How to Incorporate Keywords into Your Resume

I know many new college grads and mid-career professionals alike who are struggling with crafting their resumes. One of the main questions they have is, “How can I decide which keywords to include?” They also wonder if they should put the same keywords in their resume and the corresponding cover letter.

A few of them have asked my opinion; and since the last time I submitted a resume was way before the term “keywords” existed, I turned to a few pros for advice.

Based on what they told me, the process doesn’t sound all that complicated.

The first thing to know is that you definitely should incorporate keywords, according to Anthony Fletcher, founder/CEO of My Future Consulting, a boutique executive search and career consulting firm near Chicago.

“Using strong keywords on your resume is critical and unquestionably increases the odds of an applicant’s resume being flagged as a potential candidate,” Fletcher stresses.

How do you find the right words?

Steph Cartwright, a certified professional resume writer and founder of Off The Clock Resumes LLC, says they’ll be in the online job posting.

“Keywords are most commonly skills (project management and communication, for example) and the nouns used when describing goals or results (customer experience, revenue, costs, etc.),” Cartwright explains.

Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D., CEO of D. Boyer Consulting, offers advice on where to put keywords to optimize chances of a call-back.

“I would not suggest peppering these keywords throughout a resume hoping that they will be caught in the search engine query,” Boyer says. The best approach is to describe the activities and tasks you’ve completed and achievements you’ve accomplished, and to use the keywords in those statements,” she advises.

If you can’t find an accurate description of the specific position you’re applying for, don’t despair.

“When that isn’t possible, I advise applicants to carefully review multiple job descriptions that focus on a specific type of job across myriad industries to help them develop a comprehensive list of keywords that may apply to their desired role,” Fletcher says. “There are often general and industry-specific keywords, depending on the role you are pursuing, and there may be notable differences between the two.”

And what about that cover letter? Should keywords be part of that too?

“When we talk about keywords in resumes we are often thinking of them in terms of optimizing a candidate’s resume when scanned through an applicant tracking system (ATS),” Fletcher explains. “While cover letters are rarely scanned into this system, incorporating keywords provides consistency between both documents while also helping to make your level of competency and capability pop out to a hiring manager while they read your cover letter.”

But that doesn’t mean you should make the cover letter a carbon copy of your resume where keywords are concerned. A cover letter offers the chance to showcase other qualities that make you the right person for the job.

“While your resume should be full of these keywords to improve your chances of being ranked by employer software as a top qualified candidate, your cover letter doesn’t need to be keyword-optimized in the same way,” Cartwright says. “Cover letters are rarely read by employer software, so this is the perfect opportunity to focus less on your skills and experience and more on how you are a great fit for the company. Showcase your soft skills or traits that you possess that align with [those of] an ideal candidate.”

Boyer concurs. “Unless the ATS system performs searches in the cover letters uploaded, as well as the resume itself, in a single query, then you don’t want to repeat everything in the cover letter that you have in your resume just for the search query. The cover letter should note something unique to make you stand out among other candidates that is not fully explained in the resume,” she stresses.


(Article written by Kathleen Furore)