won’t get a response from the company; however, if your resume is nothing but industry buzzwords and phrases lifted directly from a job listing, you run the risk of coming off as impersonal or even lazy. To strike the right balance, choose keywords that relate to your best skills and achievements, and don’t go overboard. A good rule of thumb is to use a maximum of four keywords on your resume, while making any necessary alterations depending on the job listing.

Lastly, make sure you’re familiar with the keywords you’re using. If you use a bunch of flashy keywords but you don’t understand what they mean, you’ll run into problems later on when the hiring manager asks you about them. The point is, choose keywords that enhance your skills and unique experience while remaining honest, this way you’ll sound natural when it comes time for a job interview.

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