UPDATED ON 4/5/2022
It’s a well-known fact that keywords reinforces tailoring, so it will do a lot of good to understand how to use the different types properly.
A couple weeks ago, I released my article on how to add more numbers into your resume.
Now, let’s turn to the other side of the coin. Words.
With data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence running amuck, it comes as no surprise that Applicant Tracking Systems aka ATS has led to a pandemic of keyword anxiety.
Too little and we won’t match the job description enough to pass the computer.
Too much and we would be suspected of copy-and-pasting or keyword stuffing.
At the same time, statistics show that ATS would rank a resume higher if the same keyword appears seven times. But if you were the recruiter, wouldn’t you be annoyed or suspicious if you keep reading the same words? A whole lot do.
So what are we to do?
In this article, I have distinguished the four types of keywords I have found in job descriptions and the strategies for when to used them on a resume.
1. Words That Can Appear in Any Job Description (aka Buzzwords)
Buzzwords, or words that appear on resumes so much that they get a label, have a bad rap.
Google the internet for “resume buzzwords” and you’ll find list after list of them along with advice to absolutely trash them.
But why should we when companies do not hold that same standard on their job descriptions? We as candidates would be tossed out if we don’t use them, wouldn’t we?
So I say use them, but try to use them once. Maybe twice. But be more mindful when using more, let alone seven.
Include them in beginning overview section and also add them once in the experience section. Beyond that, do your best to incorporate other more active, specific, and descriptive words within your accomplishments to demonstrate how you relate to those buzzwords.
For example, communication. It has popped up in so many job descriptions and resumes that I consider it a buzzword.
“Excellent written and verbal communication.”
That really irks me.
Firstly, if I were a recruiter, I can already tell if a candidate has good written communication based on the resume. And if that passes, I can tell if a candidate has good verbal communication during the interview.
Secondly, there are a number of different types of communication. Direct. Indirect. Persuasion. Negotiation. Delegation. Education.
There are also different methods of communication. Email. Phone. In-person. Zoom.
So don’t just say you’re a great communicator. Show people exactly how and why you should be called a great communicator.
The possibilities are limitless, so don’t confine yourself to one buzzword.
2. Words That Mean Practically the Same Thing (aka Synonyms)
As a techie myself, I know we are guilty of this.
One too many tech resumes repeat the word “develop” all over the place. Developer (which is unavoidable since it’s a title). Developed. Developing. Development. And all the other verb tenses of the word.
Even if the word is a keyword, this gets repetitive — and worse, boring — for the recruiter to read.
This is when the thesaurus is your friend.
Look up “develop” and it will come up with:
Or perhaps “create” or “design” would be better words depending on what you mean by “develop”.
The point is…there are words out there that practically mean the same thing as the word you have been constantly using. In fact, there may be more active and more specific words to describe your accomplishments. These improvements help you showcase your best work rather than tell people what you are good at, making a more exciting read.
3. Words That Are Used by the Industry or Discipline
Now we’re really getting deep.
These keywords are your technical jargon that only people familiar with your field would know. Job descriptions that are in the same or similar category often have these words.
And these are the words you want to include in your master resume.
How do you find them?
- Pick out three (3) to four (4) job descriptions that sparks your interest. It doesn’t matter when they are posted. You do not actually have to apply to these.
- Print them out or save them as PDFs.
- Highlight all the words that you consider keywords.
- At this point, I also save these words in an Excel spreadsheet to be used in the future.
- Once you are done with highlighting all the descriptions, you will start to see which words are most commonly used by everybody to describe the job you want.
When you first start highlighting the keywords in the job descriptions, it may feel overwhelming because it looks like the entire description has turned neon yellow. However, the more descriptions you read, the narrower your list becomes and the more you understand which traits are valued in the positions you want.
Afterwards, do your best to integrate those keywords into your resume, but only include those that most resonate with you. You want to be able to speak to them during the interview.
So if, for instance, one of the keywords you highlight is “fast-paced environments” and you know you are not great at it, then why concentrate on that one keyword when the focus can be on other more relatable ones?
Resumes are value real estate, so make sure to include keywords that are valuable to you and the company.
4. Words That Are Specific to the Job Description
Putting industry and discipline jargon take cares of more than half the tailoring battle.
Now comes the other half.
When you find a job description that you want to actually apply to, you may find keywords that are specific to that position. Words that you will normally not find in descriptions.
These are likely words that are unique to the company, department, or project.
These words go on your tailored resume.
The process for finding these specific keywords is the same as finding industry jargon except it is done with the job description that you truly are applying to.
Find out which ones you can absolutely speak to and add them in.
But remember, this is for that one job. if you were to apply to a similar role at the different company, ask yourself, “If I say this word to other companies, will they understand what I am talking about?” If the answer you come up with is no, take them out and use more common terms to describe your experiences.
As much as we despise spending hours to tailoring our resumes to the jobs every time we apply, it is the norm these days.
One of the best ways to impress prospective bosses is to make their jobs easier for them, and what better way to start than making the resume easy for them to read?
Until the day comes when the resume becomes obsolete, possibly the only way to make an online job application easy for the readers to match your credentials to the positions they need to fill is to create a resume that includes keywords written in their job descriptions.
However, the caveat is to find the sweet spot. Not too little. Not too much.
So my advice for finding the sweet spot? Only use the keywords that ring true for you. The ones that reverberate your story. If the job description mentions “vendor management” but you barely have any experience doing so, then find another term that you do have experience with and can develop a story. And the more these keywords you have, the better. That’s what you bring with you to the interview.
I have three methods for finding keywords that will optimize your keyword efforts. Book your free consultation to find out.