Today, jobseekers are not completely helpless when it comes to their hunt for the job of their dreams or, at least, the most suitable job for their skills and abilities. While it is true that job-hunting still proves to be quite a challenge for most, there are now a lot of ways and means available to jobseekers and recruiters alike to make the process somewhat easier.

In the past, before the internet changed how the game is played, the only places where jobseekers can find job postings were newspapers, magazines and similar publications, as well as various broadcast media. Now, with just a few clicks, a jobseeker can find possible job openings that may interest them. Recruiters are also able to reach more candidate possibilities.

Also, in the past, the main tool used by applicants is their resume or CV. Today, they can also make use of their social media presence and online personalities to strengthen their case and increase their appeal to the recruiters. Not only that, the way resumes are crafted these days has become more flexible, so that the applicant can tailor it to fit the position he is applying for.

Clearly, jobseekers have no idea how much power they have in their ability to find a job. Many of them are unaware that they have the tools right in front of them and, even if they do, they don’t know how to use them.

Take keywords, for instance. We often hear how “keywords” play a very important role in fields such as linguistics, cryptography and computer programming. We also hear it mentioned often when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and increasing traffic for websites. But did you know that keywords can also be very useful tools in your job search?

Best Resume Keywords to Use in Your Job Search

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In this guide, we explore 1) the role of keywords in job search, 2) categories of keywords you need to know, and 3) the best keywords to use in your resume.


Resume keywording came into prominence when customization became the norm in the preparation of resumes. The use of keywords started out partly to aid recruiters and hiring managers, especially those who have to wade through piles and piles of resumes on a regular basis to screen applicants that are qualified to get that phone call for a job interview. With the introduction of the ATS and its increasing use, resume keywording has now become a must.

Meet the ATS

ATS, or Applicant Tracking Systems, are software applications designed to handle and manage the recruitment process electronically, and subsequently storing the information gathered. With the ability to sort through and scan hundreds and even thousands of resumes, it can help streamline the entire recruitment and hiring process, cutting down the time, effort and resources put into it by companies looking to hire workers and employees. It aids in the identification of applicants or candidates that are considered to be the best fit for the job or position being filled.

From the point of view of the hiring managers or recruiters, not only does the usage of ATS help them identify the potential best candidates for the open position, it also facilitates the weeding out of unqualified applicants, saving them a lot of grief. Cumming Corporation’s talent acquisition director Scott Weaver stated that only 15% to 20% of applicants are actually qualified for the position they are applying for. We are looking at around 8 out of 10 applicants that are not qualified. Without the ATS, if the recruiter still did his screening the old-fashioned (manual) way, that means they spent more time going over the resume of unqualified applicants more than the qualified ones. Needless to say, that time is time that is wasted.

The key to making ATS work to your advantage as a jobseeker is to customize your resume, and you can do this by keywording it.


Importance of keywording

As a jobseeker, your goal is to have a resume that stands out, especially if you are among hundreds or thousands of applicants for one position. When preparing a standout resume, you may have gone through all the tips and tricks given by professionals. Customize it. Make sure it is tailored for the job you are applying for. Include only the relevant details in the various sections. Watch your formatting.

In the process of writing your resume, you will find yourself going back repeatedly to the job description that the hiring company included in the job advertisement or posting. You may have also been taught to try to make use of the same words in the job description when crafting your resume, and so that is exactly what you did.

What you just did, right there, is keywording.

You see, this is how ATS generally works with respect to keywording: when the company came up with the job description, they have also determined the keywords and key phrases that are unique to the job being advertised, and that is what they will program into the ATS.

When the recruiters use the ATS to sift and sort through the submitted resumes, they are basically using it to search for the keywords and key phrases they have already identified earlier. The system will then use these as parameters to find the appropriate matches among the submissions.


Now what are the keywords that are used in job searches? Essentially, the keywords are the skills, qualifications, experience and other relevant traits that the employer is looking for in the new employee that they will give the job to.

Keep in mind that ATS software first scans for specific keywords and key phrases in the resume, and sorts the rest of the content of the resume into individual categories:

Your personal information

  • Your professional name, or the name that you use to represent yourself in professional circles: Therefore, it is recommended that you keep it consistent and unique, especially when you are actively using platforms such as LinkedIn, email, and website or weblog. This is definitely a good idea if you have extensive work experience and history and have already established a reputation in your chosen field.
  • Your current location: Some employers may prefer hiring people who live in a specific location. When putting in a location in your resume, use the exact name of the city and the state where it is located, as well as regional names, if applicable.
  • The location you want to work in: You may also put in your target location, if you are willing to relocate for the job. Again, make sure to put the exact location, and that includes the city, state, and region.
  • College degrees and other post-graduate educational attainment: Specify the college degree that you earned when you graduated, including the school or university where you graduated from. This is because employers may have a preference for alumni from a certain educational institution to join their workforce.
  • Your current industry: This specifies the field where you are working at presently, or have worked at in the past (if you are currently unemployed). Make sure to use the words that describe that industry and are universally accepted. For example, instead of simply saying “engineering”, use “mechanical engineering”. Instead of writing “medical industry”, specify whether it is “healthcare”, “pharmaceutical”, or “medical devices”.
  • Your target industry: This is in the case of those who are thinking of making a major shift from one industry to another. Just as in the previous item, see to it that you use specific words to describe the industry.

Your work experience and history

  • Your job titles: Write your current job title, as well as other job titles that you have held in the past. In the event that the job title happens to be non-standard, because your former employers preferred to use their own job titles, determine the standard job titles that apply, since they are what most employers are looking for and use through the ATS.
  • Employers’ names: Often, this is the name of the company you have worked for in the past, or is currently employed in. It will be to your advantage to include these names, especially if they happen to be industry leaders or well-known in business.
  • Volunteer works: If you are currently volunteering anywhere, or have volunteered before, and this is relevant to the job you are eyeing, then you should include it in the resume. Use keywords that describe exactly what you do in your volunteer work, and the name of the recipients or the affiliates that you work with may also be used as keywords.

Your skills or professional qualifications

  • Your skills and abilities: When choosing the keywords for skills, pick those that are the most in-demand in the job that you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a “Computer Programmer” position, adding the specific programming languages that you are proficient at will definitely increase the chances of your resume passing the ATS and the eyes of the recruiters.
  • Relevant licenses and certifications: Write down the licenses and certifications that directly impact the job that you are applying for, and even indirectly. It is highly possible that employers are looking for candidates with those specific licenses, accreditations and certifications. Remember that certifications are indicative of your professional or industry knowledge, so do not leave them out of your resume.
  • Names of tools, techniques, and programs that are specific to the job: Employers may be looking for keywords that are job- or industry-specific, so include those tools, techniques, hardware and software that you are knowledgeable about and proficient at.
  • Technical names and acronyms that are highly relevant in your industry or profession: When writing acronyms, you should also spell it out. For example, you may have studied Early Childhood Education (ECE). Or, aside from being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you are also a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA). Again, use acronyms and technical names only when they apply to the job you are applying for.

Your major accomplishments

  • Major projects: Whether you led them, or you were part of a team and contributed to the achievement of the objectives of the project, include it in your resume. Write the title or name of the project itself, and use appropriate keywords and phrases when describing them. Obviously, the projects you will talk about should be relevant to the job.
  • Publications: Were you able to write relevant literature that was published? Have you written any books or articles? Did you work on any relevant research? Then mention them. Write the titles of your published work as keywords or phrases.


The best keywords are those that will help your resume achieve a high keyword ranking in the ATS. A higher keyword ranking means a higher likelihood that you will be called to appear for an interview, ensuring that you are able to move forward in the recruitment and hiring process. But what are the keywords that you should use?

First things first, and let us be clear about this: there is no set or fixed list of keywords. Resume expert Susan Ireland reiterated that there is no set list of right keywords that will work for all jobs. The variability of the jobs and the industries means that the keywords will also vary. Also, you should take into account that the keywords that the ATS will be looking for and ranking are those that have been selected by the recruiters and HR people that use the system.

Usually, the most widely used and common resume keywords and key phrases include the following:

  • Communication skills
  • Decision maker
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • MBA (Master in Business Administration)
  • Sales manager
  • Microsoft Word
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Dreamweaver
  • Planning
  • Budgeting
  • Leadership skills
  • Business development
  • Marketing skills
  • Analysis
  • Customer relations
  • …and more

Your choice of keywords will largely depend on the industry, profession or field where the job belongs to and the nature of the job itself. It is mostly in the skills and experience sections that you may be more flexible with your choice of keywords and key phrases.

Take a look at the following examples of resume keywords and key phrases for managers and executives in a retail company:

  • Budgeting/Forecasting
  • Contract negotiation
  • Corporate strategizing
  • Financial management
  • Fiscal accountability
  • Goal setting
  • Resources management
  • Risk management

From the discussion earlier, you probably have an idea about the types of keywords that you should include in your resume. But there are actually a lot of other keywords that are not commonly used, and not many people realize how effective they are when used, in the proper context, in the resume. This time, we will look into several of those infrequently used, but just as effective, actionable keywords that you should consider using.

  1. “Full-time” or “Part-time”: This is to indicate whether you will be available to work full-time or part-time. This helps recruiters narrow down the list of job applicants, since they may have a preference for full-time employees, which means that those who are looking for part-time employment will be excluded in the screening. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, employers looking for part-time workers can easily eliminate early on those who are looking for full-time work.
  2. “Multilingual” or “Bilingual”: Most companies today are eyeing the bigger picture, meaning they want to bring their business on the global stage. This is why the demand for employees that can speak more than one or two languages is becoming higher. Instead of writing “speaks three languages”, you may use “multi-lingual” instead, and specify what languages you are proficient at.
  3. “Basic”, “Intermediate” or “Advanced”: Employers are looking for specific skills and qualifications, but they may be forgiving in other areas. The posting may indicate that they want someone knowledgeable in computer applications, but they are really looking for people with advanced skills. By putting the appropriate modifier, you will have greater chances of your resume being ranked high. Consider pairing these modifiers with your knowledge and skill sets. When describing your computer skills, you can phrase it into “basic computer skills” or “advanced computer skills”, whichever is applicable. You may use synonyms or other similar words. When talking about languages, for instance, you can say your level of proficiency is either “elementary Japanese” or “fluent Japanese”.
  4. “Multi-tasking”: Employers prefer individuals who can work under pressure, and can do more than two things at one time, without affecting quality of work and productivity. Thus, they may look for this keyword, which is indicative of the ability of a candidate to accomplish multiple tasks in a short time. This works mostly for administrative and clerical positions, but not so much for technical roles in production processes.
  5. “Policies”, “Procedures”: Usually, these keywords are used in the context of the applicant being knowledgeable about relevant policies and procedures. An accountant, for example, is knowledgeable about business procedures and audit policies. A personal assistant, on the other hand, is knowledgeable about office policies and operating procedures.
  6. “Support”: Candidates may have, at one point or another, provided support services that also honed their skills and increased their knowledge. This keyword is most effective when paired with a noun pertaining to the field where support services are provided. For example, IT employees may have provided “technical support” and “user support” in their previous employment.
  7. “Training”: In practically any industry, employers would like to welcome new employees that already have more than adequate training. Thus, you have to list down the relevant trainings that you have undergone. To make it more effective, include another word to describe exactly what type of training it is. Examples are “product training” (if you are in Sales), and “work flow training” (in manufacturing).
  8. “Customer”: This is a keyword that you should not miss, especially when you are applying in the retail, commerce, or service industry. Often, this keyword is used alongside other appropriate words such as “customer support”, “customer retention”, “customer loyalty”, and “customer satisfaction”.
  9. “Strategic” or “strategy”: This word denotes something that is long-term and, often, all-encompassing. Employers seek people who have this long-term vision, and have the ability to perform to serve or achieve a particular purpose or goal. Examples are “strategic planning” and “marketing strategies”.


Do not forget these tips when preparing your resume and choosing your keywords.

  • Always refer to the job description in the job posting or advertisement. Make sure that you use the same words used in the job posting in your resume when describing or explaining how you are able to meet each requirement.
  • Use the company website for guidance in keywording, or you may go straight to the source, such as the HR manager, the employer, or any key employee that you may ask regarding the skills, education or experience that they are looking for in the applicants to the job they advertised.
  • Use the keywords and key phrases in context. You may be tempted to present the keywords of your skills and qualifications in a straightforward list, and that’s it. You should also incorporate them or weave them into the text. Another tip: when you put the keywords in a sentence, include an action word or verb along with it to give it more impact. Take a look at the example point below:

Wrote instructional materials and product descriptions in English, French and Chinese, for an online retail company.

The keywords are “instructional materials” and “product descriptions”, paired with the verb “wrote”. “English”, “French” and “Chinese” are also possible keywords that the employers may be looking for.

  • Test how good you are at keywording. Sites like Jobscan provides tools that will help you get past resume robots by optimizing the keywords in your resume against the job description. You can either paste your resume in the provided field or upload it in their site, and paste the job description from the posting or job ad in another field, and Jobscan will scan it for you.
  • Do not fill or stuff your resume with keywords. When writing the Skills section, you may repeat the important keywords two or three times, or even four or five, depending on the need. There are some ATS that are programmed to detect resumes that are overstuffed with keywords and key phrases, and may rank them low because of the high keyword density. In addition, when repeating important keywords, try to scatter them throughout the resume instead of packing them all into one section.
  • Look into industry lingo and other words and phrases that are exclusively used in the industry or field where the job is classified under. You may also use acronyms, especially those that are unique to that line of work, profession, or industry.

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