How to Incorporate the Right Resume Keywords

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By Matt Krumrie, an experienced resume writer and career advice professional.


Just what exactly are keywords? Keywords are defined as:

  • A word or concept of great significance.
  • An informative word used in an information retrieval system to indicate the content of a document.

Why do keywords matter, especially resume keywords?

Because it’s one way applicant tracking systems, the technology/program that employers use to collect, read, and scan resumes and applications, scores your resume. Including the right keywords on your resume can be the difference between getting lost in the shuffle, or contacted for an interview.

How do job seekers know what keywords to include in a resume?

Start by reading the job description for each and every job, says Nick Burns, Lead Executive Recruiter at Celarity, a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based staffing and recruiting firm specializing in working with employers and placing executives in the marketing, creative, and digital technology industries.

“Many large companies use applicant tracking systems to manage resume flow,” says Burns. “These systems are often monitored by administrative staff who have little knowledge of the specific jobs other than what’s listed in the job description or highlighted by a hiring manager. They rely on a set of pre-identified keywords or skills to be present in a resume in order for them to present to the hiring manager.”

Those keywords are often listed in the job posting. At least, they should be. So look for various skills/experiences and repetitive themes (words) in each and every job description. Then, sprinkle those keywords throughout the resume.

“Job seekers should identify the top skills listed in the job description and use them as keywords in the resume,” says Burns. “It will be important that those keywords are backed up with specific examples, projects, and scenarios of how/when they were used.”

Here’s another tip: Don’t just list the keywords in a bulleted list at a top of a resume, such as in an Areas of Expertise or Core Competencies section and expect that to be good enough. Instead, list keywords throughout the resume. Don’t be afraid to list a keyword several times. Some ATS’ actually rank resumes higher if they have a targeted keyword listed several times in a resume. But back each keyword, if possible, up with a success story.

Don’t just say:

  • Marketing leadership
  • Digital technology leader
  • Creative director

Instead, take it one step further. Show a result:

  • Leadership: As Marketing Director oversaw a team of 25, including 5 managers for a Fortune 500 retail company.
  • Technology leadership: As IT director for software startup, oversaw CRM implementation. Also led vendor selection and negotiated contract/pricing.
  • Creative Director: As creative director for award-winning advertising agency, oversaw strategy, a $2MM department budget and led a team of 10.

By taking the keyword and expanding on that with proof of accomplishment, you can quickly share your story, and show how you can make an impact in the next role. Because every time a recruiter reads your resume, they are simply thinking “will this person fit for this role, and/or within our company?”

Another tip: Remove the fluff. Keywords that don’t relate to the next job won’t make an


“It’s important to include keywords that are only relevant to the specific job of interest,” says Burns. “Employers don’t care if a job seeker has PR related keywords when they are looking to hire a graphic designer. If the keywords don’t fit the job, leave them out.”

Also, don’t overlook the soft skills or culture fit. Some job descriptions also incorporate language such as:

  • Strong communications skills a must
  • Employee engagement – looking for rock star leader who can build teams that succeed

Showcase some of these skills by stating things such as:

  • Strong communication skills: As IT Director, present technical information in a non-technical manner to leadership team to achieve project buy-in.
  • Employee Engagement: As Marketing Manager, developed successful teams and became go-to resource within the department, helping 3 junior marketing staff members achieve promotions within one year.

Remember, the resume is your elevator pitch. Sell yourself. If you don’t, the next applicant is, and that is the person getting the interview.

“It’s the first impression that will be made and has to provide value in some way to the employer,” says Burns. “Think of it as a sales transaction. If the salesman (job seeker) isn’t selling a product that the customer (employer) is interested in, it will be a failed transaction. The resume needs to attract the employer and leave them wanting to learn more.”

About the Guest Writer:

Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities-based resume writer and career advice professional. Contact Krumrie to learn how he can create a resume that gets you noticed, and gets you interviews. 

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