Keyword optimize your resume

How to Keyword Optimize Your Resume


Why is keyword optimizing your resume important? Because this singular step alone can significantly increase your chances of getting recruited for a job. That’s it, plain and simple.

But oftentimes, people forget about this aspect, and their resumes get lost in translation. There are people so qualified for specific jobs that they look like a clone of a job description. But somehow, something, somewhere, happens. Their resume doesn’t reach the eyes of the recruiter. That’s because their resume is not optimized for the specific job that they’re applying for.

It will be the mission of this article to inform you how to keyword optimize your resume and also shed some light and more details upon why this aspect is so important. By the end, you will have a better understanding of how candidate recruitment actually works, and you will have the necessary arsenal to increase your chances and land that desired job. Let’s see how!

Recruiters are not alone

The first thing you need to know is that recruiters are never alone. In the age of daily digital revolutions, it only makes sense that their techniques and filtering strategies have improved also. In come the ATS.

ATS stands for ‘Application Tracking System,’ and it is a software specifically designed to filter out resumes based on the job requirements and the candidate’s profile.

So, as you may have guessed, this is the first (and to some extent, the most important) reason for keyword optimizing your resume. Let’s look at an example to see exactly how an ATS works.

Say you want to apply for a Quality Assurance Tester position. A brief Google search informs us that some of the fundamental keywords related to this position are:

  • Test case management tools: Zephyr, Testrail, etc.
  • Bug tracking tools: Jira, Bugzilla, etc.
  • SQL
  • Databases
  • Test automation
  • Scripting
  • Testing methodologies
  • Rest API

The list can go on, but you get the idea. Now we welcome our ATS to the stage. The ATS software will filter every incoming resume and look for keyword matches. If your resume clearly mentions the keywords above, then you are in the clear. Your resume passed the digital test. If not, then the ATS won’t bother with it.

We figured out one piece of the puzzle. When deciding how to create your online resume, keywords are crucial. But how exactly do you perform this keyword research? How do you know which keywords to target in your CV? For this, you should consider SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Let’s crack open the mystery behind that too.

SEO, a brief introduction

Generally speaking, SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process of improving your website to get more organic traffic from online searches. The more qualitative and relevant your website is for a particular query, the better chances it has to rank higher on Google, Bing, or other search engines.

The same goes for resumes. The more relevant the keywords are, the higher your chances of getting past the ATS and under the recruiter’s gaze. We will get to the tools that allow you to perform this in a second, but for now, these are the general rules of thumb you must follow for your SEO efforts:

  • Include keywords in the essential sections of the resume. Sections such as Work History, Qualifications, etc.
  • Include variations of your chosen keywords. These include plurals, singulars, synonyms, etc.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. Keywords are crucial, but you don’t want your resume to look like a Christmas tree. Stick to the most fundamental ones for the job you are applying for.
  • Try answering the question ‘What is the search intent of the keywords your resume should be relevant for?’.

Hint: type your keyword into Google’s search bar and see what the Autofill option suggests. This can lead you towards other valuable keywords you previously haven’t thought of.

Use tools of your own to keyword optimize your resume

Even without an ATS, a recruiter will generally spend only about eight to ten seconds skimming your resume. Keywords are your hooks for grabbing their attention. Finding them does require some effort, but ultimately it’s something that anybody can pull off. Recruiters are already equipped with their ATS. But don’t think you are facing this alliance all on your own. You can use your own tools to optimize your resume. These tools are designed to help you do one thing: find the best keywords on the market for a given query.

Some of them are free, others require a subscription. But even the paid ones offer you a trial period or a limited number of searches per day before deciding to upgrade.

For general use, such as creating an online resume, the free version will more than suffice. Here is a list of some of the tools that can help you with your keyword research:

Google Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool are free. The other two will require a subscription to more in-depth analysis and research. But again, if you opt for Ubersuggest and Semrush, the free version of both of them should be more than enough for your purposes.

Note: Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and that your resume has a dedicated section towards it. You can add additional information that could help the recruiter paint a more accurate picture of you instead of pouring all your history into your resume.

Job descriptions are your map

Now that you have done your keyword research for a specific job turn your eyes to an actual job description. See how many of the keywords you found can be seen in that description.

When planning how to keyword optimize your resume remember one thing: Job descriptions are always your main map!

There is a dependency between words and industry that, if researched, can help you tremendously. Each industry has its own requirements and thus keywords. You won’t talk about your medical prowess if you are applying for a welding position.

That’s an extreme example, but you get my point. Even though industries may be interconnected, never assume that your resume is perfectly optimized for every job.

Putting the words in the right context

Your resume should always speak the language of the job you are applying for. What does this mean? It means that you must perform individual keyword research for every job you are applying for and match the keywords you find with the ones present in the job description.

No two jobs are ever the same, nor should be your resume. Don’t cut yourself any slack on this step. Most of the time, people update an existing resume and think that is enough. But usually, when trying to get the best out of two worlds, you end up getting nothing from none of them.

Find hard keywords of your own

Targeting the right keywords is one thing, albeit a fundamental thing, but coming up with your own keywords can be just as important. What are other keywords related to the ones you are targeting? We cautioned against keyword stuffing, but don’t mistake this step for that.

Keyword stuffing means adding keywords that don’t bring overall value to your resume. They are there only to trick the ATS and that is something you most definitely don’t want to do. Mainly because even if your resume does land on a recruiter’s desk, he will immediately catch up on your plan and raise at least one eyebrow.

Related keywords, on the other hand, focus on bringing value. Their purpose is to further enforce the message you are trying to carry with your resume: that you are the right candidate for the job!

Ubersuggest, for instance, has an entire section dedicated to Related keywords. Just type in your main keyword and see what pops out. You most definitely will find something relevant for your current application.

So, when focusing on how to keyword optimize your resume, think of relatives as well. Your keywords have a family, and at least one member of that family is worthy of being called into action.

Keyword optimizing your resume means being relevant

How to keyword optimize your resume is all about finding out how to speak the language of your future job. Using SEO best practices, you can get past the ATS barrier and significantly increase your chances of being summoned for that job interview.

Optimization is the word of the century, and the point I wanted to highlight with this article is that resumes follow the same trend. Recruiters no longer have the time to go through hundreds or even thousands of applications. They use technology to help them out, and so should you!

Keyword optimizing your resume may seem like yet another step in building that tedious document we all call resume, but it’s definitely one worth taking. Just remember, effectiveness is not measured by quantity. Don’t stuff your resume just for the sake of it. An effective resume focuses on quality! And that’s what you should be all about. Finding the most relevant keywords and using them to your advantage.

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