Do you know that two-thirds of job applications never reach recruiters? Millions of job seekers have been waiting for a response for weeks, checking their inboxes repeatedly. The only way to avoid becoming one of them is to learn about resume keywords and use them in a resume correctly. Here’s everything you need to know.
Why it’s so important to use keywords in your resume
Have you ever heard of ATS? ATS, or applicant tracking systems, are the software companies use to filter the job applications they receive. For example, employers may get thousands of applications for the most sought-after positions. It would be impossible for recruiters to look through them and find the best candidates without getting overwhelmed. So ATS software helps them out.
If you’ve been looking for a job for a while (or have friends who have), you know that it’s pretty common to apply for a position that matches your qualification and experience perfectly—and never hear back from the recruiter. Sometimes, it’s just recruiters being rude and not bothering to write a “sorry you’re not the one” email to the candidates they’ve rejected.
But more often than not, the problem is not recruiters but keywords, or, more accurately, lack of them. Unless a resume contains enough of them, it is near-guaranteed to fail an ATS. So candidates who aren’t aware of keywords or don’t use them are usually out of the race before it starts. Their applications don’t even reach recruiters.
Moreover, the number of keywords and placement affects the resumes’ rating. Therefore, it’s not enough for a resume to pass an ATS. Ideally, it should also rank high among the selected applications so that the recruiter looking through them knows that it deserves their attention.
So, what are resume keywords exactly?
Resume keywords are words and phrases related to the industry and position. When they match those from the job listing (or those set by the recruiter), the ATS “sees” that the resume submitted for the position seems to be a good fit. As a result, the resume “passes” and ends up in the recruiter’s inbox.
Which words and phrases to use depends on the job. But most of the resume keywords fall into one of the categories you can check out at Skillhub, and with some research, you can identify the most relevant ones for your position. They include:
Roles and positions.
This one’s the easiest. Mention the relevant positions you’ve held throughout your career. For example, if you’re applying for the position of editor-in-chief, make sure that your previous roles are listed as associate editor or deputy editor (even if your actual job titles were slightly different).
Soft skills matter and all candidates should list them in their resumes. But to pass an ATS, prioritize your hard skills, especially the most specific and relevant ones. For example, if you’re applying for a graphic designer job, mentioning outstanding command of Adobe Photoshop is the least you can do.
This’s one a little trickier. But with enough research of similar job postings and well-written resumes of other job seekers from your line of work, you’ll soon realize which phrases employers are looking for. It’s usually something generic like successfully managing a team.
How to decide which keywords to include
To understand which keywords to include, even the most experienced job seeker must first research their industry’s job market. Next, find at least a dozen resumes that belong to your profession’s most competitive and competent-looking experts. Then, highlight repeated keywords and phrases and choose the ones that apply to your career.
Also, study the job listing carefully. While your resume shouldn’t repeat it word-for-word, it should mimic the most important points from the listing. For example, if the listing says that the company expects its perfect candidate to know how to lead an agile team, make sure to mention your ability to do so in your skills section.
Finally, go beyond the listing and check the company’s website and social media pages you’re applying for. You’ll learn a lot, including its core values, mission, and culture. Then, reflect those in your resume without being too obvious. Use the same keywords (for example, independent thinker), but try to choose those that apply to you as a person and employee to avoid outright misleading your potential employer.
How to place resume keywords correctly
The short answer to the question of where to put keywords and phrases in a resume is everywhere. The more of them you have, the better your prospects of landing an interview are. But don’t forget that the keywords you use must be relevant; otherwise, they’re useless. So never skip the research stage of resume writing.
Another helpful strategy is to look at the list of keywords and phrases you’ve prepared based on research. Then, decide which resume section each of them is most appropriate for. The easiest way to do so is to categorize the keywords while still researching. For example, look through job listings and other candidates’ resumes in search of role-related keywords. Once you’re done, move on to skills, and so on.
This way, you’ll avoid confusion and have your keywords and phrases ready when you get to the writing stage. Make sure to place them organically so that it doesn’t feel like the sole purpose of your resume is to put in as many keywords as possible. How informative and reflective your resume is of you as a professional also matters.
Resume keywords may seem intimidating to someone who has never used them before, but there’s nothing complicated about them. All resume writing services use it. First, you need to do enough research to know which keywords work best for your industry and position. But once you have a list, you have to include as many of them as possible without making it seem like a bot wrote your resume.