Skip to main content

You have probably heard of “keywords” within the context of SEO. For your online content to be ranked high on search engines like Google or Bing, stuffing it with sufficient and relevant keywords is important. In a sense, keywords help search engines find your content. 

In the same sense, keywords in your resume help recruiters find you! Wondering how?

With the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Applicant Tracking System’s (ATS) are getting more sophisticated by the day. ATS is a software that enables the electronic handling of recruitment needs. In the past decade, an increasing number of companies have been adopting ATS to review resumes and applications. Therefore, your application must be well crafted for this purpose. In this post, we explore how using keywords in your resume can improve your chances.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are single words or individual phrases on a resume that strongly connects to a particular job posting. They may include your skills, credentials, and abilities. They may also include the technical capabilities or other requirements the recruiter wants in the vacant role they are trying to fill. 

Based on this definition, it should be obvious that the appropriate keywords are highly dependent on the role in question. To give you an idea, let us examine some positions with their likely keywords:

Role: Customer Service Manager

Possible Keywords: order entry, phone skills, and customer service

Role: Logistics Manager:

Possible Keywords: supply chain, operations, warehouse, and logistics. 

How Application Tracking System Scans Resume

As stated earlier, most employers and recruiters make use of ATS to track resumes. Why? Because they typically receive hundreds of resumes for every job posting they put out. Since they do not have the time to individually go through each resume, they rely on ATS to filter out resumes relevant to the role they are trying to fill. 

The ATS scans through the headers, section titles, and content to pick up on words and phrases that establish the relevance of the resume to the role. There are several things to bear in mind when optimizing your resume. Some general tips include:

  • Make use of standard section titles: For instance, make use of ‘Professional Experience’ instead of ‘My career in a nutshell’.
  • Use standard fonts like Calibri and Time New Roman as newer font types might be converted to special characters by ATS.
  • Stick to single column layout: While modern ATS can effectively scan multi-column layouts, older ones fumble at it. Use a single column layout to be on the safe side. 
  • Do not use tables or pictures: ATS can misalign tabs in a table. Also, ATS can only parse text – not pictures.

How Keywords Affect Your Resume

Now that you have got your resume well-formatted for ATS, you can be assured that ATS will correctly scan through your resume. While that is a great start, that is not enough!

After ATS scans through several resumes for an application, it ranks the resumes as a function of their relevance. To accomplish that, it looks for keywords that match the job description. Resumes that contain these keywords are thus ranked higher. 

The recruiter or hiring manager typically decides which keywords to search for – usually whatever qualifications, skills, qualities, or experience are most important for executing the role effectively. For instance, at Stafford Technology, we help companies secure tech talent. When using ATS to review the resume of tech applicants for, say, a Python developer, some of the keywords we might look for include Python, databases, and more. 

Tips for Adding Keywords to Your Resume

It is not just enough to include keywords in your resume. It also must be done right. That is why we will examine some tips to bear in mind when using keywords in your resume.

  • Let the job ad be your guide.

Employers looking to fill a position know what they are looking for and this is usually contained in the job ad. By reading the job ad carefully, you can easily extract words and phrases as relevant keywords. For instance, if the employer is looking for an experienced professional to manage their supply chain, use the phrase “manage supply chain” in your resume (Well, that is if you have done that before).

  • Be Specific

Using generic words or phrases offer little insight into what you have done. That is why words like ‘accounting’, programming’ and “marketing” are too broad. Streamline your keywords to be specific enough to provide value. You may try keywords like “head of sales research” or “Python back-end developer”.

  • Sprinkle the Keywords

One common mistake many applicants make is to use keywords sparingly or limit them to just the tile and skills section. Using an important keyword once is undesirable as many ATS typical take a count of specific keywords to determine relevance. So, include keywords in other sections, including experience, summary, etc. Just make sure you do it intelligently. More on that in the next point. 

  • Use keywords in context

It’s not okay to just list out keywords in your resume. You must think about incorporating them into other sentences to make them sound natural. Doing so is important because a human is still going to read your resume after scaling through the ATS stage. 

  • Do not trick ATS

In the quest to rank high in ATS, some applicants flood their resumes with keywords. While this might help you pass ATS, it will be utterly obvious to the human that will eventually review your resume. 

Another trick some applicants use is to copy and paste the entire job description on their resume in white. This makes it invisible to the eyes, but ATS will be able to read through it. This approach does not work because ATS will display all texts in the same color on the other end. 

Wrap Up

The importance of including keywords cannot be overemphasized, especially with the prevalence of ATS. Many companies and recruiters including us at Stafford Technology make use of ATS. However, always remember that while keywords will help your resume rank high on the system, you ultimately must write in a way that is easy for a human to read. It is all about finding the right balance.