One of the biggest tricks to being “found” by recruiters is to make your resume and online profile keyword-rich. If you’re a bit baffled by the term, you’re not alone. Keywords can be a source of confusion to the point where they are sometimes just ignored by job seekers. Ignoring them may mean your resume never makes its way to an actual hiring manager.
How Keywords Work
More than half of all recruiters these days use software (sometimes called Applicant Tracking Software or ATS) to search hundreds of resumes and pull out those that are the best match for an open position. This is done primarily through the use of keywords. The recruiter picks a number of words or phrases and the software scans resumes for those terms. The terms may be job titles, skills, certifications, competencies or experience, to name a few. Resumes that contain these words rise to the top for consideration. Those that don’t may make it no further than the software scan and are likely never viewed by a recruiter.
Keywords are sometimes confused with power words, or powerful writing in resumes. It’s important to use dynamic action verbs and interesting writing in all your materials, but this discussion of keywords focuses on software searches used by recruiters.
Selecting the Right Keywords
To determine which keywords might be selected by a recruiter, focus carefully on the job description and requirements. Pick through them carefully when you list out skills, qualifications, competencies, certifications and job titles that are likely tied to the needs of this position. Also look at job descriptions for similar jobs at other companies for clues about the kinds of words a recruiter might use to search. Industry jargon and specific software and technical programs are often used as keywords so include those in your list. Do not rely on generic lists of common keywords because keywords will be different for every single job. Instead dig deep on each position and come up with a customized list.
Optimizing Keywords in a Resume
Because ATS software and recruiters use of it varies, best practices around keyword usage are also fluid. Some commonly used techniques include:
• Use keywords early in the resume
• Repeat a keyword throughout the resume
• Using synonyms for a keyword (in case the recruiter is searching on the synonym)
• Use words and jargon that are the norm for your field and this job
Other Places to Use Keywords
Your online profile on places such as LinkedIn should also be keyword-rich. Increasingly recruiters are using professional network sites to look for candidates and keywords are often used. Your cover letter should also contain keywords. While it may be ignored, some resume screening software programs also scan cover letters.
Keywords are just one more tool in your job search arsenal, so be sure to use them. But also remember, many hiring managers do not use ATS. They look at resumes one by one. Don’t get so carried away with key words that your resume looks weird to a human being!