Job Search: Using Keywords in a Resume


One of the greatest frustrations for jobseekers is their resume disappearing into the “black hole” of online job search. Of course, many factors contribute to this phenomenon, but one thing is certain: Without the right keywords, a resume – no matter how well written – will never be found through resume-scanning software and applicant-tracking systems. The challenge for the resume writer is to incorporate all of the right words into the resume to boost the chance of rising to the top of a large pool of candidates.

So how does a jobseeker know what the keywords are? Where does he or she find them? Here are five great resources.

1.   Job Postings. Before a jobseeker can begin writing a resume, he or she should review a handful of “ideal jobs” and highlight all the appropriate keywords. These will help establish a good baseline goal for essential terms to include in the resume. Be sure to insert soft skills (teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and so on) as well as specific knowledge and experience, technology expertise, educational credentials and certifications, and other hard skills. Use websites such as Glass Door.com where you can search through up-to-date job listings is the perfect place for this step.

2.   O*Net—the U.S. Department of Labor’s comprehensive career site. You can browse specific occupations and occupational groups to find terminology related to the experience you are featuring in a resume. Go to Job & Career Accelerator‘s Occupation Matcher, which presents the  O*Net information in an easy to read format that suggests career paths based upon a jobseeker’s Occupation Matcher Interest Inventory. Spend some time searching through employment trends, such as “Green Occupations,” to become familiar with up-and-coming career fields and terms.

3.   Professional Associations. You need to take a few moments to explore the sites of relevant professional associations. These offer a treasure-trove of keywords! For example, the site for the Institute for Supply Management, a professional association for supply chain professionals, includes an extensive listing of professional meetings and conferences. When you look at the meeting agendas, you’ll find relevant terms such as “value-focused supply,” “global procurement,” “sourcing complex spend categories,” and many more.

4.   Company Websites. Particularly for pursuing specific companies, a quick visit to company websites will pay off. Critical keywords will be found in the job descriptions, of course, but don’t stop there. Read the company’s mission statement and its values. Examine the career site to see what image it’s trying to portray with potential employees. What are the character traits, skills, and knowledge that the company seems to value? These terms should be incorporated into the resume to strike a responsive chord.

5.   Industry- or profession-specific publications. Trade journals, industry blogs, business newspapers, and similar resources provide a rich source of keywords while keeping you up to date on important news and trends. Here’s a quick example: A recent post on the “Lean Blog,” dedicated to Lean Manufacturing practices in the healthcare industry, addressed technology trends such as bedside video cameras and other automation in hospitals, pharmacies, and labs. Great information for the right resume!

After you have assembled a rich array of keywords,  work them as frequently and as naturally as possible into all sections of the resume. Of course,you don’t want to misrepresent anything, so be careful to use only the terms that actually reflect knowledge and experience – and not those that you“wish” you could include!

Finally, be aware that keywords are not static. There is no single set of terms that an employer will use when looking for an accountant, for example. The keywords will change to reflect the position, the company, the industry, and evolving trends. The resume must be a living document that changes to best fit the opportunity, the industry, and the evolving employment picture.

Need more help getting started?  Start with Nevada Career and Information Systems. This site will guide you through the process of job hunting . Hot Topics – Careers contains other great resources for job hunting.

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