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How do I find keywords for my resume?

February 17, 2013

How do I find keywords for my resume?

By Judy Robbins

Finding correct keywords for a résumé seems to baffle many job seekers. Applicants express confusion about how to find keywords and where to use them in their résumé. A résumé will have three major “hoops” to transverse before serious consideration: getting through a company computer software program that scans for keywords called an ATS (applicant tracking system), passing screening by an HR generalist who scans for predetermined terms and, finally, scrutiny by a hiring manager for matching the job description and company’s wants as closely as possible. At this point, your résumé may land in the “keeper” pile for more consideration as one of the top ten résumés culled from a group of hundreds.

The only way a recruiter or hiring manager will find you is if you have incorporated keywords in multiple locations within your résumé, e.g. titles, summary, strengths, and in your job descriptions. Keywords are sometimes weighted in importance depending on where they appear in a résumé and how often.

Where do you find these keywords? You conduct research and make comparisons of similar documents to ascertain which search terms appear most often.  First, look for the original posting on the company’s website to see if there is a more detailed version of the job posting. Look for similar positions on other job sites and note descriptions and keywords. Finally, Google a few résumés with the same title as the job you are seeking. Do not be tempted to copy any of these résumés. They may not have been particularly effective and you are just looking for keywords and phrases. Create a master keyword list from all of the above documents of commonly occurring terms and decide their importance for inclusion in your résumé.

Open your original target job description in MS Word. Separate and isolate sentences containing specific requirements and highlight actual keywords and phrases. If you really want this job, analyze it carefully. You must know what the employer wants and state it as strongly as possible in your résumé. Nevertheless, it is quite possible they have not included everything they want in one job posting and that is another reason for research. You want to know what the position customarily entails.

Begin creating a skeleton résumé where you will write your own job titles, dates, locations, summaries, education and necessary components. (See blog post “What will I need to get started writing my résumé?”)  Determine where you can incorporate keywords from the target job and your list that best match your own skills, knowledge, and experience. Any claims you make on your résumé need to be supported in content. The result will be a résumé with keywords that mirror the new job description and that are an honest representation of your own unique qualifications.

Remember not to copy word-for-word sentences and phrases by another writer or applicant to place in your résumé as these are, at the least, recognizable and, at most, plagiarism which is not a good way to start a job search. Your goal is to create a strong marketing piece to sell yourself to employers that is uniquely yours.

Watch for an upcoming blog post to answer the often-asked question:

“What type of format should I choose for my résumé?”

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