If someone mentioned keywords to you, would you know what they are? Do you have a vague inkling that they’re related to websites and search engine optimisation or are you aware that they’re essential to the job hunting process?

It’s safe to say that keywords are no longer confined to the concern of web developers and businesses hoping to rank well on Google. Keywords are now essential to the success of your CV.

What are keywords?

As with search engine optimisation, keywords are essentially the words people are most likely to use to search for content on a specific topic. In the recruitment world, this means the words recruiters will use to search their database or Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for CVs that are most relevant to a job vacancy.

This means that every vacancy will have different keywords.

Why are keywords important to your CV?

According to a recent report by ERE, the average job attracts approximately 250 CVs, giving recruiters just six seconds to decide which go into the ‘potential’ pile and which are rejected outright. These days, it’s estimated that 70% of Fortune 1000 companies use Applicant Tracking Systems to scan and select relevant CVs.

For these tracking systems to be effective, recruiters will search for specific keywords to see which candidates the tracking system selects. If you don’t have the right keywords in your CV, it simply won’t be seen, ending your application before you’ve had a chance to demonstrate your suitability.

How do you know which keywords to use?

There are several things you can do to identify the best keywords for your CV. Start with the job advertisement and job description.

For example, imagine a job ad for a ‘PA/Team Coordinator for Top Global Media Agency’ – the job description mentions the job title several times and stresses that experience in the media would be ideal. It also specifically mentions typing speed (55wpm), Word, Excel and PowerPoint, while diary management is listed several times in the list of desirable skills and job description.

It’s safe to say that ‘PA’, ‘Team Coordinator’ and ‘Media’ are all keywords for this vacancy. The recruiter is also likely to search for the software packages and skills highlighted as essential experience.

If you’re still not sure about which keywords to use, you should also look at other job advertisements in your area of expertise. Are there words they all use to describe the role? Are there two different words that mean the same thing, e.g. online marketing or digital marketing? The popular job website, Indeed, features a handy Job Trends tool, which you can use to search for the latest vacancy trends and see which keywords are the most popular.

How should you use keywords in your CV?

Let’s start with how not to use them! If you’re thinking of stuffing your CV full of keywords to get it found by Applicant Tracking Systems, stop now. Keyword stuffing used to be how SEO specialists trumped search engine algorithms but it soon became clear that this made for a pretty dismal reading experience for web users. Your CV is no different. It’s essential to remember that it will be read by a human being once the ATS has done its work. For this reason, make your CV readable, engaging and relevant.

When it comes to keywords, use them frequently and strategically.

You might want to try the following:

Use keywords in your CVs headings, e.g. Personal Profile: PA & Team Coordinator with Global Media background

Add keywords to the skills section of your CV, e.g. Typing speed 55wpm, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, diary management

Think about putting your keywords in bold. During the early selection stages, the recruiter may skim read your CV looking for clear indicators that you match their requirements. Putting text in bold means it will stand out at a glance

Mirror the wording of the job advertisement in your CV and covering letter – job advertisements need to be sharp and to the point, so the words they include are there for a reason

Use industry-specific words – if there are several variations, use them all if you can

Tailor your CV to the job instead of sending a generic ‘catch all’ version that catches the attention of no-one

If you’re hoping to change careers, it’s still important to choose the keywords that are relevant to your targeted sector rather than your previous career

Use action words such as ‘led’, ‘achieved’, ‘optimised’, ‘maximised’ to make your CV more dynamic

Where possible, give examples of your achievements, e.g. instead of saying that you have ‘excellent written communication skills’, you could say that you ‘Transformed the company’s dry and unappealing newsletter to make it reflect the dynamic direction of the business, leading to more than 1,000 sign ups to the mailing list in just four weeks’


If you’re still not sure which keywords to use, you might want to think about getting a second opinion from a friend, colleague or professional CV writing services like Giraffe CVs. If you would like to know more about how keywords might be affecting your job search and what you can do to optimise your CV, we’re always happy to help.

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire