Why It’s Crucial to Use Keywords in Your Resume

Why It’s Crucial To Use Keywords in Your Resume

By Deanna Hartley, CareerBuilder


When it comes to finding a new job, there’s a crucial step in the resume-writing process you may not have heard about to improve your chances of making it past the initial record of screening.

“With… more and more recruitment services transitioning to being solely online, HR departments are using difference computer programs to scan through resumes and pull out documents based on the frequency of certain words and acronyms, ” says Valerie Streif, senior advisor at Mentat, an organization that hires, manages and mentors prospective job candidates.

While you painstakingly perfect your resume, remember that a hiring manager potentially has to sift through dozens of other resumes and use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to cut through the clutter.

“An ATS scores resumes based on how well their content matches the keywords input by a hiring manager – this is why it’s imperative to incorporate relevant keywords and phrases throughout your resume,” says Andrew Pearl, partner at Precision Resumes, Inc., a career management services firm. “Without those keywords, you won’t make it past the first gatekeeper in the hiring process. You can have the best qualifications, but if you’re not framing them right and using the most relevant keywords, you’ll miss out on opportunities.”

Keep these tips in mind when writing your resume to help you get your foot in the door.

Research and identify other keywords to highlight.

Don’t be afraid to borrow language from the job description. “Recruiters are comparing you against the job description, and often times they’re looking for buzzwords,” says Cristina Lara, manager of global diversity programs at Amazon, and a former national diversity manager for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “It’s still a good best practice to reframe your work experiences using the language of the job description. This will make it easier for recruiters to mentally align your background with the job, and you’ll increase your chances of having your resume sent up to the hiring manager.”

Examples of keywords you’ll want to integrate include job title, technical skills and academic requirements, according to Pearl. “Evaluate the posting you’re applying to, line by line, and highlight what appear to be the most fundamental terms,” he says. “If the job posting is sparse, find other similar job descriptions online and use those as a guide for determining keywords and phrases. Focus particularly on similar jobs in similar industries to make sure the jargon you incorporate in your resume in on track.”

Master the art of sprinkling keywords throughout your resume.

Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of executive career coaching firm Call to Career, recommends including a section at the top titles “Core Competencies” where the keywords could be highlighted prominently.

“That way, the keywords are at the top of the resume and are easily found, [and] you can also judiciously sprinkle keywords in the ‘Professional Experience’ section,” she says.

Remember that context is key.

“Keywords should also be in context with the content – plugging in a list of skill sets in a bulleted list and not actually relaying how you know the skill, or what you did with it, is useless,” says Dawn D. Boyer, resume writer and CEO of D. Boyer Consulting. For example, instead of merely listing “business development,” “marketing”, or “sales”, Boyer advises that you say “Responsible for business development and marketing to 25 Fortune 500 clients, with contract sales resulting in $500 million in revenue within six months of hire.”

Palmer agrees it is more effective to show rather than to tell. “For soft skills, I recommend demonstrating a result rather than simply listing these types of skills,” Palmer says. “Instead of saying: ‘good people skills,’ it’s more impactful to say, ‘Improved staff relations through regular meetings where staff members could clearly define expectations for upcoming projects.”


Deanna Hartley is a writer for the Advice & Resources section on CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.