Recruiters and hiring managers are busy and will often have many resumes and applications to go through when looking to fill a position. A good resume and cover letter will pique the interest of the hiring team, pass the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) filters, and secure that all-important first interview. A key element to writing a good resume is knowing how to use the ‘right’ words to highlight your skills and experience and get noticed.
The right words to use on a resume and cover letter can generally be separated into some distinct categories including sector keywords, active words, skills words, and organizational value words. To help you understand how to use the right words on your resume, we’ve considered each of these categories below.
Sector Key Words
Every industry has certain key words and phrases that are used to signal knowledge within a particular area. What are the key words and phrases in your sector and within specialized areas in your industry? Knowing and correctly using these words will demonstrate that you have the required hard skills needed in your industry and that you will fit the requirements of the position.
Many organizations use modern ATS-software as a way of filtering applicants for a role. There are strategies to creating an ATS-friendly resume, but a good starting point is to read the job posting closely. Look for the hard skills that are repeated in a job posting and appear early in the description of requirements and job duties. Be sure to use these words when highlighting your own skills and experience. There are also some good online tools (i.e., Jobscan, Targeted Resume) that will help you compare your resume to the job description to see if there’s a good match. One of the many supports ACCES provides to clients is how to create an ATS-friendly resume. To learn more about these strategies, watch the e-ACCES webinar How to Properly Navigate Today’s Applicant Tracking Systems.
Using active or ‘action’ words will show the hiring manager your ability to succeed. Strong, action-oriented words will provide your reader with a distinct impression of who you are and your accomplishments. Avoid passive phrases such as “job functions were…,” “responsible for…,” or “duties included…”. Instead, shift the focus of your resume from duties and responsibilities to accomplishments and action words that characterize your skills. For example, “I created an innovative sales plan to improve our department’s profit” sounds more compelling than “I was responsible for meeting monthly sales targets.” The first sentence is more active and highlights important skills such as creativity and innovation. It also sounds more enthusiastic and confident. Always try to use the action words that best reflect what you are trying to say and provide detail to your accomplishments.
During your job search, pay close attention to a variety of job postings. What are the popular skills words—the qualities and characteristics that every employer seems to be looking for? You will likely notice a collection of commonly desired soft skills repeated across many postings. Qualities such as collaborative, leadership, passionate, adaptable, problem-solving, analytical, strategic, and so on, are preferred attributes across many roles and many industries. Use these words to show you have the essential skills to succeed in the prospective position.
Organizational Value Words
A good job search strategy is to research an organization before you apply to a role. You should also do this when you get an interview, but it also applies to when you are tailoring your resume to try to get that interview in the first place. Find out what the organization’s core values are, and show you are a good fit by using the same language. Part of your research strategy should include looking at the organization’s mission statement and their values. These are often found somewhere on their website. For a deeper dive into the company culture, follow the organization on social media. What causes do they support? How do their leaders engage with their public? All of these can be signals for you to use the same language in your resume. If a company calls itself innovative, use terms like “innovate” and “technology” throughout the application process. If an organization cultivates its reputation as trustworthy, use words like “honesty,” “integrity,” and “trust” in your resume.
These are a few simple tips for using the right words on your resume to help enhance your job search. Look through our e-ACCES resources for more job search tips or, better yet, attend an ACCES event or info session to see how we can help you with your career.