Ever wondered how recruiters are able to scan thousands of resumes in only a few days? We’ll let you in on their secret: they aren’t. ATS is doing all the heavy lifting for them. An application tracking system, commonly known as an ATS, is software that scans every resume that comes in for a job. Based on the candidate's profile, job requirements, and other factors, it decides whether to shortlist a candidate or not. What are your odds of passing the ATS? Well, not so good! Studies show that the ATS auto rejects three quarters of all resumes, meaning that hiring managers don't even get to see these applications. So, what can you do to get past the ATS? Your best bet is to optimize your resume keywords. In this guide, we'll introduce you to resume keywords and their importance. We'll also guide you on how to find the right keywords for your job title and share hundreds of ATS-optimized keywords for every industry. Let's dive in!
Today's job applicants face a challenging task when it comes to creating a resume that catches the attention of recruiters and hiring managers. Why? Because most organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, now use an application tracking system (ATS) to filter and rank job applicants. When you submit a resume, it goes straight into the employer's ATS database. Recruiters then search for suitable candidates by typing specific phrases, commonly known as resume keywords, into the search bar. These keywords typically relate to job titles and skills the employer seeks. Resume keywords are specific words and phrases that describe your skills, abilities, and experience. In simple terms, they are words and phrases that a recruiting manager has told the ATS to filter or look for. The ATS scans all job applications for these keywords, and if you don't have the right amount of them, your application gets tossed into the software void and never reaches the hiring manager. To increase your chances of being shortlisted for an interview, it's advisable to update your resume for every job you're applying to incorporate keywords that match the job description.
Resume keywords are essential tools every job seeker must use in their resumes. The application tracking system (ATS) scans all applications and assigns a score based on each applicant's suitability for the role. Once the employer adds hundreds of resumes they receive for each job posting into the ATS, they can filter the candidates based on the keywords they're looking for. For example if a hiring manager is looking for an accountant with both a CPA certification and an MBA. They might receive 500 resumes for the role. Of these, 100 may have CPA certifications, 150 may have MBAs, but only 65 may have both CPA and MBA. In this case, only the 65 people the ATS finds with the correct qualifications will have their resumes read by a real person. If you have both, but fail to use right keywords to describe them, your resume might not pass the ATS. Even in the case of a manual scan, the recruiter will spend only a few seconds looking over a resume - you'll still need to carefully select your resume keywords to catch their attention.
Having strong keywords in your resume isn't enough; they need to be strategically placed in key places on your resume. So, where should you place them?
The resume introduction is the first place you want to place the keywords. Placing your most relevant keywords in the introduction makes it easy for the ATS and hiring managers to pick them up. Ensure that this section includes the top two keywords for any resume: the job title you're applying for and the company's name.
The work history section provides much space to place keywords into context by associating them with specific skills listed in the job description. This is an ideal place to combine an action verb with a keyword noun, such as "Coordinated software development projects."
The skills section is perhaps the most important section to add resume keywords. Here, you can change your wording to match the skills specified by the recruiter. Use only the most recognizable terms to keep your application readable by the ATS.
Sometimes, employers look for certain degrees, and having related keywords for such qualifications can help move you into the next stage of the recruitment process.
This section is usually a two-sentence summary and includes the candidate’s key accomplishments. Use this section to explain why you're the best candidate for the job and spice it up with relevant keywords from the job description.
So, how do you find the keywords the recruiter is targeting? Simple! Scan the job posting for keywords. The easiest way to identify the resume keywords the employer seeks is to scan the job ad for relevant keyword phrases. There are two categories of keywords recruiters are always looking for:
Job-related skills describe your competencies in performing the job. It's easy to pick job-related keywords since they mention key competencies required for the job. For example, the recruiter may state that those with "Photoshop skills" are highly preferred. Or, that priority will be given to those who have completed "HubSpot's Digital Marketing Certification Course." In this case, "Photoshop skills" and "HubSpot's Digital Marketing Course" are strong keywords to include in your resume.
As the name implies, action verbs illustrate the action. They're not about the candidate's skills but what they have accomplished in their career. Action verbs include words like maximized, planned, accomplished, developed, managed, etc. For example, if you managed to lower the company's overhead costs by 10%, make sure to mention it in your resume, using relevant action verbs. Once you've identified all the relevant keywords from the job description, put them down in your resume. But where should you put them in your resume? Job-related keywords should go under the skills section, while action verbs can go in the summary or work experience section. Words of caution, though; don't overdo the keywords, and don't lie. Remember, most employers do contact the listed references to fact-check and verify the candidate's claims. Deception is a surefire way to get rejected at the last minute. It shows you lack character and honesty— two traits that are critical for any role.
The best way to find industry-specific keywords is to do a quick Google search. This way, you can find hundreds of keywords employers in your industry use when searching for talent. You'll be able to find keywords used by competing companies in your industry and use the ones relevant to your job application. This works because you'll be using recruiters' own words and terminologies. In most job ads, recruiters use industry-specific keywords. For example, in the content creation niche, common keyword phrases that are often used include "SEO-optimization." The ATS will likely scan for this keyword, even if it's not included in the job description.
Throughout this guide, we've underscored the importance of using the right keywords in your resume. The right keywords make your resume scannable by the ATS and increase your chance of being shortlisted for the interview. But what if we told you some keywords are bad for your resume? Some keywords might get you disqualified by the recruiter, even if the ATS filtered your resume. That said, here are three types of keywords to avoid in your resume.
A buzzword is a technical word or phrase that becomes popular during a particular time and is widely used by the media. Slang, on the other hand, consists of words, expressions, and phrases that are too informal to use in certain situations. When a recruiter sees buzzwords or slang language in a resume, they'll be quick to form a negative opinion of you.
It's one thing to show your skills and competence in a resume. But another to speak of individual glory. As a job seeker, you must be able to distinguish the two. Bragging on a resume can depict your character in a negative sense. Were you offered a job that paid twice what the recruiter was offering and declined the offer? Keep that to yourself. Including it on your resume may show you're overqualified or too boastful to reject offers that even the recruiter can't afford. So, how do you find a balance between arrogance and confidence? Don't talk too much about your achievements unless they relate to the role you're applying for. Instead, mix individual success with the organization's achievements.
Jargon is complex language or writing that's difficult to understand. By all means, avoid jargon in your resume. Recruiters usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes to go through. They may not have the time to look up some words you've used in the dictionary to understand what you meant. Instead, use simple yet professional language that anyone can understand. As the wise say, "complexity breeds confusion." Complex words in your resume may leave both the ATS and the recruiting manager confused about the meaning of your sentences.
Most resume keywords are specific to each industry. If you're looking for a place to start, we've put together some common resume keywords for different industries here.
Content Manager & Resume Expert
Maggie is the Content Manager at VisualCV, with years of experience creating easy-to-understand resume guides, blogs, and career marketing content. Now, she loves helping people learn how to leverage their skills to start their dream jobs.
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