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Written by Anna MuckermanAnna Muckerman

Resume keywords

18 min read
Resume keywords
Artwork by:Liza Gagarina
Resume keywords aren’t just trendy buzzwords thrown around in HR blogs. In today’s competitive job market, resume keywords are essential to getting your application past automated gatekeepers (known as Applicant Tracking Systems) and into the hands of human hiring managers.

Did you know that even if you’ve spent hours crafting an error-free resume full of all your experience, skills and career goals, there’s still a 75 percent chance that your perfect resume is never read by a human being?

It all boils down to resume keywords.

In the chapters below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about these pesky (yet ultra important!) job keywords, including:

  • The definition of a resume keyword
  • Where to find resume keywords
  • The best place to incorporate job keywords on your resume
  • Examples of top CV keywords in each industry.

What are resume keywords?

Resume keywords are specific words and phrases that are sought after by both automated resume scanners and hiring managers looking for the most qualified candidates. When it comes to online application systems, the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software acts as a buffer between your resume submission and the hiring manager. 

In companies where recruiting departments receive hundreds or thousands of resumes, this is the only way to streamline the process and filter out supposedly unfit candidates. These resume keywords can be related to the industry or the position and often include specific skills and experiences. You can also read our blog for cv buzzwords

Expert tip

Do employers really trust the ATS to do its job? Imagine you are an employer and you have 100 applications for a role. The ATS will do a basic check for each resume and most have advanced AI software than can pick up on the subtleties of a candidate's experience. If you don't include sufficient keywords you only have yourself to blame. Few hiring managers will go through the rejected resumes to double check.

What are keywords when applying for a job?

Given the competition in modern hiring, ATS keywords (Applicant Tracking System keywords) are an important consideration when applying for a job. A single opening can often draw more than 200 candidates, so to quickly narrow down the field, hiring managers employ Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS. ATS algorithms are built into many of the most commonly used online application portals like Greenhouse, Taleo and iCISM. 

The ATS checks resumes for keywords, ranks them against one another and filters out any candidates who don’t rank high enough. In the end, a hiring manager only has to evaluate a small fraction of the resumes that were submitted, saving the company time and money.

Statistical insight

According to a recent survey by Criteria, 75 percent of hiring managers say they are either currently using an ATS or plan to use one in the future. Job keywords aren’t going anywhere soon!

What words are employers looking for in resumes?

Employers are looking for keywords for resume skills that signal the ideal candidate for the role. Job description keywords make it easier for them to hire the right people quickly and efficiently. Including resume keywords and phrases is one of the best things you can do to get past the ATS, but don’t forget that the ultimate goal is to have your resume read by a human. Make sure your CV keywords don’t distract from the overall readability of your resume by incorporating them naturally throughout.

Make sure that you include their versions of industry phrases and terminology. There is nothing like showing yourself as an outsider if you speak like one.

Where to find resume keywords?

When it comes to finding keywords to use in a resume, the job description is your #1 place to go. Think of the job description as a little window into the company’s needs and priorities. See a word that’s repeated several times? That’s likely a CV keyword. As is any skill that’s bolded or otherwise emphasized.

Expert tip

When you do identify keywords, make sure to incorporate them using the exact language and correct spelling from the job description. For example, if the job application asks for experience with “recruiting for diversity,” you’ll want to use that phrasing instead of an alternative like “diversity recruitment.”

Read the job description several times to make sure you haven’t overlooked any important qualifications, which are often a source of ATS keywords. The job posting’s responsibilities section is also a great source of action verbs which can be woven into your experience section to show that you’d already mastered the skills needed for your potential position.

You can also check out how the employer brand material that is shared on social media and understand how the HR department (in particular) talk about the business. Subtle variations in language from business to business are common, so don't assume that your workplace lexicon will be shared.

How to use keywords?

Once you’ve identified the most important resume keywords and phrases, you can begin to incorporate them throughout your resume. Never force keywords into places they don’t make sense or include them even if they don’t match your experience. The ATS might not pick up on CV keyword tricks, but even little lies will likely cause a hiring manager to drag your resume straight into the desktop trash can.

Expert tip

Don’t forget to customize your resume before you submit. The company name is often an important keyword that should be incorporated into your resume summary (also known as a resume profile) whenever possible. And it’s not just the ATS that will appreciate specific job description keywords – as long as they read naturally and are true for your experience, a hiring manager will notice the effort you put into tailoring your resume for the position.

So how do you optimize your resume for keywords?

Make sure to include keywords for the resume scanners in every section of your resume, paying special attention to your summary and skills section. For example, if the job description asks for “3+ years experience in graphic design,” those are great resume buzzwords that can easily be incorporated in your summary (as long as it’s accurate for your experience).

Keywords for resume skills often come in the form of computer programs or specialized processes for your industry. If you’ve included a more general name elsewhere on your resume, you can include more specific software in the skills section if both are mentioned in the job description. For example, a medical receptionist may write “Adept at organizing patient files using EHR software” in the experience section, and then include the specific program name MEDIHEALTH in the skills section.

Expert tip

Don’t forget education! In some professions, a bachelors or masters degree are essential resume material. When adding these degrees to your education section, make sure to write the abbreviations (or lack thereof) exactly as you see them in the job description.

Formatting your job keywords

Not only is it important that job keywords be included in your resume, they also need to be formatted so that the ATS can easily find them. Here are three tips for formatting your keywords for resume scanners:

  1. Use a common font: The ATS may struggle to understand unusual or scripted fonts and therefore your keywords will go overlooked. Some of the most common font choices for resumes include Georgia, Helvetica and Arial – styles that are both easy on the ATS and human eyes.
  2. Create a clean layout: Your resume should follow a logical order starting with your summary and moving into education or work history next. If bits and pieces are scattered throughout the page, the ATS won’t know where to look. A resume template can help make organization easier.
  3. Label your sections correctly: While it may be tempting to get creative with section headers, resume scanners likely won’t be able to tell that “professional pathways” is actually your “employment history” section. Make sure to use names that both the robots and human readers expect.
  4. Save your resume in the right file type: Most online application systems tell you exactly which file types their resume scanners are optimized for. If the portal asks for a PDF or Docx file (the two most common types), make sure to save your resume in either of the formats and check the file yourself for any formatting issues before you submit.
Expert tip

With all those keywords taking up space, you may be wondering can a resume be two pages?

While it may seem tempting to spill onto a second page, unless you are a world-renowned, 40-year career veteran, there’s hardly ever a good reason to create a resume longer than one page. Hiring managers prefer to read a concise experience section that still shows off your strong points. A 10 point font size may help you conserve space, but make sure to avoid cramming your resume with too much text.

Good keywords to use for a resume

Good keywords for a resume depend on your industry, the employer and the role. That’s why you’ll want to customize your resume with specific keywords for each job application. A general resume is a great jumping off point to help you apply faster, as long as you don’t forget the job description keywords before you submit.

  • repeat keywords an unnatural amount of times
  • include keywords in underlying white text just to beat the ATS
  • force keywords that are not true for your experience
Expert tip

Do not include a list of keywords in a small white (invisible) font. Some enterprising candidates think that if keywords are to pass the ATS test, they why not include them in a tiny white font that is invisible to a hiring manager but visible to the ATS? This is sure to backfire and will show you up s someone who cuts corners. The ATS may store the resume in a different format that could show up your cheating ways.... don't do it.

Resume keywords list

Below you’ll find the top 5 resume keywords for a job search (and online resume application) in more than two dozen industries:

Medical:  case management, chronic care, continuity of care, grant administration, preventative medicine
Engineering:  3D modeling, development cycle, project costing, qualitative analysis, regulatory compliance
Accounting & Finance:  cost accounting, cost/benefit analysis, financial planning, operating budgets, risk management
Marketing: analytics, brand management, competitive analysis, market launch, trade marketing
Government: campaign, community outreach, policy development, public relations, strategic planning
Administrative: budget administration, confidentiality, regulatory reporting, staff development, workflow planning and prioritization
Education:  field instruction, holistic learning, individualized education, job placement, program development
Hospitality & Catering:  food preparation, food safety, front-of-house, point of sale, vendor sourcing
Information technology:  AI, data recovery, machine learning, network administration, systems configuration
Human resources: change management, electronic applicant screening, equal opportunity, negotiations, performance incentives
Sales: customer retention, direct sales, incentive planning, market positioning, sales forecasting
Transportation: business travel, equipment control, route planning, safety, ticketing
Transport & Logistics: Supply chain, dispatch operations, driver leasing, port operations, hazmat
Real Estate: competitive bidding, preventative maintenance, project development, property management, site development
Social Work:  behavioral, compliance, grant writing, disability, crisis
Business & Management:  business development, financial management, long-term planning, market development, performance standards
Construction:  code compliance, commercial development, environmental compliance, foreman, residential
Beauty & Wellness:  licensed, cosmetology, trends, salon management, massage
Sport & Fitness:  nutrition, client satisfaction, individualized, holistic, results
Other: Adobe, commission, portfolio, residency, web design
Legal: administrative law, juris doctor, legal advocacy, legislative review, mediation
Retail: account management, benchmarks, customer retention, inventory control, loss prevention
Security & Protective Services: asset protection, corporate security, covert operations, crime prevention, crisis communications
Production: distribution management, fleet management, health and safety, load analysis, workflow optimization
Maintenance & Repair: electrical systems, HVAC, mechanics, troubleshooting, wiring

Remember that to land that interview you have to get on the good side of both the Applicant Tracking System software AND the human recruiter or hiring manager. Make sure you hit those keywords but retain the organic feel of your resume text. With the knowledge you received in this guide, it should already be a much easier task. Good luck and may your job hunt be smooth and successful!

Resume, résumé or resumé: Is this word spelled with accents or not?
Related article
Resume, résumé or resumé: Is this word spelled with accents or not?

Sooner or later you may face the burning question: How in l’enfer do you spell resume, résumé and/or resumé? Do you need two accents, one accent or none at all? And if so, why? Zut alors, so many choices!

Key Takeaways

If you write a resume from the heart, putting your most suitable experience at the center of your application, the keywords will flow naturally. It does make sense to double check the job description for anything that you may have missed, but for the most part your resume should sound natural. Keyword stuffing is artificial and can make it seem that you have something to hide - by all means play the game, but be subtle about it.

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