Searching through all those online job ads can be time-consuming and tedious. Most often, after you’ve submitted your resume, you’ll receive a standard ‘We’ve received your application’ email and then nothing beyond that.
Sometimes your resume makes it through to a hiring manager and sometimes it doesn’t. Usually, this is because the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) system has rejected your resume, so it’s never seen. Resumes are often initially rejected because the resume doesn’t have the right keywords to match what’s in the ATS. Just like in Internet searches, keywords play a significant role in resume results.
Beating the ATS system and getting your resume in front of hiring managers isn't just a matter of inserting just any keywords into your resume. You’ll want to glean the right keywords from the job descriptions for which you’re going to apply. But, what are the right keywords and how do you find them? Here are a few tips and best practices to help you uncover the keywords to include in your resume and gain the best advantage.
Gather more than one job description
Typically, a single job description can be enough to use for keywords, but to increase your chances of making it past the ATS system; you’ll want to include multiple keywords in your resume. To begin, find a job description with the same title from another company. Then, discover two or three additional job postings. Compare each job description carefully to find common keywords and to pull out the keywords that are most relevant to each position.
For instance, if you’re seeking a job in sales, some keywords that would accurately fit that career focus would be:
- Sales Proficiency
- Strategic Targeting Plan
- Sales Forecasts
- Aggressive Strategy
- Team Building
- Increase Revenue
- Customer-Focused Selling
This list is not exhaustive, and it’s not geared toward a specific sales job, thus making these keywords still too broad to use on their own. To make sure you're targetting your specific niche, you’ll want to include keywords to help you focus. For instance, since there are sales jobs in multiple industries, you will want to include keywords that target the industry where you have the most experience and where you want to continue working. Some examples include:
- Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
- Life Insurance Sales Agent
- Digital Media Salesperson
- Software Salesperson
See the difference? Each of these individual careers will have keywords geared toward sales and also matching the specific industry that requires a specific knowedge base.
Locate the Hard Skills
Some people want to include words such as “team player” or “detail-oriented” in their resumes. However, most professional resume writers caution against using such words because they’re not quantifiable. These are known as “soft skills,” and most often are used in the cover letter or career summary instead of the resume body. The majority of recruiters won’t initially look for soft skills; they look for hard skills first.
When checking over job descriptions, search for keywords that highlight the hard skills you have mastered that will make you particularly valuable for the types of jobs you're seeking. Things like software skills, particular tool knowledge relevant to the position, desired technical abilities, titles, and credentials are the right types keywords to use when highlighting your hard skills.
Pare Down Your List
Once you’ve worked through several job descriptions and pulled out the most relevant keywords to highlight your hard skills and your most desired experience, your list probably will probably have as many as 20 or 30 keywords, including some that may be duplicated. Don’t worry; you’re not going to include all those keywords in your final resume.
At this point, take some time to pare down your list based by:
- Deleting repeated words
- Comparing similar words to choose the strongest keywords
- Choosing more specific keywords over general keywords
Next, highlight key soft skills to use in your cover letter or career summary. Examples of soft skills include, self-motivation, collaboration, problem-solving, and similar important, qualitative information that describes how you work more that what work you do. The rule of thumb when using keywords is to focus primarily on hard skills in your main resume content and add a sprinkle of soft skills in your career summary.
Stuffing your resume with keywords will make your resume a jumble of unintelligable claims that don't tell your story. Instead of filling your resume with lists of keywords, whittle down your list to about 10 to 15 of the most relevant keywords that accurately reflect who you are and what you have to offer.
In an effort to game the ATS programs, some people have tried including as many keywords as possible by hiding them in their resumes in white-colored font faces and small type. However tempting it may be to try to get attention, these practices are not helpful as they defeat the purpose of correct keyword usage. The goal of using keywords is to make your resume more relevant to the roles you're seeking while telling your unique story. Be sure the keywords you use are included as part of your naturally sounding language and not scattered awkwardly throughout your resume.
Bonus: Easiest Way to Pull out Keywords
It can take a long time to find the right keywords and figure out which to keep and which to dump. In addition, you need to separate the keywords you'll use in your resume from the keywords you use in your cover letter. To save time, there’s a simple method to use to pull out the appropriate keywords.
Instead of locating keywords manually, using online word cloud programs allow you to effectively pull out the appropriate keywords you need for your resume. A good one to use is TagCrowd. Simply copy and paste the job description into the word art program and click “Visualize!”.
The words that appear in your word cloud results are the keywords found most commonly throughout the job description. The largest words are the most repeated keywords; the second-largest are second most repeated keywords, and so on. Of course, you still have to connect keywords accordingly, but this makes the task of searching through the job descriptions a lot easier.
Include these keywords throughout your resume, and remember to follow three key guidelines:
- Avoid keyword stuffing and write them naturally into your sentences.
- Leave soft skill keywords for your cover letter and sprinkle a few throughout your career summary.
- Do not hide keywords in your resume by adding them at the top or bottom in small font size or in white type color.
Having solid, relevant keywords in your resume will increase your chances of being seen and landing an interview.