Picking the Best Keywords for Your CV

Regardless of where the CV is stored, use of the “right words” (those used in a search through the database for people meeting a job’s requirements) in that CV determine whether or not the CV is selected to appear in the search results. Those right words are typically called “keywords” and appearing in the search results is called “search engine optimization” (or SEO).

So, what are Key Words?

For job seekers, the “key words” that matter are the words and phrases a recruiter uses while searching, like the words you type into Google when you are searching for something. The ones most relevant to your job search are the words and phrases someone would uses to describe your next job (as well as your current job). You must be sure to include those words and phrases, where appropriate, in your CV so your CV will appear near the top in CV database search results.

Think of keywords as the jargon or “buzzwords” used by insiders in a profession or industry. It’s how insiders describe themselves and others in their profession. These are the terms they give to the people writing job descriptions as the job requirements.
Keywords are the nouns and noun phrases used by recruiters searching through applicant databases and Web job sites for CV’s  meeting the requirements on job descriptions. In case you’ve forgotten 8th grade English class, nouns are the words that represent a person, place, or thing. [“Assistant” and “manager” are nouns. “Administrative assistant” and “marketing manager” are noun phrases.]

Key words are a relatively new requirement. This requirement developed when employers and agencies began storing  CV’s in as applicant data in databases rather than paper stored in physical files. Then, Web job sites started appearing in 1994, and keywords became more important. In the past, we focused on “action verbs” in our resumes — for example: “Managed a P&L…” or “Created and implemented a marketing campaign…” And, action verbs are still very important because they describe your accomplishments.

However, you need more than action verbs in cyberspace. You need the key words – the right words used by someone searching a resume database for qualified applicants – to be in your resume, so your resume will appear in the results of a search.
Think of the education and experience you have had and the job you want, and brainstorm the nouns and noun phrases that would be used in the description of the requirements of that job, using the suggestions in the section below. Look through the job postings you find for the skills, experience, professional certifications or organizations, etc. that will tell you what keywords will be used. If you can, get a copy of the job description for the job you want, and pick out the noun and noun phrases used. As appropriate (you do have the skills, education, etc.), add those words and phrases to your resume when you apply for that job.

Developing Your Keywords

When developing your list of job-related keywords, be creative, but not inaccurate. Search for the job you want next on a few job boards, and note what unique, job-specific words are used in those job descriptions. Make a list of the following:

  • The job title of the job that you want next. Standard job titles that are used for your current and previous jobs, particularly if current (or former) employer(s) used non-standard titles
  • Names of job-specific, profession-specific, and industry-specific tools that you use or are qualified to use because of education and/or experience (e.g. MRI, Mastercam, etc.)
  • Software and hardware that you use or have been trained to use, particularly if it’s unique to your job, industry, or profession (e.g. CADDUCT etc.)
  • Names of techniques that you use or are qualified to use (e.g. Six Sigma, LEED, etc.)
  • Industry and professional organizations that you have joined (include committee membership or association officer titles, as appropriate)
  • Professional and/or technical acronyms — the more; the merrier, as long as they are appropriate to your experience and education
  • Certifications, licenses, or other proof of professional or industry knowledge you have achieved
  • Applicable education that you have (degrees, majors, applicable course work, post-graduate courses, and certifications, etc.)
  • Other jargon (common “insider” words, terms, and acronyms specific to the profession and/or industry) that describe your work, typical products and/or services involved, and the people who do your job
  • Include the words that are appropriate for you and your target job, but don’t be inaccurate or deceptive. Marketing “mode” is fine. Scam mode is not a good long term strategy. People are fired for lying on their CV or job application.

Adding Keywords to Your CV

Include both the acronyms and the phrases that explain each of them in the body of your resume. The acronym and the phrase explaining it don’t have to be in the same sentence or paragraph. Just use both versions if you can. It will increase the probability that your resume will appear in the search results whether the recruiter searches on the acronym or the phrase that it represents.
Be inconsistent. If you were being judged on your writing skills, this wouldn’t be an advantage. In the resume search-ability game, however, itis an advantage. So, without destroying the meaning of the words on your resume, be as creatively inconsistent as you can — “M.B.A,” “MBA,” “Master of Business Administration,” “Masters in Bus. Admin,” etc. so your resume will pop up in the results regardless of the exact term used by the recruiters in their search.
Add a section near the top of your resume named “skills” or, even, “keywords,” where you concentrate as many of your key words as possible. For an example, check out our sample ASCII text CV. It has a “Skills Summary” section which is really a collection of keywords – the nouns and noun phrases that best summarize the experience and skills as well as education and relevant association memberships.

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2 thoughts on “Picking the Best Keywords for Your CV

  1. Pingback: The end of the resume for job applicants? | Coldstreams.com by Edward Mitchell

  2. Pingback: Marianne Steen - Marianne Steen - Social Media Business Developer - My Social CV

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