How to Pick Key Resume Words That Will Boost Your Shot at an Interview


Woman holding resume

Evangelia Leclaire
Evangelia Leclaire
Nearly every employer requires job candidates to submit a resume as part of a job application. In ideally one page, but no more than two, a resume showcases a job applicant’s qualifications, skills, experience, education, and community involvement. Since the job market is extremely competitive, it’s important for a job seeker to make sure a resume is as relevant as possible. And one major way of increasing your resume’s effectiveness is through the use of “buzzwords.”
Before the advent of applicant tracking system (ATS) technology, a candidate’s resume only needed to stand out to impress a hire manager or human resources professional. Their judgment — as well as the weight of your achievements, of course — would determine whether you moved on to the next phase in the hiring process. But now, as technology becomes a more and more essential part of streamlining the hiring process, once a resume is submitted, it goes through an ATS to identify candidates whose resumes are relevant based on pre-determined keywords and buzzwords. So, as if job searching weren’t difficult enough, it just got a little bit harder.
Employers don’t want to waste their time on job seekers who simply submit their resumes to dozens of job postings, or who are in no way qualified for the role. Thus, the targeted use of specific and applicable resume words is more important than ever. Relevant keywords are often found in the job description of the position you’re applying to, or they are buzzwords typical to the industry. You should use buzzwords that are the familiar to the person who will be reviewing your resume — typically a hiring manager or recruiter.
If you have your resume written for both the human reader and the ATS, you can use this new technology to your benefit. By carefully customizing your resume and including keywords and buzzwords relevant to the job description, your resume will make it a lot closer to the top of the stack.
But what buzzwords should you use?
First and foremost, when you think about which resume words to include, you have to be familiar with the buzzwords within the industry for which you are applying. One super useful tool to help you figure these out is Through simple copy and pasting, the site will scan both your resume and a job description and see how the keywords compare; words you haven’t included will be populated for you. It goes without saying that the most-used keywords are also the most relevant to that future job opportunity, and that they should definitely be added to your resume!
Additionally, keywords have the added bonus of helping you tighten and consolidate your resume, as a single, relevant word can often imply a whole range of experiences and skills. Think of the keyword “sales,” for instance. When a potential employer sees that on your resume, they’ll also be seeing the implied skill set and accomplishments that go with it — customer service aptitude, negotiating ability, communication skills, customer relationship management, new product introduction, and more. Of course, you should extrapolate on your experience a bit more than simply writing “sales” alone, but know that small words can still carry a big impact.
Of course, keywords vary greatly based on your industry. Below, we’ve highlighted an example so you can get a better feel for what these words look like.
Keywords and phrases for marketing positions:
- SEO (or search engine optimization”
- Google Analytics
- Digital marketing
- CMS (or content management systems)
- CRM skills (or customer relationship management)
- Mobile marketing
- Lead nurturing
- Email marketing
- UX design
- Coding
- Consumer behavior insights
- Video production and editing
- Productivity tools, like: Google Alerts, Evernote, and IFTTT
- Image and design tools, like: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Canva, and Slideshare
The above words do not constitute a comprehensive list of marketing keywords, as they are essentially generic terms. Those applying to marketing positions should not only be including terms with wide familiarity, like those mentioned above, but also resume wording that is specific to that company and that job description. Again, these can typically be found within the job description itself!
Do note that you shouldn’t simply be jam-packing as many buzzwords as you can onto your resume for the sake of getting noticed by a hiring manager. Of course, you’ll be held accountable for actually having the skill set you profess to have, as well! If when looking up keywords for your desired industry, you begin to notice that you don’t actually know what many of them mean, that could be a good indicator it’s time to take an online class or two. Technology is transforming many industries at a scarily rapid rate, and for anyone who has taken a short career break, especially, it doesn’t take long to lag behind. So, squeeze in time for an online class or two, like those found on General Assembly’s website. You’ll have the added benefit of not only being able to list (and truly mean!) buzzy keywords on your resume, but an overall leg up in your industry, as well.
So, now you know the manifold benefits of having keywords and phrases on your resume. But where on the resume should you put them?
At one time, a strategy many people used was adding in keywords in white (meaning: invisible) text in the margins of their resume. While the words couldn’t be seen by prospective employers themselves, their presence was picked up by the ATS systems. Thus, someone who graduated from a state university, for example, could secretly put Harvard University at the top of their resume and ATS systems designed to prioritize Ivy League educations would sift that resume to the top.
But as clever as job seekers can be, ATS systems are advancing in intelligence, too. That previous trick no longer really works, as ATS systems have been re-designed to not prioritize keywords or buzzwords listed out of context. Similarly, if you were to slap “Google Analytics” onto your marketing resume template in any old location, without attempting to actually integrate it into the overall text, it may not stand to benefit your job search. Instead, you have to actually leverage the keywords in the context of your work accomplishments.
Here are some logical places you could include keywords on your resume:
- In the career summary at the beginning of your resume.
- Within previous (or current) job descriptions.
- Your current and past job titles
- Your technical skills section
- Your education
By combining this strategy with a well-chosen resume template — as well as observing common wisdom, like avoiding passive voice and sticking to a one-page resume — you’re most likely to get called in for an interview and increase your chances of getting hired by that potential employer, since what you’re representing to the employer is a match both on paper and in real life.
Evangelia is an expert career coach at The Muse and founder of Career Ready Set Rock, an independent consultancy for millennial women, moms and moms-to-be who want to make more moves, money and meaning in their lives and careers. Although Evangelia swears by strengths assessments and action plans, at heart she believes that the greatest life blessings and lessons come from being present, surrendering and having faith.


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