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August 2010

By Karen Hofferber, CPRW Certified Professional Resume Writer with

Packing your resume with appropriate keywords is an excellent strategy, whether you are actively launching a job search or just “testing the waters” to investigate your next possible career move. During times of economic recession, competition for jobs can become cut-throat, but a keyword-rich resume can give you a significant leg up on your peers.

But what, exactly, are “keywords” and why are they so important?

Keywords are industry- or job-specific terms, jargon, acronyms, or buzzwords. Although not an exhaustive list, keywords can be:

  • Degrees     (e.g., “MBA,” “BA in Marketing”)

  • Industry Certifications     (e.g., “CCNA,” “CPA,” “CFA,” “MCP”)

  • Job Titles     (e.g., “IT Manager,” “Sales AE,” “Receptionist,” “Business Development Manager”)

  • Job Functions     (e.g., “Back-Office Management,” “Accounting,” “Payroll,” “Fundraising”)

  • Computer Applications     (e.g., “MS Office Suite,” “Word,” “Excel”)

  • Industry-Specific Terms and Programs     (e.g., “Six Sigma,” “ISO,” “HIPAA”)

  • Employer or School Names     (Names of employers are used to recruit from the competition)

  • Hard Skills     (e.g., “Desktop Publishing,” “System Security,” “HAZMAT Handling”)

  • Soft Skills     (e.g., “Teambuilding,” “Problem-Solving,” “Customer Service,” “Project Management”)

With the onset of computers and scanning technology, the inclusion of keywords in a resume has taken on new significance. Here’s why: keywords are used as search terms to narrow down the field of candidates for any given position. When employers search a resume database (either on an in-house system or on a major job board like, they will begin their search by using keyword search terms in an attempt to locate top matches for the open position. The more appropriate keywords your resume has, the higher the number of “hits” your document will receive.

Is your resume keyword-rich?

Unsure about whether your resume contains all the right keywords necessary so that it rises to the top of the pile?

You can maximize keyword density in your resume by conducting online research. Visit major job boards (such as or and scour through position announcements matching your career target. Don’t limit your search to a specific geographic area – go nationwide. (You’re not looking for a job at this point; rather, you are conducting keyword research.) Take note of terms used repeatedly in these ads. Where you have like skills/qualifications, incorporate these keywords somewhere in your resume (such as in your opening “Qualifications Profile,” in a bulleted “Key Skills” list, in the “Education” section, or embedded into your “Professional Experience” section).

Common keyword dilemmas

What if, after conducting your keyword research, you find that for the positions you are targeting, employers are searching for candidates with a BS, but you never finished your degree? You can still work in this keyword while remaining completely truthful by including the following in your “Education” section:


Bachelor of Science (BS) in Finance Coursework, 2000-2003

Completed ¾ of bachelor’s degree requirements before accepting full-time position.

Or, let’s say that you are pursuing positions within manufacturing, and you repeatedly see ads requesting “Six Sigma experience” but you have not received any training in this area. After spending a bit of time researching Six Sigma, however, you discover that much of the management training you have completed shares similarities with Six Sigma principles. Here’s how you can handle this on your resume:

  • Completed in-depth management training based on Six Sigma fundamentals.

Insider tip

Follow what professional resume writers do in order to maximize keyword density – include all possible formats of the keyword somewhere on your resume. For example, here’s how a professional with an MBA listed this qualification on her resume:


Master of Business Administration (MBA), 2004

Earned master’s degree in business administration while concurrently working full-time.

Note in the above example that “MBA,” “Master of Business Administration,” and “master’s degree” were all included, so that regardless of how an employer entered this keyword combination during a resume search, her resume would be “found” and would register a “hit.”

MS Word resume design tip: Making the best “margin call” on your resume

Relying on Word’s default page-margin settings may not be the best strategy from both a practical and a design standpoint when it comes to your resume.

In today’s extremely competitive job market, resumes have to do a lot more than simply chronicle your career progression and academic degrees. They must provide compelling evidence of not only what you have done, but also how well you have done it.

Of course, supplying this additional information increases the word-count of your resume. By adjusting your margins to achieve symmetry between text and white space, you can provide a presentation that is visually pleasing. Your goal is to design a resume that is content-rich without overwhelming the reader by cramming the page with too much text.

Making the best “margin call” is truly a balancing act. Setting very narrow margins in order to squeeze tons of text onto a page is a mistake. It’s unlikely readers will want to tackle such a daunting document without an extra-strength dose of migraine medicine. On the other hand, if you set your page margins too wide, the end result may look amateurish or entry-level.

Top and bottom margins of between 1 and .5 inches and left and right margins of between 1 and .7 inches are effective on most resumes. These settings will enable you to maximize page space while still allowing your resume to “breathe.”

In Microsoft Word 2010, here is how to adjust your margins:

  1. On the Page Layout tab, in the Page Setup group, click the dialog box launcher in the lower-right corner.

  2. On the Margins tab, click the arrows to adjust your top/bottom and left/right margins.

  3. Under Apply to, select Whole document.

  4. Click OK.

About the author

Karen Hofferber is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and senior resume writer at Changing careers? See The Career Change Resume by Kim Isaacs and Karen Hofferber for help. You can contact Karen at

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