How to Use Resume Keywords to Improve Your Job Application

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Because hiring managers often review large numbers of resumes, they may use an application tracking system (ATS) to detect specific keywords and determine whether a candidate is qualified for the role. Therefore, when you're applying for a job, it's important you know how to include resume keywords to capture the attention of a recruiter and ATS. Knowing how to identify keywords and phrase them correctly on your resume can help you pass the application process and secure a job interview. In this article, we review how to use resume keywords and provide some useful keyword-related tips.

What are resume keywords and why are they important?

Resume keywords are specific words or phrases that an employer or recruiter includes in a job advertisement to describe the skills, values, abilities, qualifications and experiences that they're searching for in a job candidate. You can typically find these in the job description section. Some other types of keywords a recruiter may scan for are:

  • university degree

  • trade licence or certificate

  • university name

  • industry-related jargon

  • previous employers

  • professional affiliations

Including keywords in your document is beneficial as recruiters may use advanced scanning software to search for resumes that use words that relate to the job's requirements. These tracking tools can also rank resumes according to keyword frequency. This means that, even if you're qualified for the position, including and correctly articulating suitable words and phrases can give your application an advantage.

Related: Your Online Career Coach: Advanced Job Search Tips to Get the Job

How to use resume keywords

Here's a list of steps that can help you learn how to use resume keywords when applying for a job:

1. Review the job description

Review the job description and highlight any words that relate to the skills, abilities or qualifications that the employer is looking for, as these are often the keywords for the position. For example, if you're applying for a teaching position, the job may advertise that the hiring school values parent involvement and is looking for a candidate with strong behaviour management strategies. From this description, the keywords are 'parent involvement' and 'behaviour management strategies'.

If you're finding it challenging to identify the keywords in a job post, there are free software programs online that you can download. With this software, you can scan a document and have it highlight all relevant keywords from the text.

Related: What are Applicant Tracking Systems? The Ultimate Guide

2. Use keyword variations

Although a job description can give you a general idea of what keywords to use, it can also be beneficial to include variations of identified keywords and phrases when possible. This is because employers may screen candidates' resumes for a variety of related keywords, so diversifying your descriptions of skills and experience can help your chances of a scanner choosing your resume out of a large group of applicants.

For example, a recruiter may search for someone with university qualifications, but they might not have incorporated abbreviations into their ATS. Therefore, if you state that you have a relevant B.Sc., also consider including the full phrase 'Bachelor of Science'. As another example, you might use the keyword 'classroom instruction' while also mentioning how you have experience providing direct and indirect instruction to different secondary classrooms. This covers the initial keyword and increases the chances of a scanner picking up other potential keywords on your resume, such as 'direct instruction' or 'indirect instruction'.

3. Add location-based keywords

If you're applying for a non-remote position, including your location is crucial for hiring managers. This is because it helps them determine instantly whether a candidate is within close enough proximity to the job site. Therefore, location-based keywords to include on your resume are the city and state in which you live, which it's best to list at the top of your document.

4. Focus on listing your hard skills

Recruiters may program their ATS to prioritise technical skills, as these allow an employer to determine whether a candidate possesses applicable training and can operate specific tools or software necessary for the job. Although soft skills, such as dependability and communication, are important, recruiters may prefer to assess these during an interview. It's still a good idea to include soft skills on your resume when appropriate, but consider making it your priority to list your hard skills in a way that matches the job's keywords. Here are some examples of keywords that describe hard skills:

  • database management

  • SEO/SEM marketing

  • A/B testing

  • programming languages

  • data presentation

  • PMP certification

  • strategic planning

  • photo composition

  • report writing

  • content management

Related: Examples of Hard Skills Employers Look for

Tips for using keywords on your resume

Here are some tips you may find helpful when including keywords on your resume:

Review similar job postings

By examining other job postings with the same job title you're applying for, you may identify new keywords that you can include on your resume. For example, try searching five to 10 job listings that match your professional experience and scan these documents to discover their keywords. You can typically find keywords under the 'responsibilities' and 'qualifications' sections of a job listing. With additional words, you can diversify your resume and potentially increase your chances of an ATS detecting your resume.

Explore the company's website

Looking through the website of the company you're applying for may help you identify keywords they've used to describe their core values. If you notice any overlap between your personal values and the organisation's, it can be beneficial to include these keywords in your resume summary or objective. This may capture a hiring manager's attention and show them you're a good fit for the business.

For example, you may be interested in applying for a marketing position and discover from the organisation's website that they hold customer service in high esteem. From this, you might write the following professional summary: Dependable customer service representative with five years of experience providing solutions to customer issues. Passionate about building customer engagement and improving brand loyalty.

Related: The Complete Guide to Researching a Company

Use education-related keywords

It's a great idea to use education-related keywords on your resume because recruiters may program tracking tools to prioritise a candidate's education. For this reason, consider listing your bachelor's degree, trade certificate or other relevant qualification and the field of study. If you haven't completed your degree or trade, it's still important to include it in your document. For example, you might write completed 20/25 units of Bachelor of Arts or majoring in communications and professional writing. Even if you haven't finished your study, listing it in this way allows you to still use the education-related keywords.

Be specific

Hiring managers may program their ATS to search for precise words and phrases when scanning candidate resumes, so it's important to be specific when you're expressing a former job title or job responsibility. For example, if you're applying for a hospitality position, rather than say 'hospitality professional', consider using the full job title, such as 'front desk representative'. You can determine the job title by reviewing the job advertisement.

Altering your tense and format choices so they match the specifics of the job advertisement is also important. This is because if you've written 'web design' on your resume and the ATS is searching specifically for 'web designer', it may not detect your document during the filtering process. The same can apply when describing a work-related experience. For example, you might have written Supervised a 15-person content creation team, but the job description uses the keyword 'supervisor experience'. You can correct this sentence to include the keyword by writing: Supervisor of a 15-person content creation team.

Spread keywords throughout your resume

To enhance the chances of a recruiter's ATS recognising your resume, use keywords in every part of your document. This includes your title, professional summary and experience, skills and education sections. Only using one or two keywords might not be enough for an ATS to pick out your document, so try aiming for more than 10 but fewer than 30. It's important not to exceed 30 keywords because tracking scanners might filter out your resume if it discovers too many in a single document.

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