Resume Keywords and Tips for Using Them

Resume keywords
••• Ragsac / iStockPhoto

Keywords are words that relate to particular requirements for a job. They are 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 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 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
  • CEBS
  • Health care benefits
  • Benefit policy
  • FMLA.

A customer service representative could include: 

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

Tips for Finding Keywords

To find keywords to use, take a look at job postings similar to the positions you are looking for. Search for job listings that match your background and experience and buzzwords that you see in multiple job listings. These terms will often be in specific sections of the job listing, such as “qualifications” and “responsibilities.” Then, incorporate those keywords into your resume.

You might also check out the company website for possible keywords. For example, to demonstrate that you are a good fit for the company, use keywords that the company uses to describe itself. 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,” one keyword you might incorporate into your resume is “creative” or “creativity.”

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 chance you'll have at showing you are a good match.
  • Use as many as possible. Make sure you have touched on most, if not all, of the keywords that are most relevant to each position. Do not use a skill keyword if you actually do not have that skill. Incorporate as many appropriate keywords as possible that help you match your qualifications to the job.
  • Mix it up. Including a mix of different types of keywords, including soft skills, hard 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.
  • Put them everywhere. In order for an employer or ATS 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.

    Using Keywords in Your Cover Letter

    Similarly, you can, and should, include keywords in your cover letter. This way, if your cover letter is also screened, you will have a better chance of getting selected for an interview as a qualified candidate.

    Include keywords throughout the cover letter, especially in the body of your letter. For example, if you focus on one or two of your skills in the body of your letter, focus on skills that are also keywords from the job listing.