Resume keywords are an essential part of writing your CV in the modern age. From optimising your job title to including trendy buzzwords, we talked to an expert to help you polish your resume. 

Rumour has it that three-fourths of the resumes that get sent out for job applications don’t ever get seen by human eyes. This is because, more often than not, the first hurdle you have to jump through to land your dream job is not a recruiter, but rather an applicant tracking system (ATS).

An applicant tracking system is a type of recruiting software that filters talent applications based on resume keywords provided by either the recruiter or hiring manager. It helps businesses track, manage, and streamline their applications, allowing for a faster, more efficient recruitment process – and at a lower cost.

In order to ensure that your CV beats the applicant tracking system, you need to optimise your resume with the right keywords. 

Here, we sit down with the CEO of Successful Resumes Australia and founder of Successful Resumes Hong Kong, Samantha Saw, to discover how exactly we should be using resume keywords to land that all-important interview. Here are her career-honed tips.

1. Optimise Your Resume With Skill-Based Keywords

The first – and most crucial – step to improving your resume is to figure out specifically what kind of keywords recruiters and applicant tracking systems are looking for.

According to Sam, while applicants often use action verbs to describe their responsibilities, resume keywords are “less about the “how”, and more about the “what”. Instead, applicant tracking systems tend to search for nouns that show your experience, such as “employee training programme”, “performance management”, “financial services”, “social media”.

2. Tailor Your Resume to the Job You’re Applying For

It should go without saying, but one of the worst mistakes that anyone can ever make when applying for a job is to include irrelevant information in their job application.

“The employer is only recruiting for their job, so they’re only going to be looking for the skills that match the job description for their job. They don’t care about the other hundred jobs that you’re going to apply for,” Sam explains.

To avoid this scenario, Sam advises looking closely at the role and responsibilities of the job you’re applying for. “Make sure the resume mirrors the skills that they’re looking for,” she says. Do this by picking the keywords that directly meet that specific job’s requirements. 

3. Adapt Your Job Title Slightly if Necessary

We get it. Tweaking your job title might seem like a dishonest move. But, if done correctly and within reason, it can actually help to improve your resume – and your odds.

To ensure your CV gets in front of the right eyes, try customising your job title in the summary headline so that it matches your target job title, grabbing the attention of even the busiest of recruiters. Another option is to tailor it to meet the job requirements by using the keywords or core responsibilities listed out in the job description in place of your official title (for example, brand development, lead generation, social strategy). 

Refining your job title can be especially beneficial for applicants with niche, unusual, or outright misleading job titles, which could hurt their chances.

Bearing all this in mind, do make sure that your actual company job title is concisely explained further down in the resume to avoid any discrepancy. So long as you’re not misleading or misrepresenting yourself, amending your job title in the summary headline can be a great way to open doors to jobs that otherwise might have overlooked you. 

4. Add Resume Keywords into your File Name

To optimise the matchmaking process, try typing in both your name and the job title to your resume’s file name. For example, Sam’s might be ‘Samantha Saw, professional resume writer’. 

While it may not work across all applicant tracking systems, this simple hack can help to distinguish your resume from the rest of the crowd, making it both easier to locate and understand.

5. Be Mindful of Abbreviations and Acronyms

While the automation of the HR recruitment process has significantly reduced the workload of hiring managers, it’s still not perfect – top candidates can still manage to slip through the cracks. One particular example of this is that these systems, despite all our technical advancements, are still unable to equate abbreviations with the longer, full versions of terms and qualifications, as Sam explains below.

“If you’ve got an MBA, for example, but the recruiter has typed in ‘Master of Business Administration’, it’s not going to come back as a match. As for finance, if you’ve done a CFA but they’re searching for the full name ‘Chartered Financial Analyst’, then your resume won’t go through either.” To get past this systemic flaw, be sure to include both the full name and the abbreviation so that your resume can be optimised.

6. Mix Up Your Keywords

From soft skills and hard skills to industry buzzwords and certifications, be sure to include a good mix of different types of keywords throughout your resume to heighten your chances of success. 

Additionally, don’t just stick to the keywords laid out in your target job description. “While they may not have included certain keywords in the job description of the opening you’re applying for, they may still be searching for them anyway as they’re part of industry expectation,” explains Sam.

7. Keep an Eye Out for Trends and Buzzwords

Apart from industry and job-specific keywords, keep in mind that what’s going on in the bigger world will also play a huge role in influencing what skills are desired and sought after by employers.

For example, “Previously, employers may have wanted people that are able to bring about change and disruption. Now, given that we are in a very unusual situation, what many companies need from people is the ability to create stability and control.” 

8. Be More Specific with Your Skills

Listing all of your skills in your resume may seem redundant – especially when you have to squeeze so much information into just two short pages, but these minute details are not to be missed. Not only do these details show hiring managers the full breadth of your practical skills, but you have a better chance of matching with their targeted list of keywords.

“Creatives need to make sure they’ve got all the Adobe software they’re confident with listed – Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and others,” says Sam.

In addition, she suggests broadening and specifying job descriptions and statements to fully encompass their job responsibilities. For instance, rather than saying “managed regional product offerings”, Sam advises expanding the job description to “introduced market-aligned product offerings for the Southeast Asia sales and trading business across rates, credit, equity, and structured products”.

She elaborates, “By doing so, not only am I targeting the region, but I’m also including all of the products that I’m overseeing as well as the sales and trading function, which are all massive keywords.” 

9. Make It Readable

In a move to “cheat the system”, some applicants have tried stuffing keywords in with zero context, often by making the text white so that it can’t be seen. However, Sam warns that this action is “probably one of the worst mistakes you could make”.

“Eventually, your resume is going to be read by humans. If your document is not people-friendly, then know that, even if your application does make it through the system, as soon as your resume gets read by an actual human, it’s clearly not going to be successful,” Sam explains.

“A good resume has to be successful all the way from the application itself to an invitation to interview. There’s no point in just focusing on the system part; it’s got to do it all.” 

Wrapping Up

If you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut and faced with a pile of rejections, then just know that sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to your resume. Keep a close eye on the details of the job description, leverage the appropriate keywords, and your chances of landing that dream job interview will, no doubt, be greatly improved.


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