A common question I hear when giving resume presentations is, “Can you tell me where I can find a list of keywords to put on my resume?” Unfortunately, my answer is always, “No.” Why? Because there are no set keywords that go on everyone’s resume. Each person has different skillsets and a different career goal, meaning that the keywords on each resume will be slightly different. What I can tell you, though, is where to find the best keywords to add to your resume.
First, a Note about Keywords
There are two schools of thought as to where keywords should be on your resume:
1. In a brief section, located just after your introductory summary.
2. Sprinkled throughout the resume itself.
The reason I (and most professional resume writers) add keywords to the summary in a core competencies or areas of expertise section is because that first part of the resume (title, summary, keywords) provides a snapshot of you and the value you can provide to an employer. You can choose option #1 or #2 and still make it through the scanning systems employers use, but only method #1 will serve to paint a picture of who you are.
By the way, what you should not be doing is putting keywords in white type hidden behind the content of your resume. That practice has always been frowned on, and it’s just bad form.
Cull Keywords from Your Experience
I compile the keywords section of a resume after writing the experience and education, essentially creating the document from the bottom up. Why? Because that way, I can see trends within a person’s work history. Certainly, you can add keywords willy-nilly to the resume, but if they don’t represent your experiences and value add, then they’ll only get you through the applicant tracking system (ATS) and not much further.
Types of keywords you might find in your experience include project management, strategic planning, customer service, talent recruitment, team leadership, and data management. These transferable skills or competency areas are brief phrases, not long sentences. Put those sentences elsewhere, if you must, but keep keywords at one to two words.
Find Keywords in the Job Description
When you’re looking online for your next position, the ad will highlight the experiences the company desires. In essence, they’re providing the answers to the test! Those must-have traits are your keywords, so if they apply to your experiences, be sure to add them to your resume.
Remember, adding keywords because they’re in the job ad is one thing, but you better be able to back them up! If you have those skills, yet you haven’t highlighted anything about them, you may want to rework your resume a bit to be sure they’re supported elsewhere.
Keywords are an important part of your resume, so make sure you have them — and they really share the value you can provide. After all, that’s what a resume is all about!