If you’ve been searching for a job, talked to anyone else searching for a job, or asked anyone for advice about searching for a job, chances are the topic of resume keywords has come up. Good keywords, overused keywords, industry specific keywords, too many keywords, not enough keywords – it can become a bit confusing. It is essential that you include keywords in your resume, but keep in mind that using them haphazardly can negatively impact your resume.
A major argument for using keywords in your resume is to increase your chances of making it through the applicant tracking system that so many companies have in place as part of their hiring process. Keywords specific to the position may be used as defining parameters of the applicant tracking system. For example, a company hiring for a sales position can choose the qualifications they want the system to identify such as supplemental sales experience, promotional product marketing and customer product training. Applicants that don’t have these requirements are immediately removed from consideration.
An easy way to choose keywords that will align with the position you are applying for is to closely examine the job description and use similar if not exact wording. However, you need to keep your resume accurate. If the keywords don’t apply to your experience you are not going to be able to use them, obviously.
Doing a little research can also help you choose which keywords to use for a particular position. A quick search on LinkedIn for similar job titles is an easy way to check out the competition and see how they are describing the same position or industry. A Google search on the description of the job title will also provide countless resources to draw from.
Keep in mind that some keywords relate to general skills and there are others that are industry specific. In other words, some skill keywords are transferable among many different positions and industries (and may be a bit more generic such as time management, budgeting, customer relations) while industry specific keywords would not be applicable outside of the industry (but they may be transferable among different positions within the same industry). You should use a mixture of both in your resume.
It’s easy to confuse action verbs with keywords. Action verbs are words that highlight how you performed a task and can be used in conjunction with keywords to provide a more powerful statement. Some examples are: accelerated financial reporting or rejuvenated corporate culture.
As equally detrimental as not having enough resume keywords is having too many. Some applicants may try to beef up their resume by cramming it full of keywords regardless of the effect it has on the overall readability and relevance. You will get the biggest benefit from using keywords that you can support with concrete achievements that will show the value you would bring to the position. If you simply insert keywords that have little professional authenticity you will have a hard time promoting yourself in a face to face interview.
When used correctly, resume keywords can help identify your strengths and increase your credibility. Without, you stand little chance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.
by Megan Koehler