Score an Interview by Using Keywords in Your Resume

Businesswoman handing paper to co-worker

By Marcelle Yeager

Everyone talks about keywords nowadays when the subject of resumes comes up. They are essential to getting in the door for an interview. If you don't use them, you're not showing the employer that you have what they're looking for, and you'll likely get passed by.

Keywords can be difficult to extract, and you may be asking, "What exactly is considered a keyword? How do I find them? And how do I know if I'm using the right ones?" Keywords or key phrases come in multiple varieties and can be found throughout a job description. They are words and phrases commonly associated with your field, as well as the particular skills that you employ in your job. You may think you've covered your bases in your documents. But if you're not using the exact terms from the job posting, you could easily be missed.

1. Consider industry speak. When you're writing a resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile, you need to use jargon from your industry. This is especially true if you're hoping to be found by employers or recruiters on LinkedIn. However, you don't want to use too much or terms so obscure that it doesn't make sense to someone outside of your field. Defining acronyms and running your descriptions by a person unfamiliar with your line of work will allow you to double-check yourself. The sample terms below are not exhaustive, but provide an idea of what types of common keywords are used in the communications field.

Example keywords for communications professionals are: strategic communications, media relations, crisis communications, public relations, public affairs and writing.

2. Ponder skills used in your job. Next, think about words that describe what you do each day. It wouldn't hurt to pull out your job description and give it a once-over. What terms apply to what you actually do on the job? If you see these as common skills everyone must have in a job like yours, then you probably should use them in your documents where relevant.

Example descriptions of common skills for sales jobs are: achieving sales quotas, meeting or exceeding key performance indicators, strategy, business development, client relations, leadership and customer service.

3. Peruse job descriptions. As you read a job announcement, pretend you're in school and doing a critical reading exercise for English class. Grab a red pen or highlighter. As you read, ask yourself, "What is the person who wrote this looking for?" Highlight all words and phrases that answer that question for you as you read through it.

Below is a fake posting stripped of the introduction and all information insignificant to our purpose. What is left are the important words and phrases to address where applicable in your documents. Be careful not to use the clichés in the first paragraph below without supporting evidence. That is, show that you are flexible by giving an example from work where you demonstrated that skill.

Follow the same logic for the items listed under "Duties" and "Required Experience." Provide examples to support each term or phrase that applies to your background, using these expressions in your cover letter and resume.

Below is an abstract from a fake job posting for an administrative assistant:

A detail-oriented self-starter. Enthusiastic, flexible, well-organized team player with strong interpersonal skills. Operates well in a fast-paced environment. Able to switch priorities and stay calm under pressure.

  • Administrative management.

  • Event management.

  • Project management.

  • Create presentations and reports.

  • Travel arrangements.

  • Work with vendors and cross-functional teams.

  • Coordinate multiple work activities and meet deadlines.

Required Experience:

  • Two to three years of administrative experience.

  • Capacity to give recommendations for process improvements.

  • Work well with diverse groups of people and manage relationships.

  • Maintain confidentiality.

  • Willing to learn new things and accept new challenges.

  • Knowledge of Microsoft Office.

  • Manage virtual meetings and tools.

  • Strong oral and written communication skills.

Desired Experience:

  • Degree preferred.

4. Extract them with ease. If you're still unsure whether you can pull out keywords successfully on your own, there are tools that you can use. Word clouds present the most commonly found words in a document in larger font and those that are found fewer times in smaller font. Try or to see how it works.

The final thing to remember about keywords is to use them intelligently. If you plaster a few keywords across your resume, just to get them on there, thinking it will get you through an applicant tracking system, you're not going to make it past a human. To use them correctly, come up with specific examples of your work that support the main keywords and phrases in a job announcement. This is storytelling. Show that you have the skill by describing the specific, relevant work you did, and use the exact word or phrase they're looking for. Demonstrate to the employer that you're the right person for the job.