Resume Keyword Lists

The webinar I presented on Wednesday went great. I reviewed the results of the resume benchmarking study I did for APICS, and then took questions. This was the first time I did a live resume assessment.  During the Q&A, I asked attendees to send their resumes so I could review them during the session.  Two people submitted resumes, and we walked through a few quick changes that they can make to improve their resumes.

One of the changes I identified was removing or relocating a keyword list.  Resume keyword lists are a common element of resumes.  They provide a list of technical terms that a hiring manager may use to find candidates.  This type of list is great for ensuring that a resume shows up in different searches.  Unfortunately, that’s the only benefit of a keyword list.

Putting a list of keywords on your resume will not get a hiring manager excited.  Anyone can pick out important terms and create a list.  It does not convey proficiency in any of the areas.  You have to describe your experience and accomplishments with a skill to make a strong impression.

A good place for a resume keyword list is at the end of the resume.  The section should have a title like “Skills” or “Areas of Expertise” and be the last item of the resume.  This placement ensures that it does not get in the way of more important information.  The keyword list might help a database match your resume to a search, but it is not going to make much of an impression with a human reader.

Keyword lists are most effective when they focus on in-demand technical skills.  Soft skills don’t offer as much value.  For example, leadership, communications skills, organizational skills and administrative skills may be important to a hiring manager, but they make terrible search terms.  They appear on too many resumes, and are important to almost any career.  Technical skills that are specific to a single career field tend to be much better search terms.  Ensuring these terms are in your resume by putting them in a keyword list is a great way to match as many relevant searches as possible.

Some job seekers put the keyword list at the top of their resume.  This can provide an attractive presentation, but it isn’t particularly effective.  Hiring managers will skip a list like this.  Even if they read it, the list isn’t going to do much to sell the candidate’s potential.  The result is the keyword list isn’t much better than just leaving a large blank space.  The top of the resume is valuable real estate and putting low value content such as a keyword list in it is a waste.