This article is part of a series called How to Write a Resume. To start this series from the beginning, read the introduction.

Does your resume sizzle with the right keywords to get you noticed? Can your resume make it past the “reject pile”, get found in a crowded search database, or inspire a job interview? If you’re sitting by the phone waiting for a hiring manager to call, then perhaps it’s time to add the right keywords to your resume.

In the previous article we squawked about how action verbs show hiring managers what actions you’ve taken in previous jobs. Where action verbs activate your resume, keywords are the nouns that explain to hiring managers what things you performed the actions on.

Resume Writing Series:
  1. What is a Killer Resume?
  2. 10 Resume Do’s
  3. 10 Resume Sins
  4. Resume Anatomy
  5. 6 Sucky Resume Words
  6. 6 Resume Action Words
  7. 8 Resume Keywords
  8. 3 Resume Formats
  9. Free Resume Examples
  10. Free Resume Template

Employers want to know the skills and qualifications you offer – so explain WHAT skills you possess with the right keywords and get yourself onto the hiring manager’s job interview list.

Why You Need Keywords On Your Resume

Employers use keywords to filter through piles of resumes on their desk. If your resume is handed to them without the keywords that match job requirements, then your application may hit the “reject pile” without a second glace. To find job candidates, some employers use software programs, internet job boards, and resume databases to search for those applications matching the keywords they target. Other employers are so overwhelmed by the mass number of resumes they receive daily that they streamline their hiring process by digitizing resumes, storing them in a database, searching for ideal candidates using keywords, and then using the results to create an interview call list. In today’s world of keywords and search engine technology, if your resume doesn’t contain the right mix of job-specific keywords, then your resume may stay buried in the digital dungeon that is a candidate database even if you’re fully qualified for the job. As a job-seeker, using the right keywords on your resume is essential if you want your resume to leap out of a pile or be found in a database and land a job interview.

Finding Your 8 Keywords

You don’t need a degree in English to find your 8 keyword nouns. Keyword nouns tend to be the “hard” skills, industry-specific qualifications, and job-specific terms employers look for in a job candidate. Here’s a list of general skill and qualification areas to consider when listing your keywords:

  • Degrees or Certifications
  • University or College Names
  • Job Titles
  • Product Names
  • Technical Terms
  • Industry Jargon
  • Job-specific Buzzwords
  • Company Names
  • Service Types
  • Professional Organizations
  • Software or Hardware Packages
  • Computer Lingo

A great place to get keyed into your resume keywords is to review 5 to 10 employment ads with similar job titles in your field and see which words are repeatedly mentioned. Once you see a pattern, highlight and list the keywords employers mention and be sure to include them in your resume and cover letter.

After making your keyword list and checking it twice, chances are you’ll have more than 8 keywords to boast about. Perfect! Just be sure not to make every other word in your resume a keyword – to much of a good thing is painful, and no one likes to read a resume riddled with buzzword bingo overkill – so start with 8 keywords and go from there!

If you’re still stuck narrowing down a list of skill and qualification keywords for your resume or cover letter, then try using the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) to learn about the standard descriptors specific to your occupation.

Using Keywords On Your Resume

You’ve found and highlighted your keyword nouns, now put them into resume format! When writing your resume, it’s a good idea to precede your keywords with an action verb and then end each statement with specific facts and figures. This brings strength to your resume and sells your skills to a prospective employer.

For example, let’s look at a job description for a Junior Technical Writer. I’ve highlighted the 8 keywords that match the applicant’s skills best.


Now let’s get these 8 keywords working for us in resume format! Notice how I’ve put a few keywords in each sentence along with an action verb!

KEYWORDS: technical documentation, instructional materials
BONUS: English, French

  • Wrote technical documentation and instructional materials in French and English for an online pharmaceutical website.

KEYWORDS: developers, pharmacy
BONUS: software, specifications, web interfaces, database system

  • Worked in a team with software developers and pharmacists to design software specifications and web interfaces for a pharmacy database system.

KEYWORDS: Bachelors degree
BONUS: communications

  • Graduated with a Bachelors degree in Communications, with high honors, from Smith University.

KEYWORDS: Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver
BONUS: online, work flows, Microsoft Visio

  • Wrote, edited, and maintained online help and user manuals using Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and created work flows with Microsoft Visio.

Adding keywords to your resume not only sets your skills on fire but can get you noticed in a competitive job market. So go ahead and find your career keywords and land that job interview!

Got your own resume keyword tips to share with others looking for work in this challenging economy? Jump in and speak up in the comments below!