When Keywords Unlock Your Resume

I’ve been thinking about some material that I cover in my book Land the Job and explaining little bits of it here on my site as well. Today I thought I’d write a bit more about keywords and what to do with them in your resume.

What’re They For

Keywords represent any of the particular words or phrases that a company is looking for in their ideal candidate. Reading a job post, they very likely have a list of words representing the tools, knowledge, and technology they desire in a candidate.

When a company screens candidates, one of the quickest things they look for is those keywords. If you have the right mix, they keep looking. If you don’t, they pass on you.

This makes sense. If you apply for a job as a Java developer and nowhere do you mention that you can write Java code, almost every company will ignore you.

So, keywords are one of the first things you can fix to make sure you get people to keep looking at you as a candidate.

Who Reads Them

Next up, let’s talk about who cares about these keywords. Out of the gate, Human Resources will often promote resumes matching the right elements of the job posting. Human Resources typically aren’t technical, so they are limited to seeing if the essential words are there, and that’s it.

From there, development and hiring managers will read your application. They will be one of the most critical and technical in the group that sees your application. Often they are the ones who said what to put in the job posting. They want to know that you have the right skills, technology, and tools under your belt.

Before I go further, I want to talk a little bit about software systems. There are software systems out there that scan resumes. There are more and more goofy AI systems to do this as well. While the AI systems are so new, we are left to speculate, we know about the other software. They do not screen candidates. They simply capture information, and a human will make every decision.

What I Recommend

There are lots of ways to deal with keywords in your resume. What I recommend comes down to a few basic ideas.

  1. Match to the specific job
  2. Make it visible
  3. Don’t lie

When it comes to matching for the specific job, it means you may have a lot of various keywords to use, but for sure, use the ones listed in the job posting. It’s fine to have extra, after all, what company wouldn’t love to have someone with extra skills but have the ones they ask for.

Making your keywords visible means that you need to put them where people can see them at a glance. Don’t bury them in long-form prose in your experience. Visibly show them. I like to keep mine in a separate section entirely. Others put the skills that they used in jobs. It doesn’t matter as long as they are easy to see at a glance.

One last thing, don’t put ratings for your skills. If you say that you are 4 out of 5 stars in React, you’re telling me that you’re almost the best. What do you think that will do to how I interview you or judge any slight imperfection?

Finally, don’t lie. Don’t list skills you don’t have. My rule of thumb here is that you can put it if you can answer a few questions about it. If you’ve never heard of it, you’d be lying. Even if it feels like we’re in a vast field, it’s a super small world. I’ve seen developers who lied and plagiarized get turned down time-and-time again because someone in the company knew someone else.

With the right keywords that are easy to find, you put yourself in the position to have HR and hiring managers to see you’re a great fit and move on to reading the rest of your resume and other materials. Don’t overlook how to leverage keywords the next time you update your resume!