How Important Are Resume Keywords?

by Greg Faherty, CPRW
You hear people talking about them all the time. Do you really need to include keywords on your new resume?

The quick answer is "Yes." But more important than including keywords is differentiating between "keywords" and "buzzwords," and then using keywords correctly.

What are Keywords?

Keywords fall into two basic categories: job titles and industry terminology. They are words that stand out, either to a reader or a computer/database search engine, and indicate the types of positions you’re interested in and that you have the right level of knowledge for the position.

Keywords are not "buzzwords." Buzzwords are phrases or words that may or may not be industry specific, and are usually just business or technology slang. They are words you might use in a conversation with a co-worker, but would not put in a technical or business document.

Keywords, on the other hand, are very specific. For example, the phrases "complete project life cycle management" or "Java certified" might be important for an IT professional looking for a project management position, but wouldn’t be appropriate for someone searching for a job in computer repair. Likewise, "analyst" and "financial services professional" would be important in a resume for a bond trader but not for an English teacher.

The proper use and placement of keywords in your resume and cover letter will make those documents perform more effectively. In the past, a special keywords section used to be added to resumes where the keywords would be listed. Resume scanning systems would read those keywords and determine your qualification for a particular position.

Today, computer systems have become better at scanning documents and pulling keywords from the actual body of a resume, so the keywords section is no longer needed. Instead, the words and phrases can be integrated right into the qualifications and job descriptions. The one exception to this rule is that on some resumes a list of job title keywords will sometimes be placed across the top of the first page, right before the Summary. This, however, is more for human readers than for computer systems.

In summary, incorporating keywords into your resume is only going to increase the odds of your document appearing more often in database and Internet searches. Just be sure that you’re using the right words for the right position.