The Power of Keywords

- July 18, 2012

" be successful in a job search we must develop the skills to know and explain ourselves wel"

In these days of online applications, computer document scanning and human resources personnel all sorting your resume, cover letter and job application before they get to a hiring manager, it is important to understand the concept and importance of keywords. Job seekers are dramatically hindered by not knowing, recognizing and optimizing this concept to their advantage when looking and applying for jobs.

Keywords are significant words or phrases in a title or document that identify the content and/or specific area of knowledge or information. For example, “Manager” is a job title or a word from part of a job title that indicates a certain level of experience and responsibility. Inside a job description for a managerial job you are likely to see other keywords listed such as “supervision”, “training,” “budget” and so on.

Your own knowledge of your profession position usually helps you recognize keywords in a job title and/or description. You might also go to a general career description in a place such as O*NET ( or the Occupational Outlook Handbook ( where you will find many words and job titles that are specific to the type of work done in that career. Biologists “research,” health care providers “advise” and “educate,” architects " “design” and so on.

Once you are able to recognize keywords in a job description, then you must ensure that your resume and job application contain those words or obvious synonyms. The request for five years of management experience could easily be addressed with a job title and dates; 5/06 – 7/11, Store Manager, XYZ Shop. The request for excellent computer skills could be addressed by explaining your skills as follows; Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite 2010, Photoshop, PC’s, Macs and Internet research.

By matching the keywords on your resume and application with the job description, the computer and human resources personnel, who often know nothing about the job beyond the job description, will be able to affirm you are a qualified candidate and pass you on to a hiring manager who is knowledgeable about the actual job. The hiring manager will have more discernment to read between the lines and assess whether or not you likely know how to do what’s needed and will invite the most qualified few applicants for that next step, the interview. Then, of course, you need to use your profession’s terminology in describing your experience and knowledge.

In order to be successful in a job search we must develop the skills to know and explain ourselves well. I certainly wouldn’t entrust my unconscious body to a surgeon who tells me, “We’ll just dig out and cut off that thingy. You’ll be fine!” Recognizing, developing and using a professional vocabulary to describe what we know how to do goes a long way in improving our own confidence as well as the trust of those we wish to work for.