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How to use resume keywords to land a job
Last updated: September 30, 2022
Elyssa Duncan
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How to use resume keywords to land a job
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Years ago, jobseekers would mail resumes to potential employers or stop by to drop them off in person. They’d rely on a unique format or high-quality paper to "wow" a recruiter.

Today, things are quite different. Almost everything is done online and is usually handled (at least for the initial screening) by a computer. When a candidate submits a resume online, it’s run through an online database to search for specific resume keywords.

But what exactly are these specific keywords, and how do you make sure you include the correct ones on your resume?

This article will discuss everything you should know about resume keywords to help your resume stand out through these automated processes and to simplify your job search.

What are resume keywords?

Resume keywords are the words and phrases that hiring managers use to screen resumes for open positions. They may be industry-specific terms, job titles, or soft skills and qualifications that are required for the role.

For example, if you’re applying for a customer service position, some of the resume keywords recruiters might be looking for include “customer service,” “communication,” “phone skills,” and “problem-solving.”

Resume keywords are essentially the skills and experiences that make you a good fit for the job. They’re not just random words but terms that help recruiters determine how qualified you are for the role. They’re usually nouns or short phrases describing your key skills, experience, and accomplishments.

Why are keywords in your resume important?

Resume keywords are important because they help hiring managers quickly identify whether or not you’re a good fit for the open position. Remember, most recruiters and hiring managers receive hundreds (if not thousands) of resumes for each open position. They simply don’t have the time to read every one from start to finish.

Instead, they use resume keywords to scan resumes and weed out candidates who don’t have the technical skills or qualifications they’re looking for. With the typical job seeker writing only one resume during their job search, it’s important to ensure it has the proper keywords.

What you should know about ATS

In order to understand how important resume keywords are, you need to know a little bit about applicant tracking systems (ATS). ATS is software that companies use to screen resumes and candidate applications.

When you submit your resume online, it’s likely to be entered into an ATS well before a human ever sees it. This system uses resume keywords to score and rank candidates. The goal of the ATS is to help recruiters save time by weeding out resumes that don’t fit their needs.

While the ATS can be helpful in some ways, it also has its drawbacks. One of the biggest problems with this system is that it often overlooks qualified candidates because their resumes lack the right keywords.

Understanding the functions of the ATS is important for a few reasons. First, it helps you understand why resume keywords are so important. Second, it gives you some insight into how to optimize your resume for the ATS.

Optimization is a new term for many jobseekers. Essentially, it means making sure your resume is formatted so that the ATS can read and understand it.

This can be a bit tricky because you want to make sure your resume is also still readable by humans! The good news is that we have plenty of tips to help you strike the perfect balance.

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In summary:

When submitting your resume, it’s important to keep the following facts about ATS in mind:

  • Many recruiters use an ATS to screen resumes.

  • The system uses resume keywords to score and rank candidates.

  • The goal of the ATS is to help recruiters save time by weeding out resumes that don’t fit their needs.

  • The ATS can often overlook qualified candidates because their resumes lack the right keywords.

  • You need to optimize your resume for both humans and computers.

With hiring managers spending, on average, seven seconds looking at a resume, it’s important to make sure your resume is keyword-optimized (for ATS) but also interesting and easy to read. You need to find a way to stand out from the other candidates who are applying for the same position.

How to find the best resume keywords

When you start looking for resume keywords to include in your resume, it’s important to think about the particular job you’re applying for and what qualities and experiences the employer is seeking. Here are a few tips:

Do your research

Before you start adding resume keywords to your own document, it’s important to do your research. Start by looking at the job posting and making a list of relevant skills and qualifications. Then, take a look at similar job postings and create a list of keywords they’re using. This will give you a good idea of the most popular and relevant keywords in your industry.

Choose the right keywords

Once you have a list of potential keywords, it’s time to start choosing the ones that are right for you. First, take a look at your own skills and qualifications. Then, match them up with the keywords on your list. Make sure to choose the most relevant keywords for your experience and soft skills.

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Use keyword density

When adding resume keywords to your document, it’s important to use them strategically. This means using them in a way that will make sense to both humans and computers. One way to do this is by paying attention to keyword density. Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword appears in a job application compared to the total number of document words.

For example, if a resume has a total of 100 words and the keyword “sales” appears five times, the keyword density would be 5%. Generally speaking, you should aim for a keyword density of around 2% to 5%. This will ensure that your resume is optimized for both humans and computers.

Don’t keyword stuff your resume

While it’s important to use keywords strategically, you also need to be careful not to stuff your resume with too many of them. This will not only make your resume difficult to read, but it will also turn off recruiters.

In addition, using too many keywords can hurt your chances of being ranked by the ATS. So, make sure that your keywords are relevant to your experience and skills and try to use them strategically.

One helpful tip is to read your resume aloud or have a trusted friend read it. If it sounds awkward or like you're trying too hard to fit in keywords, then you might want to revise it.

Tips to effectively use keywords in your resume

Once you’ve taken the time to figure out which resume keywords to use, it’s important to know how to effectively incorporate them into your document. Here are a few tips:

Be mindful of keyword use

One of the best ways to ensure your keywords are optimized is by being mindful of your keyword use from the start. That means avoiding any keywords that are too general or common. These types of keywords for resumes are likely to be overlooked by recruiters and won’t do much to help you stand out from other candidates.

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Action verbs

When including resume keywords in your document, make sure they naturally fit into the sentence. Forcing them in will not only look awkward, but it will also be obvious to the reader. One way to ensure your keywords are integrated seamlessly is by using action verbs. These are words that describe what you did in a certain role. For example, instead of saying “customer service,” you could say “assisted clients with product selection.”

Proofread your resume

Once you’ve added all of the necessary resume keywords to your document, it’s important to proofread your resume before hitting send. This way, you can catch any mistakes or typos that might have slipped through.

When including resume keywords in your document, it’s important to use them throughout. This means sprinkling them in the skills section, work experience section, and education section. As mentioned above, don’t overdo it, though!

Use industry language

In addition to using keywords throughout your resume, it’s also important to be specific. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a retail sales associate, don’t just say you have experience with “sales.” Be specific and mention your experience with handling returns, conducting product demonstrations, or providing product recommendations.

Top keywords to use by industry

If you're not sure exactly which keywords to add to your resume, you can use our tips above. We’ve also put together a quick-reference list of some great potential keywords to use in specific industries.

Resume keyword examples by industry:

Customer service

  • Patient

  • Empathetic

  • Good listener

  • Problem-solver

  • Multitasker

Food services

  • Punctual

  • Reliable

  • Team player

  • Hard worker

  • Fast learner

Retail

  • Sales experience

  • Product knowledge

  • Customer service

  • Cash handling

Administrative

  • Organization

  • Time management

  • Scheduling

  • Filing

With these tips in mind, you can be sure that your resume will be keyword-optimized and will help you land the job you want.

And with unemployment rates during the pandemic reaching levels not seen for over a decade, the importance of having a polished resume is obvious. Keep your career goals in mind, and don't be afraid to use keywords to get ahead and stand out from the crowd.

Don’t forget keywords in your cover letter

When it comes to job hunting, your resume is the most important tool you have. By using keywords in your document and following these tips, you can improve your resume and stand out from the crowd.

And don’t forget your cover letter or any additional documentation you’re requested to submit during the recruitment process. These can be great opportunities to increase your keyword density and make it through the ATS.

If you need additional help with keywords in your resume, check out the Getting Hired Resource Center for more information.

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Elyssa Duncan
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michelle pribila

Very helpful

14w
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Julie Hernandez

Medical Eligibility & Benefits Coordinator

1y
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Enoude Georges

I find the information I've just read very resourceful information. I'll will used these tips on my next resume format.

1y
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Vern rubio

Journeyman carpenter

1y
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Donna Roufanis

medical practice manager or supervisor. Patient coordinator, medical receptionist, administrative assistant

2y
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Julia carpio

Gee its been 20 years since I wrote a resume. All this information makes me feel inadequate. It seems very confusing to me. I feel as though I may be unhireable.

2y
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2
Stewart Rachel

Is there any sites that will build a resume for free

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William Randall

Very educational

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4
Jennifer Aurelius

Great article.

2y
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2
Andrea Mahfood

Customer Service Representative

2y
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