Tips for Using Resume Keywords

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Resume keywords are critical to helping you get your resume noticed by employers. By including keywords in your resume and cover letter, you'll increase your chances of landing a job interview.

Keywords are words or short phrases that relate to particular requirements for a job. They are the skills, abilities, credentials, and qualities that a hiring manager looks for in a candidate.

When a hiring manager looks through a pile of resumes, he or she scans each resume to find these keywords. Many companies even use automated applicant tracking systems (ATS), also known as talent management systems, to screen candidates for job openings.

One way an ATS works is to eliminate resumes that are missing certain keywords. If the software or the hiring manager does not detect any of the keywords in your resume or cover letter, your application might get thrown out. By embedding keywords in your resume or cover letter, you will demonstrate, at a glance, that you fit the requirements of the position.

Types of Resume Keywords

Your resume keywords should include specific job requirements, including your skills, competencies, relevant credentials, and previous positions and employers. Essentially, keywords should be words that, at a glance, will show the hiring manager that you are a good fit for the job.

For example, based on experience, a candidate for an employee benefits management position might use the following resume keywords:

  • Employee benefit plans
  • Health care benefits
  • Benefit policy

A customer service representative could include: 

  • Customer service
  • Customer tracking system
  • Computer skills
  • Order entry experience

Tips for Finding Keywords

Review job postings that are similar to the positions you are interested in and look for keywords to incorporate into your resume. Search for job listings that match your background or experience and scan for the buzzwords. The keywords or phrases will be sprinkled throughout the job listing and in the “qualifications” and “responsibilities” sections. Incorporate the popular keywords into your resume.

Also, review the company's website for possible keywords. Utilize keywords that the company uses to describe itself to demonstrate that you are a good fit for them. You might find this language on the company’s “About Us” web page, or in the job listing itself. For example, if the company identifies itself as “creative,” you could incorporate “creative” and “creativity” in your resume. It's important to update the keywords on your resume to ensure that they match the company's language.

Tips for Using Keywords in Your Resume

Be specific. Include keywords that are as closely related to the specific job as possible. The more focused and specific you are in your language, the better the chance you'll have at showing you are a good match and get picked up by resume scanning software.

Know the company's value proposition. The company's value proposition is what sets it apart from their competition. Make sure your resume’s keywords and your experience are formatted in a way to reflect the company's brand. For additional keywords or phrases important to the company, go to the company's LinkedIn page to see how they describe themselves. Also, be sure to click on the profiles of the company's employees and search for similar positions that you're applying to, paying particular attention to how they describe themselves as valuable members of the company.

Use as many keywords as possible. Make sure you have touched on most, if not all, of the keywords that are relevant to each position. Of course, do not use a skill keyword if you don't have that skill. Incorporate as many appropriate keywords as possible that help you match your qualifications to the job. However, the keywords must be appropriate and flow seamlessly throughout your resume. In other words, don't overdo it.

Mix up the keywords. Include a mix of different types of keywords, including soft skillshard skills, industry buzzwords, certifications, and more. Using a wide variety of keywords will show that you have all of the diverse qualities necessary for the job. Also, the company's resume scanning software might be programmed for a particular keyword, so you'll want to include synonyms of the keywords. For example, you might have "developer" as a keyword on your resume, but the company uses “creator” instead.

By using multiple versions of keywords and phrases, your resume will have a better chance of getting picked up by a scanning program.

Put the keywords everywhere. In order for an employer or a scanning program to find your keywords, sprinkle keywords throughout your resume. You might incorporate these words into your resume summary statement, past job descriptions, the skills section of your resume, and any other part of your resume that seems appropriate. It can also be a good tactic to place the most important keywords in a dedicated “core competencies” table at the beginning of your resume, right after your resume summary statement.

This will help the keywords to “pop” on the page.

Review a Resume Example

This example includes keywords in the "Core Competencies" section, as well as in the descriptions for each position.

Resume Sample Including Keywords

Geoffrey Gold
1234 Spruce Hills Parkway
Milwaukee, WI 53205
555-555-5555
ggold@email.com

Qualifications Summary

Cost-conscious and analytically astute Compensation and Benefits Manager offering 10 years’ expertise optimizing benefits programs for major employers in the manufacturing sector.

Core Competencies: Benefits Administration, Benefit Policy Development, Employee Retention Strategies, HR File Management, Process Evaluation and Improvements, Financial Analysis and Forecasting

Professional Experience

XYZ MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, Milwaukee, WI
Compensation and Benefits Manager, 02/2013-Present
Leverage deep knowledge of current compensation and wage structures to structure and implement cost-effective benefits packages for 1200-member workforce. Directed staff of 5 HR assistants in communicating benefits information, policies, and procedures to personnel.

  • Re-sourced primary healthcare benefits provider, reducing program costs by 57%.
  • Diligently ensure corporate compliance with all governing federal and state regulations.

UNITED MANUFACTURING, Milwaukee, WI
Compensation and Benefits Specialist, 06/2008-02/2013
Skillfully classified new employees to determine and initiate benefit programs. Educated personnel in available benefits and application processes; compiled and distributed benefit reports.

  • Played instrumental role in securing executive buy-in for a new compensation structure that increased speed of employee eligibility for available benefit levels.
  • Created an efficient file management process that eliminated a severe recordkeeping backlog within six weeks of initial hiring.

Education and Credentials

Associate Degree in Human Resource Management
WISCONSIN INDIANHEAD TECHNICAL COLLEGE, Ashland, WI

Technical Proficiencies: Microsoft Office Suite (Advanced Excel, Word, Access, PowerPoint) and PeopleSoft compensation management software

Using Keywords in Your Cover Letter

You should include keywords in your cover letter in the event your cover letter is scanned. Even if the cover letter isn't screened by a program, you'll have a better chance of getting selected for an interview as a qualified candidate if the keywords and phrases are listed throughout the cover letter.

Include keywords in the body of your letter, making sure that they match the most important keywords and skills mentioned in the job listing. An effective way to do this is to describe your relevant skills and achievements in bulleted, keyword-loaded statements in the second or third paragraph of your letter. By using keywords strategically in your cover letter, you’ll be able to persuade the hiring manager to give serious attention to its accompanying resume.