Researching Resume Keywords

It is easier than you might think to research the most effective resume keywords to include on your applications to jobs, and if your resume will be screened by an applicant tracking system (ATS) it is even more important than ever to do that good research.

It's always a smart idea to research a job and a company, no matter how your resume will be screened, but if your resume will be screened by an ATS, researching the job, company, and industry so you can write a highly targeted resume is absolutely crucial in order to get to the next stage in the hiring process.

An applicant tracking system is software that screens resumes looking for (among other things) specific keywords that indicate you have the skills and qualifications the employer requires. Resumes are scored based on how well they match the criteria for the job, and those that score the highest will be reviewed by the employer. So, if your resume will be screened by an ATS, you need to get your keywords right to improve your chances of being called to an interview.

This article assumes you understand the basics of how applicant tracking systems are used in job search. If you are not very familiar with applicant tracking systems and need an overview of the basics, you can find it here.

There isn't a single list of resume keywords that fits for all jobs. In fact, you'll need to think through your keywords for every single job you apply to because you may need to use slightly different keywords for essentially the same job at different companies.

Finding keywords isn't as daunting as it may sound, and although you really do need to adjust and target your resume keywords for each job you pursue, your keyword research can build on itself. Once you've researched a job, you can use that research as the basis for the next job you apply to.

You can look for keywords on three different levels:

  • Keywords related to the specific job
  • Keywords related to the specific company
  • Keywords related to your industry in general

Keywords Related to the Specific Job

Finding words and phrases related to the specific job is the most crucial part of your resume keyword research. Start with the job ad, and look for words or phrases that appear to be important. Highlight those words and phrases. Pay particular attention to skill-related words that are used more than once in an ad, as well as skills and qualifications that are marked as being essential for success in the job. These are the keywords the ATS will most likely use to score your resume, so be sure to include them on your resume whenever possible.

Include on your resume, phrases written exactly as they are worded on the job ad. Also, be sure to include, whenever possible, the job title exactly as it is written in the ad.

You will need to do this research for every single job you apply to if the employers you are targeting use applicant tracking systems. Even if employers you are targeting are not using an ATS to screen resumes, this type of detailed analysis of job ads can help you write highly effective, targeted resumes for human review.

Keywords Related to the Specific Company

Next, do some research on the company. Check the company's website and their social media accounts if they have a social media presence. The "about" or "mission statement" page on a website or any profile summaries on social media accounts are good places to start to get a sense of the company's values and priorities. Look for words and phrases that stand out and describe what is special about the company and ask yourself whether you can naturally weave those words and phrases into your resume.

Keywords Related to Your Industry in General

To get a sense of the keywords that are generally important in your industry, collect several job ads (seven or eight would be plenty) and analyse them. Look for important skills and qualifications on each ad. Highlight those skills and qualifications, and use them to create a running list of resume keywords and phrases.

Notice how frequently certain skills come up in each ad. Skills that are mentioned in most ads for they type of job you are researching will be essential to include on any resume that is targeted to that particular job.

This research is a fair bit of work in the beginning, but once you research a few jobs, you'll have a good running list of common keywords, and you will have worked those keywords into your resume. Simply keep a copy of that research, and you can build on it each time you apply for a new job. Subsequent job applications and keywords research will be much easier.

Learn more about ATS optimized resumes here:

What is an ATS Optimized Resume and Do You Really Need One?
Get the basics on applicant tracking systems. Understand what they are and which employers typically use them in their hiring procedures.

Applicant Tracking Systems and Human Readers
Why you need to use ATS formatting when the employer requires it, even though an ATS optimized resume is less reader-friendly to humans.

Resume Formatting for Applicant Tracking Systems
There are some very specific requirements for formatting your resume when it will be reviewed by an ATS. Here's how to format an ATS optimized resume.

Demystifying Resume Keywords and Phrases
Understand exactly how an ATS uses keywords to score resumes so you can write your own effective, keyword-rich content.

Saving an Applicant Tracking System Optimized Resume
Here's how to save your ATS optimized resume to ensure it does not contain any special characters that could cause problems and it is saved in the format the employer requires.

ATS Optimized Resume Sample
Here's a sample resume formatted for ATS review so you can see all of the recommendations in action.

In-Depth Resume Writing Help

My book, The Resume Writing Guide will give you step-by-step instructions for writing an effective resume optimized for human reviewers or ATS software.

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