Résumé writing 101: Keywords can make you stand out

Employers need quick ways to sort through the thousands of résumés they receive. One favorite method is the keyword search. If you use the keywords companies are looking for, your résumé has a better chance of standing out, job-search advisers say. Here are five résumé-writing tips to take advantage of keywords:

Focus on job titles

Vic Ziverts shows off his 'Hire Me' chocolate bar, which includes his résumé on the wrapper, at a 2009 job fair in Columbus, Ohio. You don't need to go that far to get noticed. Incorporate keywords into your résumé writing, job-search advisers say. (Kiichiro Sato/AP/File)

Companies are looking to fill specific positions, so they search for job titles that match the vacancy. Popular keyword terms these days are “manager,” “management,” “supervisor,” and “product manager,” according to a study released this week by ResumeBucket.com, which surveyed the search patterns of 1,500 employers.

The trick in résumé writing is to highlight the job titles of your previous positions that most closely resemble the job you’re applying for – and to list relevant jobs higher up in your résumé, since there is a hierarchy of search results.

“Get into the mind-set of the recruiter and really find out what they are looking for,” says ResumeBucket.com CEO Ted Hekman.

Hone your job descriptions

A help wanted sign hangs on the door of an Autozone shop in Golden, Colo., in 2009. Look carefully at how an employer describes the job opening for clues to keywords to use in your résumé. (Rick Wilking/Reuters/File)

Here’s a keyword-hitting formula: Use synonyms. Look carefully at the words used in an employer’s job description, then come up with related words that describe your duties and skills in a previous position, suggests employment website Monster.com. This will heighten search-engine hits.

Putting the same words in a job posting on your résumé doesn’t hurt either, says Mary Ellen Liseno, assistant director for career planning at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Using identical words that are in the job description tied in with your own experience is one of the best ways” to attract an employer’s attention.

Highlight performance

Dancers from the Radio City Rockettes rehearse Oct. 14 for the 2010 edition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York, which begins its run next month. When writing your résumé, highlight your performance, not your responsibilities. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Employers glancing over résumés are looking for language that emphasizes performance, says Mr. Hekman. “Recruiters want to know what kind of results an individual can generate that impact the bottom-line.” The ResumeBucket.com survey found that just over half of employers chose résumés based on the “results stated in the candidate’s experience,” which Hekman says refers to measurable results.

“Accomplishments are incredibly important on résumés,” says Katharine Hansen of QuintCareers.com, an employment resource site. “Too many job-seekers mistakenly focus on duties and responsibilities. A résumé should be 100 percent accomplishments-driven.”

Showcase your skills

A South Korean police officer leaps over his crouching colleagues as he shows his martial art skills during a police force demonstration in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 12. Some job-seekers now list their skills at the top of their résumés. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

The more relevant skills you have, the less training a company has to do. So highlight your skills on a résumé. Monster.com recommends a résumé section labeled “strengths” or “expertise” listing brief phrases that would be easily searchable. For a computer programmer, examples would be “software engineering” and “application development.”

An increasing number of job-seekers are creating functional résumés that list valuable skills at the top, says Allison Nawoj, career adviser at CareerBuilder.com, a large online job site. Especially in today’s sluggish economy, “companies want to know what you can bring to the table.”

Use action verbs

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have teamed with Sony Pictures for a promotional marketing partnership around the January 2011 theatrical release of The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou. Action sells, so don't forget to sprinkle your résumé with action verbs. (Business Wire)

Coloring résumés with action verbs can make a résumé stand out. Use verbs that draw positive attention to your performance – words like “administered,” “examined,” “innovated,” and “strengthened,” recommends the career center of the University of California at Los Angeles. (For suggested verbs from its career guide, see pages 6-7 of this pdf.

“Career counselors have always talked about keywords and power verbs as an important part of résumé building,” says Kathy Sims, director of the UCLA career center.

Don’t use keywords artificially, but as an honest representation of your abilities, she advises.