Resume 101: How to use keywords

Can your resume pass a recruiter’s test? What about a robot’s? Use the right keywords and send your resume to the front of the stack.

Resume 101: How to use keywords

Resume keywords can help you pass a recruiter’s test.

When you think “keywords,” you probably think “SEO” (search engine optimization)—and you’re right. Keywords are search terms that help people find what they’re looking for online. But in the job search world, resume keywords help recruiters find you.

Just like smart websites use the right keywords to make sure people find them in Google or other search engines, smart job seekers sprinkle keywords throughout a resume to make sure their resume is found when a recruiter searches for a specific job candidate, or someone with very specific skills.   

Recruiters use software that acts like resume keyword scanners (applicant tracking systems) to find you—and those ATS “robots” use keywords to process and sort resumes.

So how do you know what resume keywords to use? And what’s the best way use them without it looking like keywords just vomited all over the page (or screen)? These five tips will get you ready to refresh your resume, so you’ll have a much better chance of getting found—for the right job.

Use the job ad as your guide

The first place to find keywords to use in your resume is the job ad. If they say they’re looking for an experienced professional who can manage a sales pipeline, use that phrase “manage a sales pipeline” (assuming you have done that before!). Use words and phrases directly from the job description to tailor your resume to a specific job.

Be as specific as you can

Recruiters need do know exactly what you’ve done, so words like “marketing” and “accounting” are too broad. Get specific because recruiters will search using specific terms, not always general ones. They need to know who you are and what you can offer. Maybe try keywords like “head of market research,” “digital media recruiter,” or “accounts receivable.”

Sprinkle keywords throughout

Keywords should be used throughout your resume, and not just in your resume title and the skills section. If you do include a keyword in your skills section, make sure that skill shows up elsewhere. Using a keyword only once can be a red flag to applicant tracking systems.

Add them to your current and target job titles, location, summary, and experience, plus any professional licenses you may have.

Use resume keywords in context

Don’t just group all of your keywords into a list. Provide context. Use the keyword as a lead to an achievement. For example, a social media savvy job seeker might say, Instagram: Leveraged social media to market company brand, increasing followers by 10,000.

Don’t go overboard

At the same time, don’t be an over-achiever trying to cram as many keywords as possible into your resume. Remember, once your resume gets past the computer, a human will eventually be grading it.

Check your spelling

Those resume keyword scanners are pretty smart—but they can’t find misspelled words, so make sure to check your spelling extra-carefully before hitting “submit.”

Call in the pros

Resume keywords are especially important—they can mean the difference between rising to the top of the pile and getting lost in a black hole. Want to make sure your resume is optimizing the right keywords? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It's a quick and easy way to boost your chances of getting the attention of hiring managers.