Have you heard about resume keywords? Could they be holding you back from getting called in for interviews? Read on to find out what, why, and how to adjust to this new resume trend.

So your resume looks good. It contains compelling language, and the resume design is on point. But why do I get messages from people wondering why they have posted their resume online and haven’t heard back?

Well, it’s true what you’ve heard about resume filters and ATS software. Most large companies use software to filter through resumes that detect if you’re a viable candidate based on keyword and specific phrases. If by chance, you don’t include the right keywords, there’s a good chance you will get filtered out — by a dang robot. Consider these steps when making sure you are integrating keywords:

  • Search for these keywords by viewing your job postings
  • Integrate them throughout your resume
  • Don’t write for the robot

I am about to share with you the 3 principles my resume service uses in determining and using keywords to a job candidate’s advantage.

Search for keywords by viewing the job postings

In my last article, I made a note to target your resume to where you are applying and to be as specific as possible. The same principle holds for keywords. You will want to get specific with the phrases and keywords you use when sending out your resume to different companies within your field.

How specific should you get?

I recommend as much as possible; get down to the specific role in categorizing your keyword and job search (e.g. retail banking executive, product development engineer, HR consultant).

Notice how we are not only including the industry — but the actual role. This is intuitive. Can you imagine that there are different requirements for a retail banking executive vs. retail banking junior associate. ATS software may look for certain phrases that convey leadership and even an MBA degree for instance.

So what are the actual keywords that software is looking for?

According to a survey for large companies that used ATS software, the following resume attributes were used as keywords (recruiters could select up to 7 options). Although this is an estimate, it provides an accurate insight to how resumes are filtered out:

  • Position title (80% used)
  • Nouns common to the position (71% used)
  • Location (55% used)
  • Employer names (55% used)
  • Degrees (35% used)
  • Certifications (16% used)
  • Soft skills (9% used)

These are the very keywords on your resume that you want to make sure are congruent with the job posting or job title you are applying for. Let’s look at an example for a job posting and extract some keywords from the description:

  • Online job posting text (IP Partner): Prominent international law firm seeks a 2–7 year associate with an antitrust practice for the Washington, DC, office. Experience with an antitrust discipline can be in any business or health care area.
  • Keywords: Attorney, JD, antitrust, partner, Washington DC

As you can see, you must put yourself in the perspective of the recruiter and imagine you are Googling the perfect fit for a candidate. Are you seeing how you can begin decoding the keywords game now?

Integrate them throughout your resume

After putting your detective skills to use and attempting to decode these keywords, it’s now time to put on your marketing hat and see how y0u can organically make sure these words read in your resume. Many resume writers suggest using the qualifications summary at the top as an opportunity to integrate keywords. Take this example 1st sentence (which is written for the job description mentioned above):

Seasoned attorney with 10+ years experience serving Washington, D.C. clients in the antitrust discipline.

Consider including keywords at the beginning of specific accomplishments or work experiences. For instance, if product development is a determined keyword…


“Developed over 10 different software programs that reduce user time by at least 25%”


“Product Development : developed over 10 different software programs that reduce user time by at least 25%

Another overlooked opportunity for keywords would be the actual Microsoft Word file name that you are submitting online. You can easily target companies by including a keyword within the file name. For instance,Smith_product_development_manager.docx is a good example of targeting keywords.

Be creative in finding ways to insert keywords. And make sure to not force them in so that your resume seems inauthentic.

Don’t write for the robot!

I am going to make a point here in which I hope does not contradict everything I’ve just said: don’t write a keywords-based resume!

While it’s important to stay mindful of these keywords in submitting your resumes online, they are not the sole factor that will get you the job.In fact, if you overdo it – that is, force keywords everywhere in your resume – you won’t get very far.

The best approach is to write your resume as a marketing piece for a decision maker first. This means highlighting impressive accomplishments, powerful attributes, and relevant job experiences. Then, go back over your resume and do a check over to make sure that you have met the requirement for keywords in your industry.

For even more resume help, upload your resume for a free Career Score on our homepage. Find out how our business writing experts can get your materials in shape and land you your dream job.

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