Keywords: Turn Your Resume Into A Ticket in the Door

Handing over a ticketThink of your resume as a ticket. It gets you in the door. That’s it.

A good resume captures and keeps the attention of the person reading it, and creates in that person a desire to know more about you. Hopefully, that desire will lead the reader to seek out more information about you and to put your candidacy into context. This could mean that the reader goes on to read your cover letter. It could mean that you get invited to interview for the position. But it’s not likely that someone will just read your resume and offer you a job.

Resumes are used by employers for screening candidates, but interviews are used for selecting the best qualified person for the job.

If you’ve never been on the hiring side of the table, the screening process may be foreign to you. So let’s dive into that part of the process and try to understand it.

The Screening Process

Screening can happen in many different ways.

  • A single person might do it.
  • A committee might do it.
  • Sometimes, a machine might do it. (Initially.)

But let’s not confuse the issue. They are all looking for the same things. You might call them keywords or key concepts or key phrases, but essentially they are the same thing.

A keyword is not the same thing, necessarily, as a “buzzword.” It can be, but it really depends. Many job seekers spend time consulting websites, resume books, and their colleagues and mentors about what the latest hot topics are in their industry. The difference between a “buzzword” and a keyword is this: a “buzzword” is a word that everyone is talking about; it may or may not relate to the position you are applying for; a keyword is a term that relates directly to the specific role to be played, and therefore, is directly relevant.

It’s important to recognize the difference between these two concepts. One (using “buzzwords”) is a cynical ploy that may lack coherence; the other (using keywords) is a smart, strategic move that brings together the aspects of your unique offering, and shows the match between what you offer and the employer’s needs.

I’m often asked by job seekers if I have a great list of keywords for jobs in higher education, and I tell them that I do not have a comprehensive list. In fact, I think it would be a disservice to develop one and put it out there as the end-all, be-all guide. In a later post, I’ll tell you why I feel that way, and give you some practical tips on ways find the best keywords for your target position. But next, we’ll delve further into screening processes, how they work, and how they might break down.

This post is adapted from my e-book “7 Points to a Winning Resume,” which I am adapting into a resume-writing crash course, for those who can’t afford to hire a professional resume writer, or who simply want to write a better resume on their own. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll delve into resume and CV writing strategies, though additional excerpts from the e-book, and guest posts from professional resume writers and career coaches.


  1. [...] will not be through the use of buzzwords. It will be through the use of keywords. And the best way to discover the most relevant keywords are to study the employer, read the [...]

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