Keywords vs. Buzzwords

This is a post by Joseph E. Buss for InternMatch’s Contributor Platform. If you’re interested in getting involved as a Contributor, learn more here.

A question I get frequently is “Can you put keywords in my resume that will get me the job?”  It is true that most employers will use computer programs to sort through the hundreds (or even thousands) of resumes they might receive for a particular job, and they are looking for particular keywords.

The misconception is that they are looking for adjectives such as “Self-Motivated”, “Team-Player” or the ever popular “Goal-Oriented.”  One only imagines the Human Resource Professional saying, “Well, I was just about to hire that unmotivated, anti-social person without any aims in life, but thankfully, I saw this!”  These are not keywords, they are buzzwords, and they really don’t get you any closer to the interview.

A resume should not be completely devoid of these sorts of superlatives.  If some of these words honestly describe your personality, there’s nothing wrong with using them.  But think of them as spices.  A little bit is good, too much is overwhelming.

Keywords, on the other hand, are very specific and usually apply to the industry they are in.  They can include job skills, education, computer proficiencies and languages.  They are, to continue the analogy, the meat and potatoes of the resume.

For instance, I took a course in Conversational Japanese when I worked for a Japanese-owned company, thinking it might come into play some day.  Until I removed it from my resume as irrelevant (because I couldn’t speak the language fluently), I kept getting calls from recruiters from Japanese companies, including the one I had worked for previously. The keyword (among others such as Purchasing, MRP, etc) put it at the top of the pile, but the HR person didn’t bother to read down to see I had worked for them before.

Picking your keywords is a matter of knowing which ones are relevant to the industry you are seeking to get into, and being able to make an honest claim to them. While a search program will look for these words, how they are put into context when a live person reads the resume will determine if you get the interview or not.

Joseph E. Buss is the Owner/Operator of Competitive Edge Resume Service, Itasca, IL.  Talk with Joe at his Facebook Page,, or visit his website,

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