How to use Keywords on your CV

Keywords are the backbone to your CV: without them, your CV won’t get a look-in. Make sure you use the right keywords to get your CV noticed next time you upload it to a job site

Unfortunately, no matter how long we spend writing our CVs, the grim truth is that the average CV is only looked at for 10 seconds. Often, it will simply be stored on a recruitment agency database or internet job site, without being looked at at all. So how do you make sure yours is the one that makes it to the yes pile? By using keywords, that’s how.

Recruiters spend much of their time searching their agency database and the internet job sites which contain many thousands of CVs. Typically a Recruitment Consultant might view several hundred CVs in a single day. The recruiter will almost certainly find your CV by way of a ‘keyword search’. That is to say they will take the keywords from a job specification and search the agency database and the internet job sites for likely candidates.

If you thought ‘keywords’ was some kind of game from a puzzle book, it’s time to start learning fast.

Here Jeremy I’Anson from cvchecker.com explains how to use keywords to get your CV noticed:

1. Use the right keywords: You need to be aware of all the keywords that are most likely to be searched for a particular kind of job. A good tip would be to check advertisements for your target job and pick the keywords that come up the most often. Make sure that you use those keywords frequently in your CV and place them prominently at the beginning of the document.

Look at this recent job advertisement:

Looking for an experienced Sales Manager with a strong background in the soft drinks industry selling to the retail sector… 

A typical recruiter might search for the following keywords:

Sales Manager  AND  soft drinks  AND  retail

This search will pull up all the CVs which contain those keywords and phrases. Now you can’t blame the recruiter for using those particular words in his search, after all that’s what his client is asking for, but if your CV states that you sell fruit juice to supermarkets then your CV may not be found.

2. Make the keywords stand out: Once your CV has been ‘found’, you need to be sure that it stands out. Place those keywords in bold type. Some candidates are particularly helpful and place all their keywords and phrases in a box at the beginning of the CV. That way the recruiter just can’t miss them!

3. Use the appropriate job title: You would be surprised how many Sales Managers or Project Managers there are who never actually use that job title in their CV! Instead they describe themselves as ‘Area Customer Support Manager’ or ‘Network Operations Manager’. The result is that their CV may not be found by recruiters. If you are looking for a job as a Sales Manager or Project Manager be sure to use that job title frequently and prominently in your CV.

4. Mirror the job ad’s wording: If you are applying for a specific vacancy, check the advertisement carefully for keywords. Place those words and phrases prominently in your CV and covering letter. Many recruiters, who may have to review several hundred job applications, will only scan your CV initially. It is vital that you make his job as easy as possible by highlighting the skills and experience he is looking for.

5. Use action words: It’s also worth thinking about the kinds of words you use in your CV and how you describe your achievements. Action words enable you to create more dynamic descriptions of your achievements at work. Begin statements in your CV with an action word rather than using ‘I’ or ‘We’.

For example:

 Led a team
• Achieved all targets
• Built a new database
• Optimised performance
• Maximised resources

6. Check industry phrasing: Think about the words and phrases not to use in your CV. Many industries have their own language and acronyms (the public sector being the main offender). It’s fine to use this jargon in your CV if you are planning to stay in your field but if you are looking to broaden your horizons then make sure that you use language that will be readily understood by recruiters in other areas.

Now you’ve learnt about keywords, make sure you check out how to write a CV that works. Also, when you’re applying for a job, don’t underestimate the importance a of a good cover letter; here’s our guide to writing a cover letter.