How to find the best keywords to use in a CV

Writing isn't easy for everyone, but identifying the best keywords to use in a CV can be a powerful guide.

In fact, all you have to do is understand which keywords to use in a CV, how to use those words and when. It might sound like a case of 'easier said than done', but that's where we come in. In this article, we'll teach you how to play the keyword game to get the best results for your job search. So, grab your hot drink of choice, sit back and read on to discover the best keywords to use in a CV.

What are keywords?

You know how search engines work, right? They scan web pages for a specific search term inputted by a web user. By doing this, they're able to return the most relevant results. Essentially, CV keywords are the search terms of the recruitment world. They're the words and phrases that can help businesses identify the most relevant CVs for their vacancies.

Why are keywords important?

Keywords are important because, to put simply, they can help a person – or a bot – figure out if you're right for the role that's being recruited for.

If you send your CV directly to an HR manager or recruiter, it's likely that they'll only have a few seconds to vet your application. In fact, research suggests that recruiters spend just 5–7 seconds scanning each CV that pops into their inbox. This means that if you have the right skills, they need to stand out – immediately.

When companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to vet their applicants, the same deal applies. This kind of technology helps qualify candidates by scanning CVs for a list of keywords provided by the hirer. If an applicant uses the right words when describing their skills and experience, the ATS will forward their details on to the hiring manager, meaning that the candidate will be able to jump neatly over the first recruitment hurdle.

It is thought that over 98 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to narrow down job applicants, and the practice is popular in the U.K. as well. This means that it's more important than ever to make sure you're using the right keywords. Optimise your CV as well as you can and you're more likely to come out as a top candidate (at the eyes of the ATS, at least).

How to select the right keywords to use in a CV

So, how can you identify the right keywords to use in a CV? Well, your best move is to look at the job description itself as a first port of call. This is where you'll find the exact wording the company used to name and describe the job. It's also where you'll find the specific skills and experience they're looking for in an ideal candidate.

After that, you could browse similar industry job descriptions to get a handle on the kind of language recruiters are using when they write their job ads. If the same words are cropping up again and again, it's likely that they'll be using those same words as search terms when they hit the job boards.

Of course, while it's never a good idea to lie on your CV, it is a good idea to include as much of this language as possible. Think about how you could weave the right keywords into your CV, or even replace other, less relevant words, with ones that recruiters are more likely to search for.

Top tip: Studies show that one in five recruiters will reject a CV before they get to the end of it. To stand a better chance of capturing their attention, consider frontloading your CV with the most relevant keywords so they catch the reader's eye before they choose to move on.

Why you should always customise your CV

Think of it like this: If you fancied buying a ready meal, you'd want to choose something that was tailored to your dietary requirements, your appetite, your budget and, of course, the kind of cuisine you felt like eating. You wouldn't look twice at a box simply marked 'microwave meal'; you'd want to know that the food was going to meet your exact wants and needs, and you'd look to the information on the box to tell you that.

It's the same story with recruitment. HR managers want to know if applicants are going to meet their specific requirements. By tailoring each application to the role, company and industry you're applying for, you'll help the reader understand how your unique experience can benefit their unique job position. Even though your core history, qualifications and skill set will remain the same from application to application, it's how you spin that information that can make or break a potential candidacy (especially taking into account the fact that your CV might have to satisfy an applicant tracking system first).

A final point – HR managers also need to know that candidates care enough about the role to spend the extra time making their application extra special. If you go in with a generic approach, you'll risk seeming careless. Of course, this is not what you want to do, especially if your cover letter waxes lyrical about your fantastic attention to detail!

Ready to beat the bots and get your CV in front of the right people? Use what you've learned here to optimise your next application using just the power of words.