What are keywords? Where do I add them?

Let us start with a question. In your view, how many job applications do big companies get for their job postings? 100? 500? 1,000? 5,000? Nope. It runs into tens of thousands. Yahoo!receives 12,000+ resumes every week. Companies eventually land up with an enormous pool of resumes in their database. It is humanly impossible to review so many applications for all sorts of job postings. Time is also of the essence. Behold the savior, technology. HRs use systems called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to streamline their screening process. The job of the ATS is to find the most suitable candidates (thereby eliminating others) for a job posting and present them to the HR.

The ATS requires some inputs from the HR to find relevant candidates. HRs express these requirements in terms of words, also known as“keywords”. The ATS scans the entire resume pool and uses sophisticated algorithms to find the most qualified candidates with respect to these keywords. Let us illustrate with a simple example.

Suppose Google is looking for a iPhone Developer in San Francisco. The HR at Google could look for a certain skill set, educational qualification, and location of residence of the candidate. Keywords for this position may include iPhone, iOS, software design, cocoa, objective-c, San Francisco Bay Area, Computer Science Engineer and so on. These are words that an ATS would expect to see in a resume of a person who has experience in iPhone Development. Their absence could indicate that the candidate is a poor fit for the job.  This is a very simple example to explain the concept of keywords. If one thinks about it, there is a fascinating parallel between keyword search and a typical Google search. Making your website more searchable for a particular user search is commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Likewise, making your resume more searchable for a particular job is slowly being referred to as SEO for Resumes or Resume Optimization.

Let us dig deeper into the different types of keywords that HRs look for. Keywords could be of but not restricted to the following types:

  1. Skill or Competency Keywords: These are generally core to any job requirement. Some examples of skill keywords from different streams include financial modeling, object-oriented programming, market research, sales, intellectual property rights, calculus, French, leadership, teamwork, and so on. Employers might look for a good mix of both hard and soft skills.
  2. Contact Information Keywords: Employers might look for local talent and so the name of the city itself could act as a keyword for that particular job. If Google wants to fill a position of Java Developer in their Mountain View office, they might want candidates from the San Francisco Bay Area only. So, San Francisco Bay Area is a keyword.
  3. Educational Qualification Keywords: It could so happen that an employer is looking for candidates who have finished a college degree only. Then, B Tech, BA, BSBA, BS, BE, etc. are all keywords for the job. Similarly, companies could look for candidates who have done their MBA from a certain list of schools. Essentially, MBA and the names of those schools are keywords being searched for by the ATS.
  4. Work Experience Keywords: Companies could also look for candidates who have worked in certain companies, or certain industries, or in certain job positions or in certain locations, and so on. For instance, Wikipedia might want candidates who have worked in the telecom industry space in emerging economies in Asia since they are looking to fill a job that demands such expertise and experience. Then, telecom industry, India, China, etc will be keywords that the ATS will look for.
  5. Action Keywords: These are words that are used to construct sentences in a person’s resume or cover letter that exhibit actions, personality traits, and achievements of a person. Examples include achieved, executed, accomplished, reviewed, analyzed, and so on.

These are a few categories of keywords. As one can see, the keywords for a job are very specific to each job. Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all resume.

Given a job posting, how do you find the keywords and where do you use them on your resume?

Now that you have a good idea about keywords and their different types, the next step is to identify them in each job that you are applying to. There are ways to do this. Here are a couple of ways:

  1. Manually go through the job description to identify the keywords from the lens of the employer with respect to the different types of keywords mentioned earlier. Add them to your resume in the appropriate sections.
  2. Use a resume optimizer to get all the keywords you require and the sections you need to add them in. Resume optimizers are nothing but ATS simulators. They simplify the process for job seekers to a large extent saving a tremendous amount of time.

Location Matters: The location of the keywords in a resume matters. For instance, if you have a high level of expertise in a certain skill like “financial modeling”, the ATS would expect to see “financial modeling” in your work experience section and not just your skills section. The ATS is smart enough to identify contexts and extract meaning.

In summary, when interested in applying to a job, keeping in mind the different types of keywords, you need to identify the keywords, and add them in the right sections of your resume. This makes sure that you are considered to be a very strong candidate for an interview. For more important dos and don’ts on your CV, follow the link.

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