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Leveraging Keywords to Advance Your Career

As an HR professional, you already know the importance of using the right keywords in a resume. Keywords can make or break job seekers’ attempts to gain an interview, as their resumes are fed into a company’s applicant tracking system or other resume scanning tools. The right keywords will get you noticed, while the absence of targeted keywords will often keep your resume from surfacing when you apply for a new job.

However, keywords are a powerful tool beyond just resume writing. They are just as important when:

  • Writing your LinkedIn profile, career bio, personal website and all other career communications.
  • Interviewing (via phone, Skype or in-person) throughout your job search campaign.
  • Writing interview thank-you notes, letters and e-mail communications.
  • Striving for a new job or promotion with your current employer where you can leverage keywords in any documents or proposals you present, and throughout the interviewing process just as you would during a full-fledged job search campaign.
  • Applying for board positions, leadership roles in organizations and other professional yet not work-related activities.

The value of keywords is not limited to helping your resume pass an electronic scan. As you can see from the list above, keywords are just as important in your verbal exchanges because they communicate critical information about your skills, qualifications, experiences and achievements.

Consider the impact that this small sampling of HR keywords and keyword phrases can have on how a prospective employer or internal hiring manager perceives you and your HR expertise:

  • Benefits & Compensation
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Employee Communications
  • Employee Relations
  • Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)
  • Job Analysis
  • Labor & Union Negotiations
  • Leadership Development
  • Manpower Planning
  • Onboarding
  • Organizational Development
  • Performance Management
  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Staffing
  • Succession Planning
  • Talent Development
  • Training & Development

Keywords are so powerful because they instantly communicate a specific message. With just a word or two (e.g., benefits administration), you’ve shared that you most likely have experience in designing benefit plans (which may include health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, disability insurance and pensions); selecting benefits providers and administrators; negotiating provider contracts; working to expand employee benefits while reducing costs; and more.

See how much information two simple words can say about you and your skills?

Where to Put Keywords in Resumes, Letters and Bios

When writing your resume, use keywords in your summary, list of skills or competencies, past job descriptions, achievement statements, education, affiliations, volunteerism, foreign languages and any other section you have included.

When writing your job search letters, use keywords (with an emphasis on hard skills, soft skills and job titles—current, past and targeted) in just about every paragraph and list of bulleted items that you include. It might be that the closing paragraph doesn’t contain many keywords, but it all depends on what you write in that paragraph.

When writing interview follow-up letters, use keywords to remind the reader of the 3-5 most valuable skills, qualifications and attributes you would bring to the position and the organization. You might think your interviewers will remember, but a little reminder can go a long way.

When writing your LinkedIn profile, use keywords in your summary, job descriptions, achievement statements, education and other sections, much like you’ve done with your resume. Today, LinkedIn is the No. 1 resource for recruiters to find qualified candidates. How do they do that? With keyword searches, of course! Complete other online bios in a similar fashion as their structure allows.

LinkedIn also allows you to upload digital and multimedia files (e.g., PowerPoint or SlideShare presentations, charts, tables, graphs, infographics, and videos) where you can strategically integrate even more keywords to further capture attention. Although keywords from these add-ons might not appear in preliminary keyword searches, they are definitely an added bonus when a person reviews your profile.

As a professional resume writer, I find that one of the greatest perks of LinkedIn profiles is the generous space allocation of 2,000 characters for the summary and for each job. This ample allowance gives me room to fill each section with the appropriate keywords, working them naturally into the text. Unlike your resume, which might be a struggle to keep to a single page or two pages, LinkedIn allows you to be “free to write” and integrate all essential information.

How to Integrate Keywords into Interviews

Keywords and keyword phrases can be interjected easily throughout the course of conversation during an interview—whether for a new job outside your current organization or for an internal promotion or lateral job change. And, just as with written documents, a single keyword or keyword phrase can communicate a great deal of information.

My advice to everyone who is interviewing: listen carefully to each question, sit back comfortably in your chair and think for five seconds, and then answer the question, incorporating keywords as they relate to the conversation. You’ll probably find that you’re already doing this and simply haven’t thought about it in such a deliberate fashion.

Critical Keyword Categories

Digging deeper, it’s important to note that there are really five categories of keywords. Thus far, we’ve focused on hard skills, which are the most recognizable and what we think of when someone mentions keywords. However, other keywords can be just as essential to your career. Additional keyword categories include:

Soft skills and attributes. It’s not just about “what” you can do; it’s just as important “how” you do it. Very briefly, this keyword category includes skills such as collaboration, communication, confidence, consistency, cross-cultural sensitivity, efficiency, honesty, initiative, innovation, interpersonal relations, organization, passion, prioritization, team leadership … this list goes on and on.

Employment details. These are the facts: job titles, employer names, industry experience, product experience, length of employment, budgets, staffs and all of the other particulars about your career. Here’s a quick example: If you’re applying for a position as senior vice president of HR, chances are that the hiring manager (internal or external) will want to see that you’ve worked as a vice president in the past and are qualified for the new opportunity.

Education and training credentials. These keywords are easy. They are your degrees—MBA, B.A., B.S.; they are your professional credentials and certifications—SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, Certified Professional Coach (CPC); they are educational institutions you’ve attended.

General information. Some of these keywords and keyword phrases will be most relevant if you’re actively job searching. For example, by using cities, states, ZIP codes and countries as keywords, employers can quickly identify candidates within their locality, if that’s a requirement. Other keywords that are important to HR professionals include honors and awards, board positions, professional affiliations, volunteer activities and civic associations. This latter listing of keywords has power because it communicates additional information about your professional success, network of contacts, personal contributions to your community and more. These items build the all-important camaraderie.

Just as you work to integrate the keywords that showcase your hard skills into your written and oral communications, you want to be certain to do the same thing with these four other categories as they are appropriate to your situation, whether you are seeking a promotion, looking for a new job or transitioning from one industry to another.

Next Steps

Now that you understand the breadth of keywords, you can start using them immediately for career communications, including during job searches, when interviewing, when seeking promotions and beyond. Leverage them to your advantage to get noticed, give yourself a competitive edge and communicate the depth of experience you’ve acquired throughout your career.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the importance of honesty in your use of keywords. If you’ve been working and managing in HR for more than 10 years, you can probably feel confident writing about your “expertise in” or “leadership of” the keywords and keyword phrases that pertain to your career. However, don’t oversell or misrepresent. If you’ve been doing a function for a short time and have a bit of experience, be honest and write about or speak to your “experience in” or “assistance with.” Be certain to position yourself and your career honestly and accurately.

Let keywords be your driving force and you will succeed in showcasing your expertise and advancing your career.

Wendy Enelow is a certified master resume writer, job and career transition coach, and professional resume writer who has worked with professionals and executives worldwide for the past 30 years. She has written more than 20 books on resumes, cover letters, keywords and career management, including the recently released Modernize Your Resume: Get Noticed … Get Hired (Emerald Career Publishing, 2016) and is the Job Front columnist for the American Legion Magazine. She can be reached at


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