How to Choose Effective Keywords to Improve Your Resume’s Results

Resume keywords are one of the simplest and most important steps in your resume development—whether you’re developing a sales resume, technical resume, or some other focus for your resume document.

Resume keywords are words and phrases that the person who writes a job description uses to describe the requirements for a particular position. Check out this sample job description:

“Office assistant needed for busy appliance repair business. Pleasant phone voice and excellent customer services skills required. Must be proficient in MS Office, including Word, Access, Excel, and PowerPoint.”

The words “Pleasant phone voice, excellent customer service skills, proficient, MS Office, Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint” in this description are especially important to include in your resume, because when a resume screener begins sorting through the many resumes he receives in response to an ad, he’s going to be looking for evidence that candidates have expertise in these areas. These words and phrases are examples of keywords that would be included in a resume.

Because the resume sorting process may happen either electronically (where an applicant tracking system sifts through a database of resumes to locate those with the greatest number of keyword matches), or visually (when a resume screener reads all of the submitted resumes in hopes of finding the skills he seeks), it’s important for you to include the right keywords in your resume. This is also true as you create content for your LinkedIn profile.

Locate Job Descriptions Relevant to Your Position Target

The first step toward choosing keywords for your resume is simple and fun. Your goal is to locate a few detailed job descriptions that describe the kind of position you’re seeking. Here are some ideas for finding what you need:

If you have a detailed job description already, such as a job ad that you want to develop a resume for, you can count that as one of your three to four descriptions.

If you don’t already have a detailed description, log onto a job search site, such as or, and hunt for job ads that describe the kind of work you’re aiming for. For example, when you log onto, the first thing the site asks you to do is to plug in the job title or keywords for the type of position you’re aiming for, and click “Search”. A long list of job ads will pop up. Hint: As you complete this step, don’t worry about selecting a particular geographic area. Your goal is to locate sample job descriptions, not actual job ads to respond to.

Another resource for resume keywords is a site like This is a government site describing different career specialties. To locate potential keywords connected to your specialty, click the “Browse Occupations” link and follow the prompts.

As you locate position descriptions, copy the text and paste it into a word processing document that you create as you develop your resume. You’ll wind up with a long list of job requirements.

Analyze the most important keywords

Now that you’ve collected all of this great keyword information, your next goal is to boil this down to a list of the most important keywords. A tool such as can do this for you. Just open the application, copy and paste the job descriptions into the tool, and generate a word cloud showing the most prevalent keywords, and be sure to integrate these into your resume and LinkedIn documents.

Excerpted and adapted from “Career Coward’s Guide to Resumes” by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed.