Several thousand people often apply for the same job. To filter the applicants, recruiters, HR executives, and hiring managers rely on software search tools—whether it’s Google, applicant tracking systems, or the search functions on LinkedIn and job boards.
Which means it’s not enough to have excellent credentials and a killer résumé. You also need to keyword-optimize your résumé to increase the odds it will be found in a search and actually reviewed by a human.
Here’s how to find—and use—the best résumé keywords.
1. Use the keywords in the job description.
Carefully review the job description keywords and use the most relevant ones in your résumé.
Make sure you’re up on the latest jargon and buzzwords in your industry. Visit websites of companies, organizations, and associations related to your industry to see which keywords they use. Review the LinkedIn profiles of people with jobs similar to what you currently have or aspire to. Which career-related keywords do they use in their headline and profile?
Explore keywords using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. When you type in a keyword phrase such as consumer marketing, the tool will display dozens, if not hundreds, of variations. You can quickly tell which keywords have the highest search volume.
Another option: When you start typing a keyword phrase in Google or Bing, the search engines automatically suggest variations. The suggestions are based on search volume, providing useful clues for good keywords to use.
2. Position your keywords strategically.
Add a keyword section at the very top of your résumé, advises Nick Parham, a San Francisco career and executive coach. “Keywords placed high up will help your résumé get to the top of the pile. And they serve as headlines to help the person reading your résumé,” he says. Make sure the keywords are relevant to the job description and reinforce the keywords throughout your résumé. “Repetition will establish your credibility in the résumé reader’s mind—but don’t overdo it,” he says.
Make sure your keywords are in your job titles, recommends TheLadders blogger Marc Cenedella, because software filtering tools put more weight on the words in titles than in descriptions. If keywords “are not in the title, they will not end up on top of the results pages,” according to Cenedella.
3. Optimize for the human eye, too.
With luck, your résumé will land in someone’s hands. Help that person out by making it easy to read.
Use clearly segmented subsections, with each job its own subsection. Put job titles for each subsection in bold. Use bullet points to facilitate visual scanning. Career Rocketeer recommends giving your résumé to a trusted friend or colleague, telling them about the job you’re going for, and asking them which keywords on your résumé jump out at them. If they don’t mention your most important words, your résumé might be too cluttered.
“Hiring managers want to see demonstrated experience in line with the job requirements,” says Parham. “Use keywords to show your experience, and make them easy to visually scan.”
Baby boomers should also add keywords that convey energy, such as passion,drive, created, and innovated, advises Parham. “Hiring managers want people with passion, so wherever you can, demonstrate that in your résumé.”