Why Are Keywords So Key?

Keywords are specific knowledge, skills and abilities that are relevant and often unique to a profession or position.

When you apply for a position that has been posted online (on job boards such as Indeed and LinkedIn or a company website), you’ll often be entering information into an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), software that keeps track of where your application is in the hiring process.

ATS are programmed to analyze your resume to determine if specific criteria are, or are not, present. If they are not there, your application goes no further. If you have ever applied online and within a few seconds or minutes received a message that you are no longer in the running (“Thanks for applying but you do not meet minimum requirements.”), you have been screened out by an ATS.

But keywords aren’t significant just for ATS. Recruiters use keywords to find qualified candidates. That is why it is important that you include keywords in your LinkedIn profile and other marketing materials.

Although we use the term “keywords”, they can also be “key phrases”, such as “social media” or “maternal health”.

“Excellent communication skills​”, which shows up in almost all job descriptions, would not be unique.

As an example, keywords for an Event Planner could include: convention center, trade show, cost-control, marketing, online registration, request for proposal (RFP) system, caterer, florist, rental, vendors, event management software, audio/visual, website management, email software, and banquet event order (BEO)​.

How to determine keywords

Job descriptions: Start by collecting 5-10 job descriptions for the types of positions you want to target. Print them out, grab a highlighter and mark the knowledge, skills and abilities that are unique to the role.

⮞ Enter all the job descriptions into a word cloud such as WordArt. On the left, eliminate words that probably aren’t keywords. Look for the words/phrases that are used most frequently. Which of these are likely to be used by an ATS or a recruiter?

⮞ Use a parts-of-speech parser such as Rewordify. Donna Svei has an excellent article on how to use this tool to identify keywords.

O*NET and OOH: Go to www.onetonline.org. Enter the job title in the Occupation Quick Search box at the top, and click on the job title that most closely matches. Scroll through the description and make a list of likely keywords. Note that each section just shows the first five. Click the plus symbol to see all.

Near the bottom you’ll see links to sources of additional information. Look for a link to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Click it and read the entry. Do you get any ideas for other keywords?

⮞ The ZipRecruiter Career Keyword Mapper analyzes job postings for a specific job title, and gives you the most used keywords for that job title. Start at Ziprecruiter.com. Under “Job Seekers” click “Search Salaries.” Enter the job title (such as Environmental Scientist) and click “Search Salaries”.  Then click “Resume Keywords”.

⮞ Use LinkedIn to search for professionals who are doing the kind of work you want to be doing. Scroll down to the Skills & Endorsements section of their profile. Click on “See all”. Are there skills listed that you need to include in your list of keywords?

Jobscan compares your resume or LinkedIn profile to one or more job descriptions. Go to www.jobscan.co. Enter your resume or LinkedIn profile on the left-hand side, and one or more job descriptions on the right-hand side. Be sure the box “Make my resume searchable to recruiters” is not checked, and click Scan.

⮞ Do a google search. For example: event coordinator keywords resume

⮞ Get in the habit of saving job descriptions for positions that interest you. They don’t have to be ones that you plan to apply for, so they can be from anywhere in the country. Copy each one to a Word document, and save in a folder on your computer. What are the common keywords for positions that interest you?

Where and how to use keywords

There are two places where keywords and key phrases must be used: Your resume and your LinkedIn profile. In both cases, uses keywords throughout.

Although it is tempting to list keywords in a Skills or Competencies section of your resume, it’s better to use them throughout. By customizing your resume to the job, your resume is more likely to contain the important keywords.

Same with your Linked profile. Use keywords in your Headline (directly below your name), About section, Experience section, and Skills & Endorsements section.

As a final check, use Jobscan to check for missing keywords in your resume and LinkedIn profile.


Need assistance with keywords, your career marketing materials, job search or career transition? Contact Debra Franke, Assistant Director of Alumni Career Programs at franke@lasalle.edu or 215-991-3582.