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Perspectives of Keyword Use in Scanning Resumes

The use of keywords in resumes is a relatively recent phenomenon – one that is concurrent with the rise of digital search technology and the adoption of applicant tracking software by businesses.

HR departments that use applicant tracking software but do not tune the software properly to scan for relevant keywords, often end up with wrong results. The fault is not in the ATS, but in incorrect consideration of parameters.

Keywords in resumes and candidate resume scanning

Mostly, companies avoid using keyword based scanning of resumes due to their experience of having wrong results, and thus they miss the opportunity of reducing workloads and reaching the right candidates quicker than others. Speed, even the reduction of a fraction of ordinary process time can lend a competitive edge to any business, and thus not tuning software to scan for keywords amount to giving up a competitive edge.

To understand how candidates are using keywords to optimize their resumes, and how it has already become a mainstream strategy, you just need to Google the long-tail "how to use keywords in resumes" and the answer would show you more than 25,000,000 results on the Google search results page with multiple articles on the subject from websites like, Business Insider, CareerBuilder, Monster and other similar sites. What is interesting here is that you would also find many career sections of universities providing guidance on how to optimize candidate resumes with keywords.

So, it's an accepted fact that most modern candidates would be using keywords in their resumes to pass software scanning - which is not bad by itself, unless irrelevant resumes make it through the scanning based on keyword optimization.

What to look out for in setting parameters for scanning resumes by keywords

If you are tuning your software to look for certain keywords and assign higher priorities, the first keywords to look out for would be educational qualifications or degrees. These are highly specific keywords that help to sort resumes quickly and in a positive manner. According to job position and functions, such keywords may include MBA, Ph.D., CNO, and etcetera. These are keywords relevant to profession. Also, keywords like "accounting" or "information technology" will always be relevant because they are related with professional fields.

However, it is essential to avoid fuzzy keywords in scanning resumes. Keywords like "customer-oriented," "hard working," "leadership," "professional integrity," and etcetera are to be avoided for resume prioritization, because behavioral traits are to be assessed at behavioral interviews and not at the stage of scanning resumes through software.

Don't go for words like "honesty, sincerity, character, determined," and etcetera when scanning through applicant scanning software. Also avoid action verbs like "creative, professional, complex tasks," during primary scanning.

In fact, besides the use of educational qualifications and profession-related keywords for prioritizing resumes, the best use of keywords is to look for relevant job titles and job functions. So according to job positions words like customer service, account management, manager, accountant, vice-president and etcetera are helpful for resume prioritization.

What's the takeaway?

To successfully use keywords to prioritize resumes during scanning through software, you need to keep in mind that at this initial stage, you are really looking for attachment with relevant job areas, job titles, job functions and educational qualifications. Focus on them, and keep in mind that all soft skills and behavioral traits are to be judged at face-to-face interviews and are not to be considered at the primary stage of scanning of resumes on the basis of keywords.