Keywords: The Secret To A Powerful Resume

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

In a world where resumes are usually sent in electronic form and often stored in databases, keywords are becoming an increasingly important tool that every job seeker should know about, and know how to use effectively. 

What is a keyword?

Keywords are specific words or phrases used in relation to a job role and a person’s skills and experiences. They can be general, such as ‘communication skills’ or ‘consulting’, but are often more specific to a particular role or industry, such as ‘B2B communication’ or ‘strategy management consulting’.

Employers are becoming increasingly reliant on keywords to find appropriate job candidates – apparently more than 80 per cent of resumes are searched for job-specific keywords. Keyword selection and placement in your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile can literally be the key to being found (or not) in a search. 

Learning how to prepare a keyword-rich resume that makes the most of your skills and experiences will increase your chances of getting an interview – and hopefully a job!

What words are keywords?

Keywords are mostly nouns or noun phrases. They can be things like:

•    Skills or concepts that are specific to a particular job, profession or industry
•    Technical terms, such as specific software
•    Job titles
•    Certifications, specific degrees or other qualifications
•    Names of products and services
•    Industry buzzwords and jargon
•    Company/college/university names
•    Professional organisations

How to find and choose keywords for your resume

The best way to find relevant keywords is to scrutinise the job ad for the job you’re applying for, as well as other ads for similar roles. The job ad will reveal what skills, experiences, qualifications and other qualities they’re looking for, and it's a good idea to mirror the language in the job description to show you’re a good match. Highlight each word or phrase that is specific or significant to the job and make a list of the most important ones.

Good sources of keyword ideas include online job ads, newspapers, company websites, trade magazines and books to see what keywords repeatedly come up in relation to a certain job role. Look for the words that appear early in a job ad or description, as they’re likely to be the most important ones.

Visit the websites of companies and other organisations in your field to see what the current buzzwords and lingo are. Read their mission statement and see if there are any important words or concepts you can use from that.

Read trade magazines, annual reports and relevant news articles to keep on top of what’s happening in your industry and how people talk about it. Joining online discussion groups and forums can also help you keep up-to-date and see how other professionals discuss industry issues.

Also ask recruiters, HR professionals and other contacts in the industry for keyword tips.

How to use keywords

When preparing your resume, use keywords liberally throughout but try to load them towards the beginning, especially in your Summary of Qualifications or Professional Profile. You can use these sections to give your keywords a more general context in relation to your overall professional profile.

When describing your previous roles and experiences, focus on functions, skills and responsibilities, job-specific terms or phrases, and industry terms. Be sure to spell out the type of services and products you dealt with in your previous work and the specific industry, rather than just the company name so that these terms can be searched by the computer’s search software.

Different keywords are weighted differently, depending on the importance of the word to the job criteria/role. Keywords that are specific to a particular job or industry are weighted more heavily than more general keywords that could apply to many jobs and industries. While specific ‘hard’ skills will be most valuable for keyword searches, more general ‘soft’ skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills, teamwork or leadership, still have their place.

It’s best to tie keywords to your accomplishments – ones that use the skill represented by that keyword. For example, ‘Directed and implemented the business’s social media strategy’ could be expanded to ‘Directed and implemented the business’s social media strategy, resulting in the introduction of social media protocols and the establishment of both internal and external community forums that helped to enhance feedback, responsiveness and cohesiveness.’

Since you don’t know exactly what form of a keyword will be searched, it’s also a good idea to use variations of similar words, such as ‘manager’ and ‘management’, ‘content management system’ and ‘CMS’, or ‘business-to-business’ and ‘B2B’.

Don’t forget that while your basic resume template will remain the same, you should tailor your resume, and the keywords you use in it, for every different job you apply for, according to the job’s specific requirements and criteria.

Don’t forget to use keywords in your cover letter too. While cover letters aren’t generally searched for keywords, it’s still important to mirror the words and criteria as set out in the job description so the interviewer can see you’re a perfect fit. It also shows that you’ve read the job ad with care and have tailored your application to the job rather than just sending out a generic version. In other words, they’ll be able to tell that you have taken the time and effort and really want the job.

Keywords in action

An effective resume includes strong action verbs, and keywords should be tied to these when describing your previous roles and achievements.

Here are some examples of action verbs combined with actions that would act as effective keywords (in bold):

•    Directed and implemented the business’s social media strategy
•    Performed project management on key marketing campaigns, including budgeting and scheduling
•    Wrote and edited all media releases
•    Managed and updated the business’s content management system (CMS) and customer database

When using keywords, there is always a balance to be struck: it’s in your interests to include lots of keywords in your resume but it still has to flow, make sense and grab the reader’s interest rather than just being a random collection of keywords strung together willy-nilly. And whatever you do, stay honest – don’t list skills and terms that you know are good keywords unless they are a true reflection of your background and experiences.

If you’ve posted your resume online or on LinkedIn, don’t forget to sprinkle it liberally with keywords too. You never know who may be searching online and come calling!

Sample keywords

Here are some possible keywords for a personal assistant role:

•    interpersonal skills
•    verbal and written communication skills
•    administrative skill, organisational skill
•    multi-tasking
•    data analysis, reports
•    call screening
•    confidentiality, diplomacy
•    problem solving, troubleshooting
•    computer skills, Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, PowerPoint
•    itinerary, agenda
•    planning
•    appointments, meetings
•    diary management
•    policies and procedures
•    records management, filing, correspondence
•    conference planning
•    travel arrangements

Or for an accountant:

•    bookkeeping
•    general ledger
•    regulatory compliance
•    audits
•    payroll
•    budget
•    financial reporting, financial statements
•    Excel, PowerPoint
•    trend analysis, results analysis
•    business policies
•    analytical ability
•    tax accounting, tax returns
•    reconciliations
•    profit and loss statements
•    cash flow, maintenance of assets
•    team player, communication skills

Need more help with your job search? Check out our job hunting tips and resources. 

Josie Chun

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