Resume Keywords For Job Seekers: Dos & Don’ts

Resume Keywords For Job Seekers: Dos & Don’ts

April 26, 2018

Having the right keywords peppered in your cover letter and resume could be what gets your application in front of the right person. Many companies use an automated system initially to screen resumes. This culls down the mass of applications for hiring managers to screen. While it is a time-saver for the employer, it could mean your application will get pushed aside if you do not have their keywords present in your resume. (Pro tip: Tailor your cover letter and resume for every position you apply for.)

The computerized screener is only the first stage; the second stage is often a recruitment professional or hiring manager. These individuals will seek out other power words in your cover letter or resume – it ensures them you have the skills the job requires before bringing you in for an interview. They know what types of candidates will be successful in the job position they have open and the keywords they are looking for will likely be more specific than what the applicant tracking system (ATS) was programmed to find.


These power words can help you get noticed in 2018 and land the job you have been searching for:

  • Job duties and company values

Do your research. Look at the job description and company website to get a complete understanding of the position and organization. Use keywords from the job description throughout your cover letter and resume. Also, add in words that describe the company culture and match your preferences to show you would be a good fit all around. The most important piece of advice is, to be honest. You should not be excited you made it past the screener if you do not have the experience to do the job at hand or would not be happy with that type of company.

  • Technical and soft skills

Be sure to mix up the kinds of terms you use throughout your application. It may be tempting to load your resume with buzzwords that describe your tech-savvy aptitude, especially for a technical position, but hiring managers want to see you have soft skills too. You may need to say you have “financial analysis” experience, but “strong communication skills” are likely just as valuable.

  • Use many, but scatter

You do not want to sound like a robot – programmed and unnatural – but incorporating keywords may mean the difference between your resume being tossed in the trash or being called in for an in-person interview. So, do not be shy. Write how you would normally (this showcases you have adequate written communication skills) but use a variety of words to describe similar skills so that you stand apart from other applicants. Be sure to include these words in all application materials.

  • Active words

To demonstrate you have the experience it takes to get the job done, use action verbs to describe the duties of a previous job. Instead of “responsible for a team of six,” say “managed a team of six.” This swap will make your application read more engagingly.

  • Success verbs

It is one thing to have the experience, and another to get substantial results. To take action words to the next level, use success verbs: increased, decreased, improved and reduced. These verbs show a measurable result from your efforts. For more impact, include numerical information to demonstrate exactly how big of a difference you made.

  • Powerful words

According to Ladders’ “These are the 25 magic resume words that will land you the job: Ladders 2018 Resume Guide,” these words will get you hired:

  1. Accelerated
  2. Achieved
  3. Added
  4. Awarded
  5. Changed
  6. Contributed
  7. Decreased
  8. Delivered
  9. Eliminated
  10. Exceeded


Avoid the following faux pas when putting together your cover letter and resume:

  • Adjectives

It is unnecessary to use over-the-top adjectives to describe your previous jobs or successes. It sounds forced when you say “awesome” negotiating skills or “phenomenal” leadership skills. Instead, describe a deal you have negotiated and how it impacted your company or what you did as a manager to make your team follow your lead.

  • “Unemployed”

If you have accurate dates on your resume, the employer will be able to see if there are gaps in your job history. You are not dishonest by leaving out a line titled “unemployed” in your list of jobs; you do not need to highlight when you were unemployed. Be ready to get creative in describing your employment gap should a hiring manager ask during the interview. The resume is not the place to do it.

  • Misspelled words

You cannot proofread your cover letter and resume enough! To avoid errors, have a peer edit it. Misspelled keywords would not only prevent you from passing the first screening (read: if the software is looking for “JAVA programming” experience but you have “JHAVA programming” on your resume, you are out of luck), but screeners would automatically assume that you do not pay attention to detail.

  • Microsoft Office proficiency

Operating Microsoft Office is no longer a skill, but a given. It is required for most jobs that you can operate these programs properly. Only list software skills that are specific to the job to which you are applying for.

  • Personal information

Don’t include birthdates, marital status or information about your children in your cover letter or resume. Personal information like this can open you up to discrimination, and because employers can’t ask you about this type of information, they prefer you do not have it anywhere on your application materials as well.

  • Avoid these words/phrases

According to CareerBuilder’s “The best (and worst) words to have on your resume,” these are big no-nos:

  1. Best of breed
  2. Go-getter
  3. Think outside of the box
  4. Synergy
  5. Go-to person
  6. Thought leadership
  7. Value-add
  8. Results-driven
  9. Team player
  10. Bottom-line

Resumes are the first impressions employers will have on job seekers and essentially, a marketing tool to present themselves as the best suitable candidates. Interviews and presentations are later in the recruitment process – it may be a wiser decision to spend more time perfecting resumes as it is the one and only chance to capture employers’ attention.


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