It can be difficult knowing which keywords to include in your resume. Unlike chemical formulas or parts of speech, there is no hard-and-fast rule for identifying these critical terms. So how do you know what they are?
A brief definition: Generally, keywords are the qualifications, duties, and skills an ideal candidate would hold and/or have demonstrated in the past. They should include your hard and soft skills, education, and relevant experience (both professional and unpaid).
Though there are other options, the job description is your best source for keywords. This is where employers directly tell you much of what they are looking for. Luckily, there are several tools and strategies to help you pick out the right vocabulary to get your resume seen.
One method that many people use is a word cloud, like Wordle or TagCrowd. These websites allow you to copy and paste text into their tool, and they will present a graphic representation of how often certain terms appear. For example, the word cloud for this accounting associate job advertisement looked like this:
With this visualization, it’s easy to pick out the high-frequency vocabulary: government, accounting, maintain, accounts, receivable, payable, billing, clients, knowledge, etc.
Unfortunately, these websites only measure repetition; they can’t read an employer’s mind. This causes word lists from clouds like the one above to grow excessively long, including several obvious (accounting) or non-competency-based items (knowledge).You need to sift through the image and note the larger terms that are also skill or experience related. While useful, these sites should not be your only strategy.
If you see one of these expressions, it may mean there’s a keyword involved.
Reevaluating that accounting associate job advertisement with these tricks of the trade reveals several keywords for responding resumes.
Check that you maintain the same wording when you’re integrating these key terms into your resume. And if you use an acronym, make sure that the first instance includes the entire phrase followed by the abbreviation— for example, “Registered Nurse (RN).” After that, however, you can just stick to the shortened form.
Check it—ATS Simulator
Once you’ve written your resume and optimized it for the keywords you picked out, find a website with software that functions like an applicant tracking system (ATS). These tools will scan your resume and let you know how it measures up to the job ad. Basically, you can test-drive your resume and see if it makes it past the bots.
iScore is one such program that goes above and beyond the standard. It not only rates how well your resume keywords match the job posting’s, but also identifies terms that are missing from your resume. This allows you to add experiences you might have opted to leave out and tweak verbiage until your application is ATS optimized!
Because job ads are filled with handpicked qualifications and skills, they are a fantastic source for keywords tailored for a specific position. However, the information is often tightly packed, making it difficult to identify the most important terms. With the strategies and resources described above, keyword research becomes a much simpler task.
Freddie Rohner— Increase Your Resume's Impact and Visibility
Madeline Burry— How to Decode a Job Advertisement
Katharine Hansen— Researching Resume Keywords in Job Postings