Incorporating Keywords In Your Resume

Regardless of how you plan to distribute your resume, keywords or buzzwords are a critical element in marketing yourself to the prospective employer. A resume rich in keywords is critical whether you are:

  • Selectively sending your resume to the hiring decision maker or an executive search consultant
  • Responding to a position posted online
  • Posting your resume on an executive search firm’s site, a membership organization’s site, or a function- or industry-specific site

In nearly all of the electronic options, your resume will be entered into a database where the recipient(s) can conduct a search of the most qualified candidate.

And how do you think these folks initially determine who’s the most qualified? Keywords. Their own set of keywords, based on the requirements of the position.

Due to the plethora of job seekers in the market, employers are only considering candidates who are a “perfect fit”. And today, recruiters are expanding their list of requirements to include very specific requirements.

For example, some job postings include the geographic location in which you must reside. Some require specific company experience, for example, you must have worked at Coca Cola for five years to be considered for the position. Some even state, “The unemployed need not apply.”

So, your first challenge is to figure out which keywords to include. In selecting keywords, it’s important to be crystal clear about your functional target. It also helps to be clear about your industry target. Positioning yourself as an expert in a function and an industry greatly enhances your chances of being selected.

Generally, keywords are nouns or noun phrases. The most common type of keyword that employers search for is a position title. Other keywords include degrees, prestigious college names, credentials, licenses and technical certifications, as well as hard skills (areas of expertise), techniques or tools (B2B business development, environmental engineering, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing), soft skills (team building, cross-cultural leadership), languages, affiliations, industry jargon and geographic locations (cities, states and even telephone area codes). If you are searching for a position in the Silicon Valley and your residence is in “Alum Rock” rather than “San Jose,” in parentheses add, “Silicon Valley area,” or “10 miles outside the Silicon Valley area.” Remember, a recruiter selecting candidates for a Silicon Valley company may be based in New York and may not be familiar with the outlying cities.

Next, research job postings and select four to five positions that sound like your dream position—postings for which you feel 110% qualified. You may also want to visit industry-specific association websites to identify keywords. Association sites generally educate members on the current trends and challenges facing the industry.

Read through each position or website and record all of the keywords. Look for keyword similarities and patterns across all positions and websites. Create a list that you can refer to and update on an ongoing basis. Then, rank order the keywords by the number of times they are mentioned in the various postings and sites.

To determine the keyword strength of your resume, run a search on your resume for each of the keywords on your new list. Highlight the ones you find. Now, you can determine which keywords you will need to add. While it is okay to include a keyword list in your executive summary, you will also want to weave the keywords throughout your resume because some systems are able to decipher lists from content and rank keywords found within the content higher on the search results.

When embedding keywords in the experience section, create a quantifiable value proposition story encompassing the keyword or phrase. For example:

“Developed and successfully executed strategy for divestiture of 3 facilities within 16 months to yield $8MM in cost reduction and $280MM in asset sales.”

“Restructured manufacturing-driven inventory management system into a global organization based on solid forecasting methodologies. Reduced back orders 50% while improving customer service levels; improved inventory turns 10%.”

In the examples above the keywords are in bold.

Caution, do not use so many keywords that the resume does not read well when viewed by the human eye. The number of keywords you use will depend on your function, industry, qualifications and years of experience. For example, if you have been in operations or technology for 20+ years, you will most likely have numerous keywords that you could include in your resume. However, only include keywords that relate to what you would like to do next.

If you intend to pursue different functions and industries, you will need to create multiple versions of your resume that include keywords appropriate for each function and industry. While this is a lot of work, it is critical in today’s job market. Just be sure to track which resume you sent for each position or which resume you posted on each site. Some functions and industries combine well on one resume and others do not. For more about this topic, read: How Many Versions of Your Resume Do You Need?

You should also include keywords in all of the documents in your executive job search portfolio (cover letters, bios, online profiles, positioning statements, leadership profiles, success stories, branding statements, introductions, reference dossiers, thank you letters, etc.).

While a targeted search is the most effective job search strategy, there may be times when you must use some of the online venues to pursue a position, at which point your keywords can make or break the opportunity.

The strategies outlined in this article can also be applied to your LinkedIn profile.

Feel free to send an email to of you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

Writing Success Stories

Whether you call them CAR (challenge, action, result), STAR (situation, task, action, result), PAR (problem, action, result) or OAR (opportunity, action, result) stories, these stories are a critical component in your resume, leadership addendum, positioning statement and other marketing collateral, as well as in your interview.

When creating success stories, select ones that will demonstrate and showcase your executive brand. This is what will help you attract the right type of position. Actions always speak louder than words and are often times more effective because you’re helping the recruiter understand the value you bring to his/her organization.

  • Explain the situation, challenges, roadblocks and extenuating circumstances. For example, what made this initiative difficult? What impact would it have on the organization if it were fixed? The impact may be different than the actual results, so consider both outcomes and include both if appropriate.
  • Explain the actions you took to resolve the problem and who was involved in solving the problem. The amount of detail you include will vary depending on the venue. For example, in your resume, you will need to keep your actions to a minimum to meet traditional page length requirements. However, in your addendum and your interview, you can expand on your actions in greater detail.
  • Explain the results or outcomes. How did the results impact revenues, profits, marketshare, stakeholder or shareholder value? What did the results enable the company to do? What was the strategic importance–the long-term impact on the company?
  • Optionally, you may want to include the knowledge and expertise you had that enabled you to solve the problem. Or, you might want to include what knowledge or skills you had to quickly learn/develop to solve the problem.

Be sure your success stories include the who, what, when, where and how.

Are You Customizing EVERY Resume You Send Out?

You should be. Even if you’ve had your resume professionally written, one size does not fit all in this extremely competitive job search market. You need to address each position you pursue specifically. This is relevant whether you’re targeting unadvertised opportunities or advertised positions. Here are a few areas that will need to be tailored:

Function – While broad and diverse functional experience across all phases of the business is great, you need to target each resume for the opportunity you are pursuing. If you’re pursuing multiple job titles (for example, president, chief financial officer, chief information or technology officer, or chief operations executive), you need more than one version of your resume. In these competitive times, you actually need one resume for each function. Recruiters are looking for a very specific candidate and presenting yourself too broadly may be confusing, inundating or intimidating. This is not to say that you should eliminate all the information about the other functional areas, it’s saying that you need to showcase one function more prevalently than the others. The analogy I like to use is that of a balance scale – you need to add enough weight to one side of the scale so that it tips the scale. You do not want a perfectly balanced scale. You’ll still want to include all of your functional areas of your expertise … you’ll just focus each resume on one specific functional area.

Industry – Nearly every industry has their own set of buzzwords, jargon and language. They also have unique challenges and trends. You should research each industry in which you’ll be pursuing a position by digging into the industry’s trade associations. Look for conferences being held and study the topics the speakers will be covering. The topics will always be related to the challenges and issues the industry is facing and the trends and direction in which they’re headed.

While many of you have told me that your functional expertise crosses numerous different industries, you have also stated that when you are hiring, you look for someone with industry experience! As such, if you don’t have industry experience, you need to be able to present a compelling case regarding how your experience will transfer and deliver a return on investment.

Size of Company – Recruiters look for candidates who have worked in a company comparable to the size of their company or the company they’re representing. If you have not clearly defined how the companies you have worked for compare to the size of the company with the opportunity, than consider adding or revising that information. If you’ve worked in companies that are considerably larger than the target company, consider omitting the size of the entire company and focus more on a division or business unit that would be more relevant to the target company.

Profit & Loss or Budget Size – Recruiters look for candidates who have held financial responsibility similar to that of the position they’re filling. If you have not defined the size of the profit and loss responsibility you have held or the size of the budget you have managed, consider adding that information. If you have managed P&Ls and budgets much larger than the recruiter is requiring, consider omitting the size of the financials for the entire company and instead focus on the financials of a division, business unit, group or project.

Team Size – Recruiters look for candidates who have led and managed teams similar to that of their open position. Make sure your resume contains the size of the team you managed. If you’ve led and managed teams much larger then the company is requiring, than you may just want to mention your number of direct reports. If you haven’t managed teams of a similar size, you might want to include the number of people impacted by your role or the number of people you influence despite the fact that they don’t directly report to you. This can be an even greater demonstration of your leadership skills.

Local, National, International Experience – Recruiters look at the companies you’ve worked for to see if you have similar geographical experience. If the recruiter is representing a regional or national company, you may need to adjust your resume to reflect the same type of geographical situation. If your resume references international experience frequently, you may want to eliminate a few of those references, unless of course, you know for a fact that the company is looking to expand into the international arena.

Other similarities recruiters look for include, the company’s business model, industry ranking, products and services, and company culture.

The goal is to align your resume with as many of these points as you can. In some cases you may need to tone down the resume so you don’t appear over qualified and in other cases you may need to up-level your resume to fit the requirements.

While this is a lot of work, you will soon develop a portfolio of resumes that you can use repeatedly for similar types of positions.