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Using Resume Keywords Effectively

Lori Soard
Resume Keywords Matter

Resume keywords help make your resume stand out. Before submitting your resume online, be sure it contains the necessary keywords to attract employers. Without them, you could miss prime opportunities.

What Are Resume Keywords

Resume keywords are words that employers consistently use to find the resumes of people they want to hire. Consider these keywords similar to the ones you might type into a search engine to find a pair of boots you want to buy. If you type, "western boots" into a search engine, you expect to find websites that sell those boots. This helps you to avoid having to page through numerous shoe websites to find what you are looking for.

The same is true for resumes. Employers who use job websites like or have access to hundreds or thousands of resumes that may seem to fit their needs. However, if they are looking for specific qualifications, they often use those websites' search features to help them to locate those candidates that are a good fit with what they are seeking.

Some keywords are specific to the job. An employer hiring experienced line cooks may type in "line cooks" to find resumes. However, other keywords are not that specific. Often times, employers are looking for words that describe specific qualities that an individual will have.

Keywords to Avoid

CareerBuilder conducted a survey to find out what terms are considered negative by recruiters. Some of the things they pointed to were generic terms of self-praise. The words you should avoid, according to the managers surveyed, in order of the worst of the worst first, include:

  • Best of breed
  • Go-getter
  • Think outside the box
  • Synergy
  • Go-to person
  • Thought leadership
  • Value add
  • Results-driven
  • Team player

Other words were similar in nature, heaping self-praise on the applicant, but not really offering any specific qualities that would lead to those terms. Make sure you don't create a resume that is spammy. For example, don't just stuff your resume with words like those above. Instead, ensure any keywords are tied to specific actions and accomplishments you have had in the past.

Best Resume Keywords to Use

The same CareerBuilder survey mentioned above showed that the best terms to include were:

  • Achieved
  • Improved
  • Trained/mentored
  • Managed
  • Created
  • Resolved
  • Volunteered
  • Influenced

Choosing Industry Specific Keywords

A 2012 study by the job search site The Ladders found that a recruiter spends about 6.25 seconds looking at a resume before moving on. This means you have to grab his interest and grab it fast. Keywords can work to highlight your best qualities in a way that the recruiter can see at a glance. Some keywords work best for specific industries.

Minnesota State College offers an iSeek website to help students and others find jobs. Their advice about keywords is that they fall into some basic categories:

  • Job position: This inclues words found in titles of positions such as administrative, research, assistant, etc.
  • Company terms: Look at the companies you'd like to work for and note how they describe the job. What keywords are they using?
  • Trade associations: How do they describe the jobs? What keywords jump out?
  • Industry blogs: Look at how experts in your industry describe what they do. Are there any keywords there you can utilize?

Specific Job Keywords has a complete list of keywords for a number of industries. You can view the complete list on their site, but here are a few keywords that work well for common jobs you might apply for.


The best keywords are power words, such as action verbs. Some of the better words to use when looking for an administrative position include:

  • Assisted
  • Data processing
  • Created spreadsheets
  • Designed reports
  • Developed summary reports

Of course, you'll want to highlight projects you worked on specifically, so try to be specific about your accomplishments.

Hospitality Industry

Working in the hospitality industry can include cooking, hotel management, or even front desk services. Here are a few keywords that work well for a hospitality industry resume:

  • Entertained hotel clients
  • Improved client-relation skills
  • Implemented event marketing program
  • Improved customer experience consistency

These are just a few of the types of keywords you can use. Essentially, you want to highlight anything you did in your position that improved the customer experience at the hotel.


Employers who are looking for a security guard are looking for some very specific skill sets. Some keywords you can use to show these skills might include:

  • Reduced losses
  • Created immediate response plan
  • Built emergency management skills
  • Analyzed security vulnerabilities
  • Reduced losses by 40 percent

You also want to highlight any special training or skills you have that tie into working in security.

Sales and Retail

Even when there aren't a lot of available jobs, there are usually sales and retail jobs to be had, especially seasonally around the holidays. Some keywords you can use on a sales and retail type resume include:

  • Improved sales quotas by 20 percent
  • Improved customer service response times
  • Created marketing campaign
  • Increased customer satisfaction

Make sure that you can back up what you claim in your resume. If you're called into an interview, you should be able to point to specific actions that led to the improvement in sales or increased customers' satisfaction.

Using Keywords Properly

Incorporating words like these into your resume is important. They help you to stand out from others who are also applying for the position. As jobs are often in demand, it is critical to stand out from that stack of resumes that the hiring manager needs to go through. These tips can help you to use resume keywords appropriately in your resume so that you get attention.

  • Honesty counts: There is no benefit to lying on a resume. In fact, this could cost you the position. Use keywords that accurately represent you and what you have accomplished. If you worked on a research team in medical school, list terms to describe that without allowing the reader to believe you lead the research team. Be descriptive but honest. About half of the managers surveyed by CareerBuilder caught a lie on a resume. The most common area for dishonesty? Making skill sets sound better than what the person actually held.
  • Go with nouns: Although it is important to emphasize action verbs in your resume, many of the keywords that will get you noticed will be nouns. Be descriptive about them. The term, "project management role" is more important than including "manager" or "role." Sometimes, words like "marketing campaigns" will be important terms because they are specific jobs the hiring manager is looking to fill.
  • Look at ads: To learn what companies are really looking for when they are hiring employees, take a look at the ads those companies, or similar companies, are running. What words do they list specifically? The employer wants these qualities in your resume. Which qualities do you hold and how can you highlight them on your resume?

Where to Place Keywords

It used to be true that adding many keywords at the very beginning of a resume was a good idea, since the conventional wisdom was that this is where programs would pick them up. However, to the human eye, this is not only annoying, but it is an instant turn off for hiring managers.

Resume Keywords to Use

Software programs can pick this up and hold back the resume as being not valuable to the reader. Instead, use keywords properly throughout the resume.

  • Place resume keywords throughout the resume, specifically including them in the area of qualifications. This is the perfect place for them and it comes at the top of the resume.
  • When listing job experience, include keywords here, too, especially when they show what you accomplished in those jobs.
  • Include a range of resume keywords rather than just one or two specific ones. A resume should include as many keywords as possible, but still allow the resume to be readable.

Not 100 Percent Qualified

Don't worry if you aren't 100 percent qualified for the job. List the tools you have honestly and create a resume that highlights your abilities and accomplishments. A good resume and a great interview can land you the job of you dreams, even if you don't have every single qualification the employer is seeking.

Using Resume Keywords Effectively