3 Places to Find Top-Notch Resume Keywords

By Erin Coursey, iHire, LLC

Keyword research is an essential piece of resume preparation. Using the right terms for your skills and relevant experience could be the difference between being screened out by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and getting past the robots to a real human. Determine the best vocabulary for your application with these three sources for interview-worthy keywords.

Job ad

The employer’s description of the opening supplies your most critical keywords. Therefore, you should build the majority of your list around terms included in the ad. Here are some tips for what to look for in each section:


  • Repeated descriptors, particularly those related to clients, results, skills, and culture
  • Job title
  • Location
  • Phrases like “need to” or “should”

Job Responsibilities

  • Action verbs
  • Industry or job-specific tools/software
  • Triggers suggesting high importance or frequency like “must” or “regularly”
  • Skills/proficiencies


  • Specific certifications or licenses
  • Degrees
  • Level/years of experience in a particular area
  • Indications of necessity, such as “recommended” and “required”

One of the biggest problems with finding keywords in job ads is that they are hidden in large blocks of similarly formatted text. Try some visual strategies to make the right terms pop. For example, word cloud sites like Wordle and TagCrowd are great timesavers when looking for repeated skills and descriptors. Be careful, though, not to rely completely on these tools. Not every important keyword is mentioned multiple times, so always review the ad yourself for qualifications not included in the word cloud.

Industry resources                                         

In addition to the specifications listed in the job description, employers may scan your resume for other industry-specific skills. Take some time to investigate common keywords related to your career and use them in as many applications as possible. Reference these sources to identify high-demand skills and qualifications in your sector:

  • Job seeker tools targeted for individual job titles/industries, like iHire’s “Skill Sets” sidebar
  • Online industry discussion groups/blogs
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • Department of Labor’s O*NET OnLine

Once you’ve created a list of skills and other key phrases that recur frequently throughout industry resources, try testing them with analytics sites like Google Trends. By using the “explore topics” feature to compare your list with synonymous search terms, you can be confident that unusual wording isn’t causing the ATS to pass you by.

Specific employer

Finally, find what’s important to each company you send an application. Research employers’ values and goals to determine what might make you stand out as a particularly well-matched candidate. Use the company’s website to read their values, mission statements, and even annual reports to find top-quality keywords. If you have the opportunity to meet a business’s representative at a job fair or other event, takes notes on how s/he marketed the organization and any words that stood out.


As you compile keywords across sources, make sure you keep tabs on where terms come from and weed out ones that seem less important as your research progresses. Logs like the Quintessential Careers Resume Keywords Worksheet can help you organize your list and ensure it remains a reasonable length.



Katharine Hansen— Resources for Job-Seekers for Identifying Resume Keywords

Susan P. Joyce— Optimize Your Resume to Be Found by Recruiters

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