What to include in a CV? Which CV sections to keep off? This complete guide outlines exactly which things to put on your CV to make it shine.
The use of CV keywords is what gives you an advantage over other candidates.
Recruiters are pressed for time. They don’t even read CVs; they scan them in search of important terms.
Worse than that—
They’re even too busy to do the scanning themselves and use automated tools, called applicant tracking systems.
Want your CV to get read?
Want that interview?
Want that job?
This guide will show you:
- What CV keywords employers look for on job applications.
- How to find the right keywords to beat the other candidates and get the interview.
- How to hack the ATS to honestly include words you don’t qualify for.
- A bonus free PDF list of 500+ CV keywords sorted by industry.
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1. Understand What Are CV Keywords and Why You Must Use Them
First, what are keywords for CVs?
CV keywords are words which matter most to employers. Keywords represent attributes crucial for the job.
If you possess those skills and experience, you need to show it off in a way that is easy to understand by humans and robots alike.
So, you need to use CV keywords—
And use them right.
Your CV isn’t read, it’s scanned.
First, by automated software—
ATS stands for an applicant tracking system—software which assists companies and human resources with the hiring process.
ATS scans all candidates’ CVs and assigns a score based on each candidate’s compatibility to the position.
Once an employer adds the ~250 CVs they get for each job posting into the ATS, they can philtre the candidates based on CV keywords they’re looking for.
Of those 250 CVs, 50 have Skill A, 75 have Skill B, but only 5 have both A and B.
Those last 5 will receive a call for an interview.
According to ERE, the ATS will philtre out about 75% of all job applications per job ad.
Second, by the actual recruiter—
Most recruiters spend merely seconds (or minutes at best) looking at CV just to make sure the candidate meets their requirements.
If you don’t have the right experience and skills (or don’t know how to present them!), you’re done. You’ll never hear back.
So, how to make sure you pass the test?
Finding the right words in the job ad and using them as your CV keywords is a must.
The next section will teach you how to do it.
2. Start Your Hunt for CV Keywords from the Job Listing
Prepare your targeted CV with the job ad in front of you and use its language as your CV keywords.
Let’s look at this sample job description snippet for an operations associate:
Experience with MS Office
Bachelor's Degree preferred
Experience using Hubspot, Xsellco or other CRM software
Experience using back-end for Amazon, Walmart, eBay or other similar online marketplaces
Experience in a similar position preferred or experience managing a small team
To be qualified for this position, the candidate needs to have and mention their experience with CRM software and the largest online marketplaces. That’s in addition to expertise in managing a small team.
Have this experience but fail to include it?
It’s like you never had any experience at all—they’ll toss your CV.
Use wording that matches the job description so you have the best chance of appeasing the ATS scan.
To succeed in this particular example, on your CV you’d have to include the knowledge of “MS Office,” instead of separating it into “Word,” “Excel,” etc.
Don’t copy everything!
They want a CV from a well-qualified candidate, not a plagiarised version of their original job ad—32% of employers auto-reject applications that copy too much text from the ad.
That above example lists some easy-to-follow nouns to add here and there in your CV.
But now, let’s look at another sample text for a project coordinator:
Position Summary: The Project Coordinator will provide integral support to the office through implementation of all logistics as they pertain to Early Childhood project meetings, professional development support, communications, and other office-related work. Will provide ongoing resource management to ensure all program resources are efficiently utilised and maintained. Will ensure project transparency with timely and effective project communication, escalating issues and risks as appropriate. Performs related work.
Paragraphs like these are harder to parse, but they’re just as rich in CV keywords as any list of responsibilities or qualifications.
For keywords such as “timely and effective project communication,” use that phrase in your heading statement (objective or summary).
Alternatively, talk about this in your job experience section from a past position.
Expert Hint: Keywords should never be repeated in a CV? Untrue. You can highlight your expertise in a given skill or task by using it more than once as a keyword on your CV. This increases the keyword density and will help you to match better. But only do this on the most crucial keywords!
3. Discover More CV Keywords on Your Own
Sometimes the job listing won’t give you all the powerful keywords for CVs.
In these cases, you just have to find them on your own.
But it’s easy—
Here are the best places to find power words to use as your CV keywords and industry buzzwords:
- Wikipedia — Search your prospective job title to find tools of the trade, general responsibilities, and more.
- Industry organisations and trade websites —You’ll find lots of relevant industry jargon in case studies and interviews with experts in your field.
- The company’s website — Your future CV keywords sleep in the company’s scope of operations, values, future plans, etc.
- Other job listings — Other job ads for similar roles will give you a lot of ideas for words to use in a CV.
- The BLS OOH — The US Bureau of Labour Statistics has their Occupational Outlook Handbook, profiling all the common job titles out there.
- Google — Search for “[industry] CV keywords” and you’ll get even more suggestions.
You can search for CV keywords based on the position (e.g., administrative assistant keywords), industry (e.g., marketing CV keywords), and seniority (e.g., management CV keywords).
Let’s look at some examples of each.
List of keywords to use in a CV for finance:
- profit & loss
- loan management
- return on investment
- financial management
- loan recovery
List of CV keywords related to management:
List of keywords to use on a CV for human resources:
- contract negotiation
- wage administration
- salary administration
- succession planning
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of action words for CVs.
Here are some of the best CV action words to use:
The right CV power words help you stand out.
Lack of CV buzzwords and powerful CV verbs will leave you unnoticed.
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Expert Hint: When writing you CV, avoid negative words, passive voice, “I” words, cliched statements, and the “references available upon request” phrase. They all will hurt your chances of landing a job interview.
4. Add Your CV Keywords Strategically
Let’s start with an example job ad:
TripSuggest is seeking a competent travel booking agent with at least two years’ experience. Expert knowledge of Sabre CRS is required. Ideal candidate will have strong interpersonal skills and communication skills. Familiarity with Microsoft Office a plus.
Let’s dive in.
Most keywords you’ll take from a job listing like this will fit into your CV skills section.
Your skills section is a great place to add both soft skills they’re looking for (e.g., interpersonal skills, communication skills) and hard skills (e.g., Microsoft Office, Sabre CRS).
Here’s a sample CV summary:
Competent travel booking agent with 3+ years experience with both Amadeus and Sabre CRS…
We brought your CRS expertise out of the depths of the skills section to the heading statement—which is sure to get more eye time.
On top of that, we satisfied the experience length requirements, and we used their wording mentioning the specific position being applied for.
Certifications & Awards
- 2018 Sabre Personal Trainer certificate from The Travel Institute — 98% score
Not bad, right?
Finally, soft skills, such as leadership or problem-solving, are more vague, so you can additionally hint at them in your hobbies and interests section.
For example, an opening for a supervisor can get a subtle nod at your leadership skills by mentioning how you like to coach the junior softball team in your spare time.
There are many ways to add strong words to use on a CV!
Expert Hint: How many CV keywords should you use? 25 to 30 is a good number, all parts of a CV included. Make it a healthy mix of words from the job ad and words you come up with yourself (with the help of Wikipedia, Google, etc.).
5. Reuse Your CV Keywords in Your Email & Cover Letter
The CV is not the only document you’re writing or handing in.
Therefore, to additionally boost your chances of winning that job interview invitation, you have to reuse your CV keywords in your email to the recruiter and in your cover letter.
The cover letter is often read prior to the hiring manager getting around to your CV. On top of that, they could choose to use the ATS to parse your cover letter for keywords, as well.
Do it especially with those CV keywords you feel are most important to determining your fate.
You can also use your cover letter to reword and explain particular keywords from your CV.
Also, try to “speak the company’s language” on your cover letter by using their tone and energy. You can get the gist of it on the company’s website. Also, check out our best cover letter tips to tweak your letter of application even more.
Finally, make sure to include one email keyword that appears on many job ads:
If you’re interested in the job, please use the phrase “Sales Position 34SK-T Application” as your email subject line.
Never miss it!
Use the required phrase as your email subject. Don’t rephrase it. If you do, your application may never reach the recruiter.
Expert Hint: One keyword you might have overlooked—the company name. Adding the company name to your cover letter and email (and even your CV objective statement) shows you took the time to customise your application just for them.
6. How to Honestly Add Keywords You Might Not Qualify For
Never lie on your CV.
That being said, what happens if you are on the fence about including a particular keyword?
Let’s look at this job ad example for an accountant:
Qualifications and Skills:
Bachelor’s degree in Accounting or related field
You are finishing up your last semester at university.
Here’s what you can do in your CV’s education section:
Majoring in Accounting
Hunter University, New York, NY
Expected Graduation: 2019
- One semester remaining until bachelor’s degree.
This gets those important keywords (“bachelor’s degree” and “accounting”) onto your CV without lying about it, and helps you to pass the ATS test.
Then, when the hiring manager does the human check, they can make their own decision.
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Expert Hint: When adding keywords on a CV, copy their naming conventions. If they use “BA,” you use “BA.” If they say “bachelor’s degree,” you say “bachelor’s degree.” This will get you covered for the exact keywords they’ll enter into the ATS.
Here’s a recap of all the important things you have to know about CV keywords:
- CV keywords are important words or phrases employers search for in your documents.
- The applicant tracking systems reject CVs lacking keywords.
- Use the job ad as your guide to find the best words for your CV.
- Search for a list of CV keywords on Google, Wikipedia, etc.
- Add keywords all over your CV, not just the skills section.
- Reuse the keywords in your email and cover letter to round it all out.
- Don’t be dishonest by adding keywords for skills you don’t qualify for.
Have any questions on how to use keywords on CV? Not sure how to describe your skills using powerful words and action verbs? Get at us below in the comments, and thanks for reading!