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Put in a Good Word: Using Keywords

By Kate Lorenz, Editor


What’s all this talk about keywords? We’re told they’re essential to a job search — we should use them in our resume and cover letters and use them when searching for job openings. But what are they really, and how do you know you’re using the right ones?

Keywords are specific words or phrases that job seekers use to search for jobs and employers use to find the right candidates. Keywords are used as search criteria in the same way you do research on the Internet. The more keywords you use, the more closely the job will match what you’re really looking for.

For example, if you type the word “retail” into a search engine, you’ll get literally thousands of job descriptions. But if you type the phrase “merchandising manager,” you’re going to get fewer and more useful results.

Get keyed up.
Most job postings are loaded with industry- and position-specific buzzwords. Take your cues straight from the source and include those same words in your resume. To find more keywords, research industry trends and visit professional association Web sites to uncover current buzzwords — especially those used by the hiring company or industry leaders.

Don’t get lost in translation.
Most companies use applicant tracking software, which scans resumes for keywords relating to skills, training, degrees, job titles and experience. Make sure your resume gets through the gatekeeper — present your qualifications as if the reader is comparing the words on the resume to a list of desired qualifications.

Remember the magic words.
Here are some specific examples of popular keywords. Make sure to also use keywords that are specific to your industry.

  • Strategic planning
  • Performance and productivity improvement
  • Organizational design
  • Infrastructure development
  • New media
  • Internet
  • E-commerce
  • Change management
  • Team-building
  • Leadership
  • Competitive market
  • Product positioning
  • Investor and board relations
  • Oral and written communications
  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • MBA
  • Project management
  • Customer retention
  • Business development
  • Corporate vision
  • Long-range planning
  • Cost reduction

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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