What are Resume Keywords and How Can they Help You?

Nilda Melissa Diaz By Nilda Melissa Diaz, Career Advice Contributor Last Updated: May 25, 2023

First-time job seekers often assume that resumes, once submitted, are simply read and reviewed by hiring managers who respond with a thumbs up or thumbs down. But the actual process can involve some additional steps (especially in our digital age when some open positions attract hundreds of resumes in a single day).

Person reviewing resume in front of laptop

Instead of appearing in a reviewer’s inbox, resumes are sometimes transferred to a large database as soon as they’re received. This is a common practice among large corporations, but even small companies and start-ups are starting to organize their applications in this way.

Once your resume disappears into the database, it may or may not be drawn out again and reviewed by human eyes. More and more, applications are scanned by applicant tracking systems that review resumes for particular keywords. If those keywords aren’t present, the resume automatically gets eliminated from the running.

So what can you do to make sure your resume pops up and receives a fighting chance at a fair review? And what can you do to push your profile higher on a long list of search results? Here are a few moves that can help.

1. Think like an Employer

Review the job post carefully as you draft and edit your resume. Are there certain words and phrases that appear more than once in the text of the post, or certain terms that seem especially meaningful to these employers? While you check the post, you may also want to skim through the company website. What traits and credentials do these employers seem to value the most? If you were trying to staff this position, and you wanted to draw only the best matches out of a pool of hundreds of resumes, which search terms would you use? These terms should appear in your resume text at least once.

2. Use Exact Wording

If an employer wants an applicant with “CPR Certification”, use that exact term. Don’t use “certified in CPR” or “CPR and first aid certification”. If your resume contains the same language used in the post, you’ll increase the likelihood of a match. After all, you’ll be dealing with computer brains during this first round of the selection process, not human brains.

3. Be Careful

Keep in mind that keyword scanners only represent your first obstacle. Once your document has been rendered on a screen, you’ll be working to impress human readers from that point forward. If you pack the page with repetitive keywords, include keywords that don’t apply to your background (for example, adding “CPR certification” when you don’t actually have this credential), or use clever tricks (like placing “CPR Certification” in white text hoping that humans won’t see it and scanners will), you’ll create problems for yourself in the long run. Keep your writing clear and your tactics honest.

For help with the process, turn to the resume creation tools available on MyPerfectResume.

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