In the Age of Applicant Tracking Systems: Resume Keywords Matter

resume keywordsThe accessibility of online job applications has bombarded hiring managers with more applicants than they can handle. That’s why most companies have turned to applicant tracking systems (ATS) to automate and simplify the vetting process.

The downside?

Many great job candidates are rejected sight unseen because they didn’t include strategic resume keywords.

ATS Search of Resume Keywords

Hiring managers don’t have time to read every resume they receive. With ATS, they can simply search by skills or keywords and review the matches. Some top ATS, including iCIMS, ZipRecruiter, and Bullhorn, even rank or assign scores to applicants based on how well they match a query.

You don’t need to cheat the system to succeed. You simply need to optimize your resume so it works in sync with ATS. This is accomplished by figuring out which resume keywords a hiring manager is likely to use in their search, then tailoring your keywords to match.

Different Names for the Same Thing

It’s not as simple as stuffing industry-specific keywords to your resume. It’s about tweaking the keywords already in your resume to match the job description.

For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you have a lot of experience with Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe’s software bundle that includes standards like Photoshop and Illustrator. But the job description mentions only “Adobe Creative Suite,” its former name.

If you have “Adobe Creative Cloud” on your resume but the hiring manager searches the ATS for “Adobe Creative Suite,” you could be excluded from the results even though you possess the exact skillset they’re looking for. In this example, you want to optimize your Adobe experience by changing the resume keyword to “Adobe Creative Suite.”

Editing Job Titles is OK

The same thing can happen with job titles. Many variations of job titles exist based on industry, company culture, or experience levels. Incorporating specific keywords and phrasing into job titles will make a difference in an ATS search.

Three examples:

1. You’re applying for a position as a “Content Writer” but your previous job title was “Content Creator.” The hiring manager will likely search “Content Writer” in hopes of finding someone with direct experience. It’s essentially the same job, so change “Creator” to “Writer” on your resume to increase your ATS searchability.

2. The job title buzzword fad (ninjas, gurus, rock stars et al) is thankfully dying out but you still have “Customer Service Wizard” on your resume from a previous job. Unless a job description asks for actual sorcery skills, change the experience on your resume to something that reflects the new job for which you’re applying.

3 . You worked for six years as the Web Developer at a small firm that didn’t differentiate experience levels. In other contexts, you would be a “Senior Web Developer” right? So make that change on your resume as you pursue other senior-level positions.

There’s nothing wrong with changing your “official” job title on your resume. All you’re doing is translating past experience into the same language as a hiring company. This is what optimizing your resume keywords is all about.

Important note: This is about recontextualizing your work experience rather than improving it. Do not give yourself a promotion you felt you deserved but didn’t get.

Tense and Format Matters (Mattered, Mattering)

A few ATS recognize tenses, plurals, and other word variations, but many only find exact matches. Let’s say a hiring manager searches the ATS for “project manager” only. You won’t come up as a search result if your resume only includes the phrases “managing projects,” “project managed,” and “project management.”

Other examples:

  • market, marketed, marketer, marketing
  • strategize, strategized, strategist, strategizing
  • test, tested, tester, testing
  • schedule, scheduled, scheduler, scheduling

The best practice for determining which tense or form to use with your resume keywords?

Mirror the job description.

For example, is “manager” used frequently in the job description? But your resume says “Managed team of 11 engineers”? Simply rewrite it to say “Manager to a team of 11 engineers.”

Land the job you want. Pay attention to resume keywords, and protect yourself from being dismissed, out of hand, by an ATS.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Jobscan Blog!





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