Is Your Resume Keyword Loaded?

Part 3 of Passing the Black Hole Test: Creating Keyword-Rich Resumes

In Part 1 of this three-part series, we explored the three kinds of readers you’ll be targeting when sending your resume out into cyberspace. Part 2 walked you through creating an e-resume in ASCII format. The third essential component of a resume that hits all three targeted audiences is one rich with keywords or phrases. Here’s some help to make that happen!

Resume Strategy: Use keywords

This is not a new concept but surprisingly, I see resumes almost every day that fail to maximize keywords or phrases in their resumes (or cover letters). It’s a very risky omission. Keywords are an integral component of the resume-scanning process; employers and recruiters electronically search resumes for specific terms to find candidates with the qualifications for their particular hiring needs.

Electronic scanning has evolved to replace the human reading your resume—at least initially. So, in that sense, the only thing that matters in this case is that you have included the right keywords to match the employer’s needs. Without them, you’ll be passed over.

At some point, your resume will be read by human eyes, so it’s not enough to throw together a list of keywords and leave it at that. In fact, you don’t have to have a separate summary on your resume. Even if you do, the best strategy is to integrate keywords naturally into the text within the appropriate sections of your resume. While typically, keywords are nouns (hard skills, competencies, etc.), today’s sophisticated scanners pick up other forms of the word as well, i.e., sales, sell, sold.

Keywords & Phrases: Some examples


  • When you use the words pharmaceutical sales, people will assume that you have experience with hospital and clinical relationships, formulary launches, solutions selling, needs assessment, territory management, and more.
  • By referencing internet marketing specialist, readers and listeners will infer that you have experience in search engine optimization, web analytics, link building, performance metrics analysis, and more.
  • When you mention staff accountant, people will expect that you are familiar with general ledgers, audit reviews, financial statements, account reconciliations, and more.


Career Changers: Keywords are crucial


  • In sections throughout your resume, integrate keywords from your past experiences that directly relate to your current career goals. If you are a customer service representative hoping to transition into human resources, highlight your experience with new employee orientation, staff training, employee relations, and similar background. Those would be the keywords and metrics used, even if they were a minor part of the job.
  • If you do not have the appropriate experience (keywords) in your history to include in the career summary and experience sections on your resume, a good strategy is to change it up right away. Let’s say you want to transition from electrician to game technology programmer. Note: the following was ALL school-related success!

Position of interest: Arcade Game Programmer, where proficiency in C++, C# and assembly language will be essential. Recognized for creating clean, legible and inventive code to expedite the release of products.”

Warning! It can be a random—not logical thing


There is no defined set of keywords for a fireman, attorney, teacher, mechanical engineer, investment specialist, construction draftsman or executive assistant. Because of the arbitrary and complex nature of keyword selection, it is essential to include all of the keywords that summarize your skills as they relate to your current goals.


Tips on tapping the right keywords for you


  1. Mine at least three online job postings containing full job descriptions that are of interest to you. Certain words or phrases will reappear consistently—reveal a pattern. Those are your keywords.
  2. Weave the highlighted keywords into your resume; add common synonyms to supplement the keywords. You should have a minimum of 12 industry- or job-specific keywords.
  3. Talk to people in the career field you are targeting, and ask them what keywords are appropriate in the positions you are applying to.
  4. Visit professional association or industry-specific websites. Play around by Googling names and phrases, i.e. “education careers” or “professional sales associations”. Read the content on these sites carefully. They are loaded with industry-related jargon.
  5. Try the Occupational Outlook Handbook, an excellent resource produced by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  6. If you’re still in college, try to get at least one internship in the field you’re targeting. Even if it’s just a few weeks, you will significantly increase your keyword count.
  7. Choose both general and specific keywords. For example: General = psychology; therapist. Specific = addiction; behavioral therapy.
  8. Consider hard skills (expertise), soft skills (communication), general information (affiliations), academic or volunteer qualifications.
  9. Reinforce keywords by following them with a success story. For example, if you use the keywords “customer service,” you can follow with a statement like “boosted customer satisfaction scores from 73% to 96% in four months.”
  10. For resumes pasted into email messages or eforms where space is not an issue, include a separate keyword section.
  11. Avoid the temptation of planting keywords that are not part of your experience, just so you can be found in an electronic search. Hiring folks see right through this!
  12. If you submit an MS Word document to employers, include keywords in the File, Properties, Summary and Keywords area to augment your keywords.

Do you have questions about using keywords successfully in your resume situation?  Click Here!


Photo: cambodia4kidsorg

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