ATS Guide: Things You Need to Know About Keywords in Resume

This post was written by guest blogger, Jessica Fender. She is an independent blogger, and marketing consultant who has been featured on Next Avenue and Addicted2Success. You can connect with Jessica on Twitter (@fender_jess).

It’s been weeks or even months since you applied for the job that you wanted so much, but no one even bothered to write you a simple reply email and thank you for your interest. What happened? You’re a great candidate and your resume was superb, so why did you only get a standardized rejection email?

If you’ve experienced a situation like this, chances are that your resume never made it all the way to an actual recruiter. Yes, you read that right. According to Recruiting Software Impact Report, 75 percent of talent managers and recruiters use some form of recruiting or applicant tracking software (ATS).

Research by Jobscan supports these findings. In fact, 98.2% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS to optimize their candidate selection process.

This software analyzes resumes based on a number of criteria and then creates a shortlist of top-tier talent. While this process allows recruiters to process an impressive number of resumes in a reasonably short amount of time, it also eliminates the part of the human recruiter.

With so many recruiters using ATS, it makes a perfect sense to ensure that your resume maximizes the chance of being passed to a recruiter after the software analysis. Since one of the main analysis techniques applied by ATS is keyword research, let’s make sure that you overcome this frustrating roadblock.

Step #1: Do Your Research

To maximize your chance of moving beyond ATS, you need to know what keywords are the most widely used by professionals like you in a resume. Without a doubt, your profession and industry have their own vocabulary, software, roles, responsibilities, certificates, licenses, and skills associated with performing the common tasks well. Those are the words you need to use.

According to James Daily, the head of the content department from FlashEssay, here are some helpful keyword type that you should consider:

  • Profession- and industry-specific skills and qualifications: blog writing, article writing, resume writing, copywriting etc.
  • Education: MBA, BS, PhD etc.
  • Certifications: Six Sigma etc.
  • Industry jargon: Email A/B testing, subject line writing etc.
  • Job Titles: Web content writer, content manager, copywriter etc.
  • Soft skills: Team player, communication etc.
  • Locations: Postal codes, city or state names (recruiters often use them to narrow down the search results).

An ATS will be looking for these keywords, so you need to insert them in your resume. To further understand what keywords are the best to use in your industry, you should perform research on popular job posting sites to build out your vocabulary and optimize your chances of being seen.

There are many ways in which a search like this can help with keywords. For example, you can begin typing a keyword in a search bar, and it’ll give you the most widely used keywords associated with it. 


Sites like Indeed also offer a list of keywords commonly used with a search request on the bottom of the results, so take those into consideration, too. They can be very helpful to increase the number of popular keywords in your resume.

Step #2: Optimize your Resume

Now, it’s time to insert the most relevant keywords into your resume. At this point, there are two critical considerations to pay attention to: the frequency and the placement of keywords throughout the document.

Here’s what you need to do to create an ATS-optimized resume:

Your Role

The first step is to use a standard name for a job position. Avoid adding outdated jargon like “Ninja” and “Rockstar” because they demonstrate that the person may lack creativity (plus they sound pretentious. Even popular job boards recommend excluding these words from resumes.

Career Objective

Although it may seem counterproductive, consider removing this section if it doesn’t show any substantial value for you or a recruiter. These sections often contain thing like “I’m a goal-driven, hard-working person who wants to work in a company where my skills will be fully utilized.”

Of course! For what other reason would you be applying for a job? You’re a hard-working person and it goes without saying that you would like to work in a company where your skills will be used. A statement like this is totally useless, so it’s better to go with something else.

Besides, your resume is not about how you want to apply your skills. It’s about how the company will apply them.

A better idea is to replace this section with a quick summary of your skills and qualifications. For example, you can make a multi-column list containing ATS-friendly keywords. This way, you’ll increase your chance of getting past the software check.


This is an important section -- the heart of a resume. “The best way to optimize it is to avoid fluff and concisely describe the roles and responsibilities you performed while working for previous employers,” recommends Sylvia Giltner, an HR specialist from ResumesCentre.

Try to insert at least one keyword in every sentence within this section, but make sure that your text is easy to read. For example, you can mention that you used a specific software (this is a keyword) to accomplish a certain goal. This way, you’ll connect your achievements to keywords.

Step #3: Check for Errors

If an ATS software finds errors like spelling mistakes, chances are that it will never consider it good enough to be seen by a human recruiter. Avoid that by triple checking your resume for errors manually or using online tools like Hemingway Editor, Grammarly, or find a professional proofreader at OnlineWritersRating before submitting it for consideration.

Remember, spelling mistakes can be dangerous here, but they can be easily avoided by taking some precautions.

Time to Optimize

An ATS will search for specific keywords to pull from your resume, so use the above tips to make sure the software finds exactly what it’s looking for. Performing a search and inserting the keywords in a resume will take time and effort, but it can make a huge difference for your job search and help your resume make it onto a recruiter’s desk.

Please visit the United Personnel blog page to learn more important job search tips.