Use Keywords to Help Your Résumé Stand Out


“My friend is helping me with my résumé and told me I need better keywords about myself and my past jobs. I don’t even know what that means or where to start. Help?”—Tamlin from Venice Beach, CA


In today’s competitive job market, recruiters are leveraging technology to maximize their time. Many search resumes electronically using recruiting management software, online job boards and resume databases to find submissions with their preferred keywords. Even if you send in a paper resume, recruiters may scan it and upload it to their system. Their searches are similar to your internet searches—they type in job-specific words to find the best matches.

What does this mean for you? It means that if your resume does not contain the exact words that a recruiter is looking for, you may get passed up for a job without even being considered. Therefore, in this digital age, it is crucial for job seekers to know what keywords recruiters are searching for. Luckily, you have a number of options to do so.

Brainstorm Your Qualifications

Write down about 20 or so words that describe your experience and the job you want. While your resume may already include your college or trade school, degrees or certifications, and previous employers and job titles, does it include your involvement with professional organizations? Products you helped develop or launch? Technology with which you are adept? Industry jargon or buzzwords? Many recruiters search for a very specific candidate, so using terms they will know put you ahead of the pack.

In addition to using the right terms, you’ll want to use them in the right form.  When a word takes several forms—such as manage, manager, management—try to include all of them so the computer will recognize it. Be sure to spell out any acronyms, but also include them, so that recruiters who are using both forms can find you.

Study Job Postings

Go straight to the source and read relevant job postings for keyword examples. Because recruiters write, or at least edit, their postings, they contain the same words that will be input into searches. Collect a handful of related job postings and highlight the terms that appear to be keywords. Compare your findings to create a global list of terms you may want to include in your resume. You can then compare this to your list to make sure you are speaking the same language as recruiters.

Consult the Experts

Organizations related to your industry or employment needs can be a great resource in determining keywords. For example, the Occupational Information Network has standard descriptions of professions. Recruiters may be using this information to create their job postings, and therefore to conduct keyword searches.

Craft a Resume That Gets Noticed

When it’s time to start writing, you’ll want to find a good balance of using keywords strategically without going overboard. Even though a computer searches for resumes, the recruiter will still read it to gauge your ability to communicate, among other things. Integrate keywords naturally into how you explain your experience and why you are the perfect candidate. They will be found anywhere on your resume, so get creative by including them in your summary and headings as well as in the descriptions.

And, of course, many Goodwill agencies offer resume help as a part of their employment services. Use the location finder on to see how Goodwill can help you.