Tuning Your Resume to the Right Keywords

At large companies, recruiters rely on a computer program called an applicant tracking system that stores and filters resumes to find the best candidates for a job. To make the match, ATS software relies on keywords – words and phrases that tell the program a candidate is a good match for a specific job description. Just as search engines like Google use keywords to find the right Web pages, ATS software uses keywords to find the right resumes.

How Employers Use Keywords

While they can’t guess the exact keywords recruiters are using, resume writers try to find the likeliest possibilities for your industry and function.

Where do you find the right keywords to include in your resume? Professional resume writers recommend you start with the job posting, which will contain a description of duties and qualifications. The ATS will try to match as many of the words in the job posting to the words on your resume. The more matches, the better the fit and the better the chances you will get an interview.

Repeated words, section headings and specific terms comprise good candidates for keyword selection. Also look at similar job postings as a cross-reference to find the most likely candidates for keywords. Recruiters and headhunters can often guide you. Online and print publications also include guides for keyword research.

Other sources of keyword research:

1. Go to Web sites that represent companies and associations related to the candidate’s target industry in search of other buzzwords.

2. Search LinkedIn profiles of users who have similar jobs to see what keywords they’re using.

3. Go to association Web sites to see what keywords other industry professionals have used.

While you’re researching keywords, keep a master list to make sure the important words are represented in your resume when you apply for specific jobs.

The specific words employers seek relate to the skills and experiences that demonstrate your experience with the skills necessary to do the job. Both hard and soft skills will fall in this category. Industry- and job-specific skills are almost always included in keyword lists. Highly technical fields can also include specific jargon or terms that demonstrate subject expertise. Job titles, certifications, types of degrees, college names and company names also demonstrate an applicant’s qualifications. Awards and professional organizations can also be considered strong keywords.

Ultimately, job hunters should ask themselves, “What keywords would I use if I were writing this job description?”

Matthew Rothenberg is editor-in-chief of TheLadders.com, the premier Web site for online job listings for $100K+ jobs, resume writing tips and resume advice.

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