How to Choose the Right Keywords for Your Resume

You may be aware that keywords are used by websites to improve their position in search engine page ranks, but did you realize that more and more employers are using keywords to screen resumes? Using the ability of optical character recognition and intelligent resume information extraction, employers are letting their computers do the first screening so their human workforce has fewer resumes to work their way through.

Even if the only screening is a human hiring manager, that hiring manager is going to be scanning for keywords in your resume. Only if those keywords appear will the resume get a thorough review. Without the right keywords, the resume won't secure an interview. Instead, it will hit the reject can.

Learning how to choose the right keywords to include in your resume is vital.

The question is "How do I choose the right keywords"

Take a careful look at the job posting. Job postings that you find online are going to have key phrases scattered throughout the posting. Some of the keywords will be related to the job itself. These are the nouns (You know those words that describe people, places and things). Yet others will be found in the verbs the posting uses.

Choosing keywords describing skills

The keywords that describe the skills for the position are the ones that will get you noticed by a computer. Always remember that it isn't the quantity you use, but the quality of the keywords that matter. Make sure that the keywords you choose are related to the jobs you are applying for.

There are two types of skills keywords. Credential/experience keywords and general skills keywords. Credential/experience keywords focus on the key skills for the industry or profession you are writing the resume for. For example, a nurse would use keywords relating to the certifications he or she has earned. An auto mechanic would use keywords relating to the diagnostic equipment he or she knows how to use and certifications he or she has earned.

These credential/experience skills keywords are known as "hard skills" for the industry—the things you must know in order to do the job. They will include typical job titles within the industry, industry buzzwords, awards that are recognized in the industry, etc.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics "Occupational Outlook Handbook" is an excellent resource for identifying the credential/experience keywords that you should use for your industry. Another resource is to actually search for jobs using the keywords you have selected. See what you find. It will be a good indicator as to whether you are choosing the right words to use in your resume.

General skills keywords are not industry specific. Typical keywords include computer skills, management, bilingual, multitasking, public speaking, teaching, outside sales, verbal/written communication skills, organizational skills, leadership, training, and interpersonal skills. These keywords capture attention, enticing the reader to check into the information that follows. These keywords may also be programmed into the computer, especially if one of these skills is a requisite to consideration for the job.

Computer skills are usually one of the most important skills to reflect on a resume. Be careful to represent your skills honestly. Don't claim to have more skill than you have. It is far better to claim you learn quickly than to claim you already have a specific computer skill when you don't.

Choosing keywords showing you in action

The verbs you use to describe what you've accomplished in your previous work experiences are the keywords that attract the human hiring manager. Action verbs show you doing the job. You "balanced" the budget, you "capitalized" on the economic downturn.

Some action keywords are so overused that you should avoid them. Sparked, accelerated, and streamlined are among the three words abused the most. If your work experience pertains to processes, then using a word like streamlined may very well be appropriate. Just take care to avoid overusing catchall words.

Keyword phrases can also be overused. "Track record of success" and "Introduced new products" are pretty worn out. "Team player" is even more abused. You can express the same idea, using different words. Demonstrate the track record with examples. What were the results of the new product introductions? Express your team commitment more creatively.

Your goal in choosing keywords and keyword phrases for both your computer and human audience is to keep both happy. Make sure your efforts to please the computer don't end up creating wording that mangles the English language. Ultimately, while you may have to impress a computer first, you will be dealing with real people. They will be the decision makers, so keep your resume focused on making the right impression for your real audience.