We get a lot of questions about keywords in resumes – how can you use keywords to get past applicant tracking systems, and what words are hiring managers going to respond to most? The answer is in the job posting.
When crafting your resume, use the job posting as your guide by copying some of the keywords into your resume strategically. Think about what the most important things a recruiter might filter for are and really hone in on those.
Start broad, using the job title in the posting. If you are applying for an assistant position, you'll want to have the words assistant or assist in your resume. Similarly, if you’re applying for a manager position, you probably want the words manager or manage in there. Most likely, you'll include these keywords in your past titles and chronology bullets, but if you need to get creative because of a career transition, you could fit these keywords into a professional summary or areas of expertise section. In some cases, you could even put the job title in your header.
Next, you'll want to look at the core skills in the posting. The qualifications listed toward the top of a posting tend to be most important, but keep an eye out for specific skills that might be a requirement. If you see that the company is looking for an Excel expert, spell that out, instead of just listing Microsoft Office. Or, if they need someone with excellent writing skills, make sure you have the word write. Be careful about intangible skills though – if the posting is asking for someone who is motivated, it’s unlikely that they’re going to use "motivated" as a search term. You’ll need to prove you’re motivated by showing how you took initiative on projects in your bullet points.
Additionally, you should only use keywords you can actually back up in an interview. You may not have all the qualifications or meet all the requirements listed in the posting, but don't be tempted to claim them just so your resume doesn't get filtered out! It's okay if you're not an exact match -- either the hiring manager is open to candidates who possess only a majority of the skills, or the position really requires specific knowledge that you won't be able to fake in an interview. You don't want to get caught having lied on your resume.
And remember that getting a resume into a real person’s hands is a far more reliable way to get an interview than by submitting through a job portal. So when using important keywords that you’ve pulled from the job posting, make sure they’ll pop out to a human and not only a machine. Lead your bullet points with the same strong action verbs that have been described, or call attention to them in core skills sections (it's worth repeating: only include tangible skills!). The right keywords are not going to get you the job, but they will help direct the eye of a hiring manager and encourage them to call you in for an interview.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan