6 Resume Keywords That Will Get You Past ATS

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

If you’ve been submitting resume after resume with no bites, it’s natural to be frustrated. And, of course, you want to know what you’re doing wrong. 

It’s quite possible that there’s actually NOTHING you’re doing wrong. That said, there are some things you could be doing better. 

One of those steps? Optimizing your resume for ATS.

Applicant tracking software (ATS) is a tool many businesses use to filter out applicants. It acts as a screening tool for human personnel. The software looks for specific words or phrases that the hiring manager has designated as must-haves for the role: experiences, skills, education and so on. The purpose is to identify potential fits without the recruiter or hiring manager having to peruse an overwhelming number of resumes. 

But while it does make the process more efficient, ATS is not perfect. Still, given that approximately 75% of employers use the software, it’s important for you to optimize your resume with an eye on ATS.

6 resume keywords to include to beat ATS

1. Education credentials

Many positions have minimum educational (degree or certification) requirements. When listing out your credentials, be specific — for example, “Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics.” Spell it out completely, putting common acronyms in parentheses. 

If your school uses a less common name for a field, defer to the more well-known synonym. For example, I have a BA in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins, but on my resume, I list it as “Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing.”

2. Keywords taken directly from the job description

Your best source for ATS keywords is the job description itself. Comb the listing for words and phrases that stand out, highlighting ones that seem particularly important. Use the exact phrasing on your application (assuming you have these qualifications).

3. Technical skills

While soft skills are certainly important, ATS more commonly searches your application for hard or technical skills. These are keywords to include on your resume and cover letter, such as skills you’ve learned, credentials you’ve gained and tools you use. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include soft skills — when a human looks at your resume and cover letter, they will want to see them.

4. Industry-specific keywords

Make sure to add relevant, industry-specific keywords, too. Some will appear in the job description. Others are ones you may already be aware of working in your field. If you're new to the industry, try Googling job descriptions for similar roles in the field and/or asking professionals for advice.

5. Action verbs

Generally speaking, action verbs are better than passive ones. Depending on your responsibilities and qualifications, consider verbs like implement, lead, analyze, deploy and so on. 

6. The specific job title

Finally, don't forget to include the specific job title on your resume and cover letter. If you've had similar roles in the past with title variations, consider altering the title to fit the exact language in the prospective job description. This is entirely acceptable as long as the roles are equivalent — just don't inflate your title. For example, "Marketing Manager" and "Advertising and Promotions Manager" are at the same level and probably share similar responsibilities, while "Marketing Manager" and "Marketing Coordinator" are not equivalent — these are two different levels.

A brief note on keywords to avoid

There are some keywords you should make an effort to avoid, such as cliched buzzwords. These are skills or qualifications that practically anyone can claim but don't mean all that much — phrases like "hard-working" or "highly qualified." Instead, focus on keywords that add real value to your resume and qualifications — and fit what the hiring manager is looking for.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for getting your resume past ATS? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!