What keywords should I use in my job search?

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keyword-researchEvan from Utah State University asked: 

How do you decide which keywords to use in a job search?

Hi Evan –

Short question – long answer!

In fact there isn’t a single best answer to your question, so:

Incorporate keywords that truthfully represent what you offer using language and terms familiar to recruiters and commonly used by professionals in the fields you wish to enter.

Using that guideline: The keywords that work best for an accountant are different from those that work best for a petroleum engineer, and those that work best for a software developer,  a market researcher, an attorney or a chemist.  Get the idea?

How do recruiters user keywords?

Recruiters use keywords to identify viable candidates in the same way you use keywords to search the internet for information. Keywords are tools for scanning large volumes of information quickly to identify specific data to target.  If a recruiter is looking for software developers with Ruby on Rails experience, she might keyword search resumes for “Ruby on Rails”.

By the way, job seekers do the same thing when searching job board for opportunities.

So – I recommend the following  with regard to keywords:

Your keywords should be specific to the industry and type of positions you are targeting

Your resume should be a focused marketing document that highlights your relevant qualifications in terms familiar to your target audience.  In short, speak to them in their own language and use their vocabulary and jargon where you can!  Doing so shows that you can, in fact, speak their language; that you are familiar with their world.

Don’t use keywords as a “bait-and-switch” strategy

If you don’t speak their language or understand how to apply their jargon, don’t just add it to your resume in an arbitrary manner to catch the attention of the resume scanning software.  Eventually a human will read your resume, and when they do, they will see that you don’t know what you are talking about.

Be smart! Only use keywords you understand, can apply and are able to defend.

Your keywords should support and be supported by the other content in your resume

If you are using keywords in your resume they should be surrounded by other content that reinforces them. Your resume should tell your story through examples, not just list your job descriptions and skills.

Do your keywords look out of place on your resume?  Do they seem unrelated to the other content in your resume?  If your answer to those questions is “yes,” you had better re-think using them.

A while ago, I posted a blog titled:

How can I prepare an Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume?

Applicant Tracking Systems include keyword search tools, so crafting a keyword search-friendly resume means crafting an Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume, as well.  Read this blog post also.

Hope this helps!


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