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Resume Tips: Key Skills

How do you determine what resume keywords to include?

Do you remember back when writing your resume meant jotting down your contact info, education, work history, and hobbies? Nobody cared about resume keywords. But, now, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and increasing competitiveness in the job market, your resume keywords are, well, key!

The ATS Scanner

Before you get to a human being, you have to pass through an AI-based ATS scanner that filters out “unsuitable” candidates and passes along the “good” ones. I put “unsuitable” and “good” in quotes because an ATS scanner can’t judge you on what you meant to say or what you have actually done. It can only judge you on your resume keywords. So, even when you’re the best candidate for the job, if your resume is not strategically crafted to scream that at an ATS scanner, your abilities will forever be your secret.

Your Format

Your document must be easy to parse, or the ATS scanner will not be able to read it Submitting your information in a .doc format or a .pdf format is fine, but the source document should not be full of a lot of disjointed tables, columns, and objects. Additionally, the most common fonts like Calibri and Cambria parse best. (Although, I’m extremely partial to sans-serif fonts like Calibri because I feel they’re much easier to read on the computer screen.)

Action Step: Select a resume template that is simple and clean in every way. It should include your contact info, an introductory paragraph or a few bullets, a work history section, an academic section, and, if you’d like, some key skills bullets. Click here for more information about your content.

Resume Keywords

Writing a keyword-rich resume is essential for your job hunt. I suggest two activities to figure out what resume keywords to include.

Action steps:

  • Highlight the words in the job description that seem most important for the role. Populate your resume with those specific words.
  • Do a Google search for “Job Title Keywords” to find lists online of keywords for that specific role, and use those specific words in your resume.

Having a bulleted “Areas of Expertise” section can help you to ensure these keywords are included, but they should also be distributed throughout your work experience. The reason resume writing is both an art and a science is because you have to do this in a way that won’t read like a robot wrote your resume and will engage a human being.

Warning! Including the wrong keywords can be just as detrimental as not including the right keywords, as the ATS might assume you applied for the wrong job and kick you out before you ever get to see a hiring manager. Additionally, from the human perspective, the wrong keywords can be distracting and cause you to be overlooked.

Now that you know how to use resume keywords to ace the ATS scanner, let’s dive deeper into what human hiring managers are looking for:

The Hiring Manager

Hiring managers are inundated with resumes, so yours needs to stand out. No, littering your document with colors, photos, and fancy fonts is not going to do it. A hint of color is OK, but in general, these “crutches” can come off as gimmicky and compensating. Instead, tell them you’re the right candidate by providing an easy-to-read, well-organized document that is laser-focused on your skills and accomplishments as they relate to the specific job description.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Here’s an example from just this week: “John” wanted to change careers. He worked in advertising, marketing, and foodservice and now wanted to be a trainer in foodservice or hospitality. What did we do? For each job, we included a few bullets that demonstrated how he coached, mentored, and trained individuals and groups in each of the roles. We talked about how his training actions helped boost sales and customer service. Did we talk about his skills in graphic design, marketing, and inventory management? No — they were not relevant. We answered the unspoken mandate that should be your resume’s primary goal: “Show me through your past experience the value you’ll provide in this new role.”

Here’s an example from a different client of a bad resume layout vs. a good layout. Use the slider to view the original and the revised document. In what ways do you think I have applied the aforementioned principles to ensure the document is well-aligned and easy to read for both ATS scanners and humans?

In this post, we touched on how to handle a career transition while exploring how to create a resume rich with the right keywords. Stay tuned for a deeper discussion about how to build your resume and answer interview questions in a way that demonstrates your unique competitive advantage based on your experience in a different field.

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