Optimize Your Resume with Keywords

Regardless of how a resume is being submitted, it must be keyword rich to be effective.

Keywords and phrases reflect skills and experience necessary for the type of position and industry you are targeting. While an effective resume will include action verbs (e.g., develop, negotiate, analyze) for a human reviewer, keywords and phrases will play a crucial role when technology is used to select candidates.

Following are a few examples of keywords:

  • Job Titles
    Software Engineer, Purchasing Agent, Marketing Manager, Controller, Administrative Assistant, Account Manager, Program Director
  • Skills and Job Responsibilities
    Systems Analysis, Application Prototyping, Rapid Application Development (RAD), Market Research, Strategic Planning, New Product Launch, Cost Variance Reports (CVR), Data Entry, Accounts Payable and Receivable (AP/AR)
  • Education or Certification
    Certified Network Administrator, CNA, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Certified Public Accountant, CPA, Six Sigma Black Belt
  • Acronyms and Industry Terminology
    TCP/IP, C++, RAD; MRPII, Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Excel, Computer Assisted Audit Techniques, Computer Aided Audit Tools (CAATS), Computer Assisted Audit Tools and Techniques (CAATTs)

After resumes are scanned into applicant tracking systems, they will be searched and ranked. A hiring manager decides which keywords best identify the skills needed in a candidate for a particular position; typically the reviewer will have several keywords that are mandatory, and others that are desirable. Based upon those keywords, the system performs a search.

Resumes are ranked according to the number of keyword matches. Of those, resumes that have more of the desired keywords rank higher. Therefore, in addition to placing relevant keywords and phrases throughout the resume and cover letter, an extra Keyword Summary may maximize the effectiveness of your documents.

Note that it is not necessary to have a Keyword Summary if care has been given to using keywords in the Summary of Qualifications and throughout the resume. Also, as applicant-tracking technology becomes smarter (and more employers upgrade to smarter technology), different variations on keywords will not be as necessary. For example, one would not need to include Bachelor of Arts degree as well BA degree.

Keep in mind:

  1. The Keyword Summary provides an opportunity to include other variations of a keyword that may not fit in the scope of the resume.
  2. The more keywords you have, the greater the likelihood of ranking high. In search engine parlance, this is known as "keyword density."
  3. Keywords can be subjectively chosen by the resume reviewer, recruiter, or hiring manager; ensuring all possible keywords are included in your resume will help mitigate this challenge.

Follow these easy steps to create a Keyword Resume:

  1. Think about keywords in job titles, skills, and education that would be most important to someone looking for the type of position you are seeking.
  2. Take a highlighter to a printed version of your resume or use the highlighter in your Word Processor. Highlight all of the keywords that you find.
  3. Make a list of synonyms and all forms and tenses of your existing keywords, e.g., procurement, procured, purchasing, purchased, etc.
  4. From this list, and the existing keywords highlighted in your printed resume, create a Keyword Summary and place it between your qualifications summary and professional experience.
  5. Use common industry acronyms such as ISO or TCP/IP, in addition to spelling out common abbreviations.
  6. Separate keywords with commas or periods in the Keyword Summary. Capitalization is not typically a factor, so use what looks best.
  7. Look for opportunities to add additional keywords to other sections of your resume, including Job Responsibilities, Accomplishments, Education, and the Summary of Qualifications. Use different forms of keywords in different sections for maximum exposure.
  8. Look for similar opportunities to include keywords in your cover letter. (For more information on cover letter content, visit Expert Advice on Resumes.)

In summary, focus on nouns in the Keyword Summary but combine nouns with action verbs in the rest of the resume. Beyond the Keyword Summary, which is simply a list of keywords, use additional keywords in other parts of your resume that contextually make sense . Also include keywords in your cover letter. (For more information on cover letter content, visit Expert Advice on Resumes.)

Next, you need to prepare your keyword resume for the submission method.

* If you would like to submit your resume via an online database or e-mail, you will need an ASCII Resume.

Note: Some online databases provide a means to upload a MS Word document. Also, you may attach an MS Word document to an e-mail; however, some employers may not be able to receive attachments due to potential viruses.

* If you would like to build your personal brand, you will want to optimize your social media profile.

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