I’ve spent the last six years as a recruiter and career coach, helping people land jobs at major companies, including Microsoft, Google and Facebook.
After reviewing hundreds of resumes, and talking to top executives about what they look for in a candidate, I’ve found that including strong keywords is one of the best ways to stand out.
But many people use keywords the wrong way.
‘Keyword stuffing’: The No. 1 resume mistake
Lately, the biggest resume mistake I’ve been seeing people make is “keyword stuffing” — or trying to use as many keywords from the job description as possible.
Job seekers often do this because they believe the resume scanning software many employers use — known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) — automatically rejects resumes that have too few keywords.
But the primary function of an ATS is to organize applications and make the hiring process easier for recruiters. It does things like keep track of applicants and interview schedules.
It doesn’t actually reject applications.
Generally, human eyes see every resume before big decisions are made. You may receive a rejection email that reads like an automated message, but rest assured, someone actually reviewed your resume and decided you weren’t a good fit.
How to use keywords on your resume
A simple tip to remember: Use keywords with humans in mind, not machines. That means doing it in a way that is convincing and properly contextualized, rather than awkward or forced.
1. Decide what you want the hiring manager to know before you start writing.
Having an idea of the impression you want the resume reader to walk away with can help you decide what keywords to prioritize.
To uncover what makes you special, ask yourself questions like:
- Is there a specific part of my job that I am better at compared to my peers?
- Looking at my biggest wins, is there a common theme?
- What does that common theme say about my strengths?
2. Highlight keywords through your achievements.
The most impressive resumes tell the reader how you used your skills to create to quantifiable results.
For example, let’s say one of the required skills in a job description is “Microsoft Excel.” Instead of writing “Used Microsoft Excel to track and report load speed data,” write “Leveraged Microsoft Excel to automate load speed insights and decrease weekly reporting time by 50%.”
3. Keep your skills section short.
A separate skills section is a great place to put keywords that don’t naturally fit under your experience section.
I recommend including at least nine key skills and grouping them into columns of three, spread evenly across the top of the resume.
We limit ourselves to nine skills total to avoid “keyword stuffing.” You also don’t want to look like “a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.”
Jermaine L. Murray is a career coach and founder of JupiterHR. He specializes in helping companies diversify their hiring pipelines with talent from marginalized communities. Follow him on Twitter @JermaineJupiter.