In today's competitive job market, knowing how to use keywords effectively is a crucial part of landing your dream job. No matter how experienced you are, if your resume can't make it past the scanning software used to screen applicants, you'll never get a chance to dazzle the hiring manager in person.
ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software evaluates resumes based on specific keywords that an employer is looking for. The software then presents the hiring manager with a ranked list of candidates based on who has the most keywords in their resume. The candidates at the top of the list are the ones who are called in for an interview.
ATS software serves several important purposes. It cost-effectively eliminates candidates with irrelevant experience, saves hiring managers the hassle of reviewing hundreds of resumes for one opening, and prevents accusations of bias in the hiring process.
As you're writing your resume, you can increase your chances of being granted an interview by including keywords throughout the document. You can include keywords in your professional summary, core competencies, work experience, and education sections. Each word only needs to be used once to be effective, so there's no need to force unnecessary repetition.
Unfortunately, there is no single set of keywords you can use to ensure that your resume passes an ATS screening. Keywords are targeted to specific industries and the needs of a particular company.
To search for keywords that are appropriate for your job search, find four to six job postings of interest and highlight any words or phrases that appear in multiple listings. You can get a good idea of what keywords to include by looking for relevant terms in four different areas: technical skills, certifications and licenses, soft skills, and action words.
Technical skills refer to the specific computer programs or tools you'd use in a particular job. For example:
When listing technical skills on your resume, keep in mind that you should have a solid working knowledge of any specific program you're included. Don't include anything that you've only used once or twice.
Including Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office on your resume is unnecessary unless you're applying for an entry-level clerical job where this is specifically listed in the job description. For more experienced workers, proficiency is assumed.
Certifications and licenses are the degrees you've earned and well as any continuing education classes or professional licenses that are relevant to the position. Examples of keywords in this area include:
When listing certifications and licenses on your resume, include the expiration date if applicable.
Soft skills are personal attributes that the employer desires in a new hire. For example:
Highlighting soft skills on your resume is always a good idea, but is particularly important when you're a recent graduate, returning to the workforce after an extended absence, or trying to switch career fields. Using soft skills keywords as you describe your experience helps highlight transferable skills to your potential employer.
Action words help clarify what types of duties you're familiar with. For example:
You can find more examples of action keywords in our Action Words to Use in Resumes article.
You'll know that you've chosen appropriate keywords for your resume when you start seeing an increase in interview requests. If you find yourself going several weeks without any positive feedback, it may be time to revisit your keyword choices.