How to Keyword Optimize a Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems & Tailor It to Target Roles
Jobscan's ATS research study found that 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system, or ATS, to manage their hiring processes.
As a result, keyword optimization is an important strategy to consider when updating your resume - especially if you are applying for jobs at large corporations that receive high number of applications.
If you have heard about the importance of keyword optimizing your resume for ATS but are not sure how to do so, this article will equip you with the tools you need.
In this article, we provide:
- A free resume optimization tool that conducts a gap analysis on missing keywords you should consider incorporating into your document
- An ATS optimization checklist that outlines simple, key factors to pay attention to when preparing your resume
- An example of how to keyword optimize your resume to align it with the specific requirements of a job posting
Resume Keyword Optimization Tool
Use the Jobscan resume optimization tool below to assess whether your resume effectively incorporates target keywords recruiters search for when filtering applications using applicant tracking systems.
Simply copy and paste your current resume and the job description for the role you are applying for into the boxes below.
The tool will analyze your resume and provide a percentage match score that serves as a benchmark of whether your document is sufficiently optimized for a target role.
If you are unfamiliar with how an ATS works, we encourage you to read this article, which explains how recruiters utilize these systems in more detail.
Once you receive your results, review 4 the key areas of feedback you should pay close attention to below. You don’t need to get caught up in achieving a perfect score!
1. ATS Findings
Check that your Education, Section Headings, and Date Formatting align with the requirements provided in the ATS Findings section of the report.
While some of these checks do not affect your percentage match score, they ensure key information on your resume is properly formatted and will correctly import into the ATS.
2. Recruiter Findings
While keyword optimization is important, your resume ultimately needs to leave an impression on the recruiter or hiring manager who reads it.
Because recruiters want to see specific examples of the value you added in each role, the Measurable Results section of the report can help you benchmark whether you are incorporating enough metrics into your resume.
You can also use our resume metrics tool to dive into this category in more detail and brainstorm additional ways to showcase the tangible impact you made on an organization.
We also recommend carefully reviewing the Words to Avoid section, which outlines overused terminology and resume clichés that make recruiters cringe.
3. Hard Skills
When recruiters screen applications using an ATS, they typically search for hard skills that are explicitly mentioned in the job description.
If you find that your Hard Skills score is low and agree with the scan's outcome, review the example below to see how you can naturally incorporate additional keywords into your document.
Keep in mind that while you should effectively optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems, your resume still needs to read naturally and be truthful.
"Keyword stuffing" is very easy to detect when a recruiter reads your resume, and it may leave a negative impression.
4. Soft Skills
Although soft skills contribute to a higher percentage match when using Jobscan’s tool, we don't recommend listing soft skills on your resume.
Soft skills such as the following are best communicated during the interview process. On your resume, they are best demonstrated via examples of how you applied them on the job:
- Effective communicator
- Strong team player
- Results-oriented executive
- Excels in high-pressure situations
- Proven ability to negotiate
- Adaptable, driven, and motivated leader
Without specific evidence to back them up, such phrases can come off as overused resume buzzwords that do little to differentiate you!
ATS Optimization Checklist
Follow the strategies on the checklist below to ensure your resume’s content gets imported into an applicant tracking system correctly:
- Keep your formatting simple (avoid any gimmicks)
- Use conventional section titles
- Align your content with the requirements on the job description
If you are a senior executive, keyword optimization becomes a bit less relevant, as:
- You will generally be competing against a smaller number of applicants
- You may be working with a recruiter, who will ensure your resume gets into the right hands
How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job (Example)
One of the easiest ways to optimize your resume is to read the job description, identify relevant keywords, and naturally incorporate them into your document.
Let's look at a practical example to help you understand how to do so.
Below, we'll analyze two documents:
- A job description for a hotel development posting
- A sample resume tailored to that posting
Step 1: We started by highlighting the most important responsibilities of the role and the required skills that we would like to mention on the resume.
When reading the job description, focus on two key sections:
- Key Responsibilities
More specifically, pay attention to hard skills and industry terminology.
We evaluated a job description for a Head of Hotel Development position with Sonder and highlighted key terms that would be worth incorporating into the resume.
We encourage you to follow a similar approach.
To make the process easier, simply print out the job description on paper and grab a highlighter!
Step 2: We incorporated keywords related to those we identified in the job description.
Now that we identified key terms, we added them to the resume.
In doing so, we made sure to:
- Incorporate a few keywords that were exact matches in a natural manner to avoid the perception of keyword stuffing
- Include similar terminology that wasn't explicitly provided in the job description
- Avoid directly copying and pasting long phrases from the job description
- Avoid discussing any experience that the candidate didn't have just for the sake of "optimizing" the resume
We highlighted the key terms on the resume below.
In today's hiring environment, recruiters are increasingly overwhelmed with high application volumes, and applicant tracking systems help bring order to the chaos.
By taking intentional steps to keyword optimize your resume, you'll help it pass initial scans and get into the hands of a recruiter.
That said, be conscious not to over-optimize by focusing too much on keywords and not enough on human readability.
Also, remember that the most effective ways of finding a job involve networking and human interaction.
About Resume Pilots
Resume Pilots is an award-winning executive resume writing firm and a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.
As a professional services firm, we take your reputation seriously. We are committed to delivering writing excellence and superior service while operating with integrity and discretion. Recruitment firms we partner with also trust us to consistently deliver quality documents for their clients.
Our writers have studied in the Ivy League and other top-tier universities and have strong writing backgrounds coupled with industry experience.
Here's how we can help you:
Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Writing Services: If you are looking for end-to-end support, hire one of our professional resume writers to rewrite your documents from the ground up.
Executive Resume Template Downloads: If you plan to prepare your own resume, consider using one of our classic, ATS-friendly resume templates for Microsoft Word.