It’s no secret that keywords are a job seeker’s most valuable tool when building a resume. They are important because they make you stand out to recruiters who only have a few seconds to skim your document. Plus, resume robots love them.
Keywords are, well, key to a strong resume. But here’s the thing: Not all keywords are created equal.
An effective resume will get noticed by a recruiter. In order for a resume to be effective, it must contain strong, relevant keywords. How do you know which resume keywords to use? By starting with the keywords not to include in your resume.
1. Too-Soft Soft Skills
These are the limp handshakes of the keyword world. Soft skills are people skills, and they are tricky to include in a resume because they are difficult to prove. For example, if you describe yourself as “hard-working” or a “team player,” the recruiter has no reason to believe you. If you’re hard-working, prove it by noting the exact percentage by which you exceeded your sales goal last year.
2. Keyword Variations
Stay with me on this one. When recruiters use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to search your resume for keywords, they usually search for exact keyword matches. For example, if the recruiter searches the ATS for the keyword “trained” and your resume contains “training,” there’s good chance you won’t be recognized as a match. The same goes for plural versus singular forms of words.
When including keywords, it’s best to include them exactly as they appear in the job posting.
3. Almost Right Keywords
Check. Your. Spelling. Just do it. And then do it again. The best way to get your resume thrown out? Have a bunch of really great misspelled keywords in there.
Since you’re already taking the time to research keywords and tailor your resume for the job, take just a little extra time to make sure the final draft is perfect. Give yourself the best shot at the job!
4. Not-True-at-All Keywords
It can be tempting, but don’t overqualify yourself for a job you just aren’t qualified for. Talking yourself up is one thing, but if a position requires the applicant to have experience working with CAD and you’ve never used it before, don’t claim expertise on your resume.
A better route? In a cover letter or interview, mention that you’ve always wanted to learn more about CAD and think this would be a great opportunity for you to do so. If you’re hired, you can actually learn about the software without having to take a crash course the night before your first day on the job.
5. Out-on-an-Island Keywords
A resume is exciting to recruiters and hiring managers when they can tell the applicant took the time to tailor it. Not exciting? When resumes contain bizarre, irrelevant skills that have nothing to do with the job in question.
Feel free to delete certain skills — even whole work history entries — if they are not directly relevant to the job for which you are applying. The hiring manager at the marketing firm is much more interested in your marketing-related skills than the skills you picked up while working retail in college.
Resume keywords can make or break your shot at landing a job. The keywords you don’t choose to include in your resume are just as important as those you do choose to include. Be smart and deliberate when choosing keywords, and they will do wonders for your job search.
James Hu is the founder and CEO of Jobscan.