Use keywords effectively in your CV

CV keywords can be a hugely important element of a great CV. How can you incorporate keywords into your CV for more impact? Find out with our tips!



Table of Contents

  1. CV keywords
  2. Where to find CV keywords
  3. Best practices for incorporating keywords into your CV
  4. FAQ: CV keywords

CV keywords

Keywords are important for any job search because they play a role in ensuring that your job application and CV actually make it to the hiring managers. These terms essentially act as buzzwords that are picked up by the applicant tracking systems (ATS) many companies use to scan CVs. ATS will determine whether a job applicant has the right qualifications to send the CV to the next stage of the hiring process.

Up to 75% of qualified applicants are rejected by ATS systems either because they are unreadable or lack the right keywords. And once you get past ATS to the hiring manager, it’s all about attention retention; you will have just a few seconds to catch and hold their eye. Placing important keywords in key areas will increase your chances of doing so.

Keywords are terms tied to the skills and requirements needed for the job. As a candidate, you need to show you have the right skills and qualities to undertake the job you’re applying for. Presenting the right keywords is a major step to doing so. Keywords can vary from job to job. For example, a customer service assistant position might center on these keywords, which will be listed in the job description:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Goal-oriented
  • Team player
  • Consistent
  • Motivated

Of course, there are many kinds of keywords. Job titles and roles like “business administration assistant” are keywords, as are words that indicate your experience level. This means effectively listing your previous job titles and roles is also important.

Where to find CV keywords

If you want to land a job interview you will need to find the best keywords for the positions you want to fill. Whether you want to work in health care, computer science or project management, certain soft skills will always be useful. Beyond that, the best keywords to use will vary depending on the job. Here’s how you can find powerful words to use in your CV.

1. From the job posting

Start by considering the job ad you intend to answer. Look for phrases that underline the major requirements for the job role and take note of them. You should also make a note of any certifications and qualifications that are listed; if the job ad calls for an understanding of JavaScript, for example, your CV is unlikely to pass through an ATS check without at least a mention of JavaScript.

2. Online CV keyword searches

Once you have a list of buzzwords from the job listing to use in your CV, you can research related keywords. You can do this by using online keyword lists or even by checking the social media profiles of successful people in your industry. The LinkedIn skills section can be a treasure trove.

3. CV examples from others in your industry

Finally, you can consider CV examples that fall within the confines of your industry and pull keywords from them. CVHelp has a wealth of popular CV examples you can review.

Once you’ve assembled a list of effective keywords to include in your CV, you’ll need to figure out how best to deploy them in your CV format.

Best practices for incorporating keywords into your CV

It’s not just about which keywords you use in your CV; once your CV passes through ATS, the hiring manager will assess your application. They will want to see a CV that is written and presented professionally with keywords appearing organically in each section. In short, you can’t just stick keywords anywhere and hope for the best. Keywords should appear in the sections that are most appropriate for them, but there are some general principles you can follow too.

For example, you should use action verbs when discussing your soft or hard skills and work experience rather than falling into passive language. You should also tailor your keywords to the specific job you are applying for. In addition, you should be placing different kinds of keywords in each of your CV sections:

Work experience section

In your CV work experience section the main keywords you should include will be the job titles and roles you have held. Examples of work experience keywords include “project manager,” “account manager,” “mechanical engineer,” and “senior systems analyst.” These keywords indicate the career path and responsibilities you have held as well as your experience level or seniority.

Skills section

The skills section of your CV format is all about the soft and hard skills you have gained during your career. The keywords to include in this section refer to your specific capabilities and competencies and personal traits. Examples of skill-based keywords include public speaking, excel proficiency, account management, digital marketing, conflict resolution and SEO. If your work experience keywords tell recruiters what roles you have previously filled, your skills section keywords are the action verbs telling them what you can do.

Education section

Once you have more than a few years of professional work experience, the education section of your CV might seem less important, but for job seekers at the beginning of their careers, the right education section keywords can make all the difference. These keywords should relate to the academic qualifications and professional certifications you have earned. Examples of education section keywords include first aid certification/first responder training, business management degree, associate’s degree, and Microsoft certification. In short, the education section keywords are about the training you have had to ensure your suitability for the kinds of roles you are applying for.

By ensuring that all of your CV keywords are in the right place, you will increase your chances of impressing the hiring manager and securing a job interview.

FAQ: CV keywords

Q: Will keywords make a difference in the hiring process?

Yes, keywords are incredibly important and will make a big difference during the course of your job search, especially when companies are using an applicant tracking system to help with applicant processing.

Q: Do I need CV keywords for my cover letter?

While keywords are most important in the main body of your CV, including them in your cover letter can also be helpful as it will show recruiters that you were paying attention to the job description and tailoring your application.

Q: How do I incorporate keywords naturally into my CV?

Keywords should occur naturally in your CV if your skills and experience fit what the job demands, but to communicate your qualifications clearly to the hiring manager, you should prepare a list of CV keywords to include. Keep that list with you as you are writing your CV and include them in your CV sections as you go. Be sure not to overdo it; employers will notice “keyword stuffing” as surely as they’ll notice a CV that lacks keywords altogether. Using a few major keywords in each section of your CV should be enough.


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