Keywords for a Resume: Definition and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Candidates usually send an online copy of their resume to potential employers to highlight key skills, experience and qualifications. Hiring managers use software programs to screen those resumes and identify if there are certain words and phrases present on those resumes. Understanding how to use keywords for resumes can help increase your chances of getting the attention of hiring managers. In this article, we examine what keywords are, explain what technology hiring managers use to find keywords, describe how keywords and key phrases work and offer tips for including keywords in your resume.


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What are keywords for resume writing?

Using keywords for resume writing is essential to securing invitations to interviews. Keywords are words and phrases that hiring managers use to describe the requirements of a job and are specific to the role a recruiter is offering. They encompass the skills, qualifications and experience required, so recruiters can select the most appropriate candidates for an interview. The closer a candidate matches their resume to the keywords, the greater the chances of getting invited to an interview.

Related: What Are Resume Keywords?

What technology do hiring managers use to find keywords?

Some companies employ applicant tracking systems (ATS) to search through the volume of digital resumes received after a job posting. The software looks for the specific keywords within the applications and highlights those that match the requirements. The hiring manager then reviews the resumes that meet the criteria before deciding who to invite for an interview. Companies use these systems to search for potential candidates online. This can either be a recruiter actively looking for a new staff member or recruitment agencies.

By using a series of keywords or phrases, they search digital platforms for the resumes that most closely match their search criteria. Not all companies employ ATS to find keywords to identify the candidates that best suit the role. Some hiring managers skim through applications, using a pre-defined list of keywords and phrases to match the most appropriate candidates.

Related: What Are Applicant Tracking Systems? (Including Tips)

What makes a keyword?

Keywords can be words that relate to the job, but companies tend to use the main aspects of the job as their keywords. Job descriptions and person specifications are useful to identify what the company is looking for in a successful candidate. Those words are what the ATS looks for when filtering candidates. For example, the job role of a customer service executive could include the following keywords:

  • customer

  • service

  • communication

  • relationship

An office administrator role may use:

  • administrator

  • communication

  • quality

  • IT

The ATS then searches for the skills and experience the company is looking out for. Resumes that contain the right amount of keywords have a better chance of getting selected for an interview than those that don't.

What makes a key phrase?

Key phrases are an extension of the keywords and look for a more specific wording within the resume. Taking the example of the customer service executive, key phrases for this role could include:

  • strong service mindset

  • proficient in computer applications

  • good interpersonal skills

In the case of the office administrator, key phrases could include:

  • experienced in procurement

  • deadline-oriented

  • excellent time management

If a company is looking for a candidate with strong communication skills, include it on your resume as the ATS highlights resumes with the exact phrase. Key phrases incorporate seamlessly into sentences on the resume so that it highlights the experience of the candidate.

Related: 139 Action Words to Make Your Resume Stand Out

Tips to choose the right keywords in your resume

A careful examination of job listings, descriptions and person specifications can show exactly what recruiters are looking for. Below are some tips on what to look for when selecting keywords to use:

  • Examine the job listing. The listing identifies the key aspects of the role. It's a brief explanation of the duties of the post holder once they start the position and it can show the candidate what the hiring manager is looking for.

  • Thoroughly read the job description. The job description goes further than the listing. It highlights all the duties of the post and is more in-depth, which gives more opportunity to identify what the employer is looking for.

  • Use the person specification to match your skills. Hiring managers compare the skills, knowledge and experience on your resume against those set in the person's specification.

  • Look for similar roles and compare. Comparing the role on offer against similar jobs can identify a pattern of keywords used even if the role is with different companies as certain aspects can often remain the same. Identifying these aspects gives the candidate a better chance of matching their skills to the requirements.

Tips to add keywords and phrases to a resume

Adding keywords and phrases to a resume is vital to make your resume distinguish from others. Some steps you can achieve this are:

  • Create a core skills section. Use a core skills section to highlight specific skills you possess and that a recruiter is looking out for. If a recruiter is looking for experience with a specific program, highlight it in this section and elaborate further on the career summary.

  • Utilise key phrases in professional experience. The career summary section tells the recruiter what you've done and achieved up to date. You can include keywords and phrases in the sentences to match exactly what the recruiter is looking for in the job description.

  • Include a qualifications and certifications section. This section is a good way to use keywords to show how you qualify for the role. Candidates can use keywords from the job description when highlighting qualifications to maximise their chances of success.

  • Add more accomplishments. If the keywords used relate to accomplishments outside your professional experience, adding an accomplishments section is a good way to include keywords. This can be voluntary work, hobbies or personal projects that you have completed.

Related: Why Creating Multiple Versions of Your Resume Works

How powerful keywords help with job chances

In addition to keywords, recruiters also rely on the use of power words to identify potential applicants These are action verbs that add effective context to your resume and help employers to recognise your value as a potential employee. Power words add to the description on the resume that helps it to distinguish you from the other candidates.

The keywords that are prominent in the job listing are also used to reflect what's been achieved in previous positions. Combining keywords with power words shows what you can offer. You're more likely to get the attention and interest of hiring managers, which gives you a greater chance of getting invited to the next stage of the recruitment process. Consider using words like:

  • Improved: This shows you've made something better. Whether it's improving a procedure to make it more efficient or assigning tasks to better-qualified people, it shows that you can make a positive impact in the role.

  • Managed: Regardless of the role, using this word demonstrates your management skills. This can be time, project or team management or anything else throughout the resume that shows management abilities.

  • Delivered: Using the word delivered shows you're someone who can produce results. Describing what you have and the delivery demonstrates your suitability for the role.

  • Achieved: Candidates demonstrating their achievements have a much higher chance of getting selected for an interview. Achievements can be from either a professional or personal perspective but highlight a determination to succeed.

  • Increased: This can be increasing sales, profitability or delivery times. Using this word can gain the attention and interest of a hiring manager.

  • Exceeded: If a candidate continually exceeds targets or deadlines, it's a powerful asset they can bring to the company.

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