December 6th, 2017

Including the Right Job Keywords Without Stuffing Your Resume

Applicant tracking system (ATS) software has been a game-changer for employers with open positions. An ATS incorporates keyword search to create candidate shortlists for busy recruiters and hiring managers. Firms that use an ATS report a 15 percent decrease in time to fill open positions and a 75 percent drop in unproductive activity. Nonetheless, ATS benefits that accrue to employers come at the expense of job-seekers who’ve failed to populate their resume with the right keywords.

Career coach Anish Majumdar explains, “In the name of making things easier for companies by pre-filtering out unqualified candidates, the peddlers of ATS software have dehumanized the hiring process and sent a terrible message to job-seekers: Conform to the requirements of our machines, or risk being ignored.”


It’s hard enough to get noticed at the front end of a job search. ATS software has upped the challenge by becoming more sophisticated over time.

ATSs formerly scanned for job-specific keywords chosen by the HR department. Today’s systems can parse resumes to put pre-selected words in context. This capability circumvents an ill-advised practice known as stuffing. This is where candidates simply replicate job-description keywords and place them throughout their resume.

In extreme cases, candidates have embedded job keywords in small, white-colored type at the bottom of their resume to make the “stuffing” imperceptible to human eyes. Don’t be tempted to follow their example because an ATS will instantaneously identify the exploit and reject the resume.

BLOG: Including the right job keywords without stuffing your resume via @ajilon:


Incorporate the following steps into your job-application strategy:

  • Use keywords appropriately. Avoid creating lists or groupings of keywords that don’t fit into natural prose on your resume. Sure, that tactic may help manipulate keyword matches in line with ATS searches. However, be aware that your resume will also be screened by an internal recruiter and a hiring manager — both of whom know how to detect and disqualify keyword stuffers.
  • Pay attention to detail. The ATS uses keywords listed in the job description to determine whether you’d be a match for the posted position. Be sure to use identical language and punctuation as in the job description, advises former recruiter James Hu, founder of Jobscan, which offers a web tool that optimizes resume keywords. Fully spell out job titles and acronyms on first use, followed by the abbreviated term.
  • Be realistic. It’s better to omit highly specific keywords that don’t align with your experience than to “stretch” for a fit. Remember, even if you make it past the ATS, you’ll still have to explain your career aspirations to a human interviewer. Make an honest assessment of your career story, jot down the skills that consistently shine through, and weave them into your resume where applicable. Certain words express a broad sense of professional experience. For example, responsible, support and client convey a proactive workplace style, while data, analysis and operation draw attention to problem-solving abilities.
  • Back up your claims. Career coaches acknowledge that it’s essential to integrate the right keywords. But, equally important, your resume should include specific metrics to frame your accomplishments. Did your efforts bring in extra revenue? If so, how much, over what period of time? How big was the budget and staff you managed? Just be careful not to give away proprietary information.


In the end, your resume should authentically represent your work experience. It’s much more likely to rise to the top when supported by organic copy that includes legitimate industry- and job-specific terminology, rather than appearing as an “overstuffed” attempt at ATS appeasement. The creation of quality resumes is an art and a science.

For more advice on landing the best professional jobs, check out

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