Resume Keywords: Create an ATS-Optimized Resume
Adjusting your resume to include keywords that are relevant to each job that you apply for can help your resume pass ATS scans and land you interviews. This article will cover what resume keywords are, how ATS scans work, and how to optimize your resume to pass scans and ultimately get you hired.
What Are Resume Keywords?
Resume keywords are the specific words or phrases that pertain to the requirements of a job. Most job postings will include several such keywords, and including those words and phrases in your resume when you apply for the job can significantly help your chances of scoring an interview.
Types of Resume Keywords
Resume keywords can include information like desired hard and soft skills, credentials, certifications, experience, abilities, and so forth. The goal of using resume keywords is to immediately show hiring managers and ATS software that you are qualified for the job by addressing as many of the desired characteristics as possible.
What is an ATS Scan?
Many companies now use applicant tracking system (ATS) software to pre-scan all resumes that are submitted before they ever make it into the hiring manager's hands. The ATS software accepts or rejects a resume based on how it compares to the job requirements and qualifications that the employer has plugged into the system.
If your resume passes the ATS scan, it will then be sent on to an actual person, who will likely spend an average of only about 7 seconds reading your resume. So, those keywords are equally important for grabbing and holding the hiring manager’s attention, and convincing them that you are qualified for the job.
Should You Include Resume Keywords?
It is highly recommended to include resume keywords and target your resume to each job posting, since doing so greatly increases your chances of passing an ATS scan.
On average, ATS software rejects around 75% of resumes - usually because those applications do not not include resume keywords and they have not been tailored to the specific job requirements.
Although it takes a little bit of extra time to ATS-optimize your resume by including keywords, it can make the difference between your resume getting immediately rejected before a human even reads it and you landing an interview.
How To Create an ATS-Optimized Resume
Now, here’s how to find and use resume keywords successfully:
Identify Keywords in the Job Description
First, read the job posting carefully to find specific keywords to target. These words and phrases will likely be sprinkled throughout the posting, but they are usually concentrated in the ‘qualifications’ and ‘responsibilities’ sections. Keywords can be both job-related as well as action verbs like ‘manage,’ ‘advise,’ or ‘direct.’
For example, the highlighted words in the virtual teacher job description below are good keywords to target in a resume:
- State certified K-12 teacher with 3+ years of experience
- Experience developing curriculums, creating assignments, and grading
- 2+ years of experience in desired subject area
- Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite, Google Suite, and Zoom
- Ability to learn new systems and technology quickly
- Possess computer, webcam, high-speed internet, and phone
- Ability to virtually communicate with students, parents, school administrators, and others
Use The Same Language as the Job Description
Be sure to use the company name in your resume objective or resume summary. Additionally, mirror the exact language that the job ad uses, from the specific job title to the way they refer to college degrees. For example, if the employer desires a candidate with a ‘Bachelor’s Degree,’ write out that you have a ‘Bachelor’s Degree in XYZ’ rather than saying you hold a ‘B.S. in XYZ.’ Small details like this will help your resume get through the initial ATS scan.
When it comes to job titles, it is acceptable to rephrase your past job titles to match the job ad, so long as doing so does not imply that you held a higher position or are more experienced than you really are. So, if your current job title is ‘Client Success Agent’ and the job posting asks for experience as a ‘Customer Service Representative,’ you can and should mirror that language on your resume.
Include Industry-Specific Keywords
You can also include keywords that are specific to your industry, even if they aren’t mentioned in the job description. Using these extra keywords will make your resume feel more authentic and will make it clear that you haven’t just copied and pasted all the keywords from the job description - that can be a red flag for employers. So, choose a few industry-specific keywords that are not in the job description to round out your resume.
Examples of Industry-Specific Keywords
Here are some examples of industry-specific keywords for a few popular fields:
Teaching and Education
- Individualized learning
- Lesson planning
- Verbal communication
- Written communication
IT, Digital Design, and Programming
- Ad creation/design/analysis
- Application technology
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Banner advertisement
- Business support systems (BSS)
- C++ programming
- Certificate authority
- Cloud computing
- Data mining/gathering/controller
- Database management
- Digital marketing
- End-user support
- Graphic design
- Information security/technology
- Intellectual property rights (IPR)
- MS SQL
- Network administration
- Open source technology
- Product lifecycle development
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Software engineering/development
- Systems administration/configuration/deployment
- Technical support
- Web-based technology
- Attention to detail
- Banquet operations
- Central reservation system (CRS)
- Customer service
- Event coordination
- Food and beverage
- Front desk operations
- Guest relations/retention/services
- Hospitality management
- Human resources
- Kitchen operations
- Menu planning
- Property management
- Resort management
- Revenue projections
Marketing and Business
- Account management
- Adobe creative suite
- Business intelligence
- Brand associations/awareness/salience
- Business analysis/continuity/development/plans/strategy
- Client services
- Content management system (CMS)
- Customer service
- Data analysis/collection/entry/management
- Digital marketing
- Inventory management
- Key performance indicators (KPI)
- Market research
- Product management
- Quality assurance/control/management
- Sales management
- Supply chain management
- Workflow management
- Average response time
- Caseload management
- Emergency treatment
- Hospital procedure
- Intensive care unit
- Nurse practitioner
- Nursing staff
- Outpatient care
- Patient care procedures
- Satisfaction surveys
Be Honest With Your Keywords
Of course, make sure that all resume keywords you include actually apply to you. Falsifying or misrepresenting your skills and experience is never a good way to start off your employment, and it could lead to trouble if/when the employer finds out. Instead, select only the keywords that you can back up with facts and quantified data.
If you find that most of the keywords in a job description do not apply to you, you may just want to move on to the next job opening.
Resume Keywords to Avoid
While you do want to include plenty of relevant, accurate keywords on your resume, be careful not to overdo it. Avoid using too many cliched buzzwords (like ‘hard-working,’ ‘unparalleled,’ etc.), bragging (don’t claim to be ‘the best’ at something), and jargon that might be difficult for a hiring manager to understand.
Additionally, avoid including keywords that indicate you are overqualified for the job. For example, unless you are applying to a very high-level parallel position, avoid using words like ‘founder,’ ‘entrepreneur,’ ‘CEO,’ or ‘owner.’ If you are applying to a lower level position, employers might wonder if you can handle reporting to someone else after previously being the top boss.
Where To Include Your Resume Keywords
Your keywords should be scattered throughout your entire resume, including your resume headline, resume summary or objective, work experience section, education section, and skills section. You can even tailor optional sections like hobbies and interests with a few well-placed keywords.
Include synonyms and multiple versions of the most important keywords to avoid redundancy and help your resume pass an ATS scan in case the company uses particular versions of keywords.
You may even want to create a ‘core competencies’ section at the top of your resume and highlight some of the most crucial keywords there. That way, it’s much harder for a hiring manager to miss them.
Include resume keywords to help your resume pass ATS scans and grab the attention of hiring managers, making it immediately obvious that you are qualified for the job. Find resume keywords by reading the job posting carefully and include some industry-specific keywords as well to flesh out your resume.
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