I’ve written many times here about keywords in job search, and how and why they’re so important. In this article, let’s take a deeper dive.
What are keywords?
Keywords are the words and phrases that people will search online to find people like you.
In particular, recruiters and hiring managers routinely search various phrases to identify and then assess potential hires for their client companies.
Keywords are important for job search in these 3 ways:
- To help you get found online through your LinkedIn Profile and other online content by and about you.
- To help your resume get through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) used by recruiters and employers.
- To help people assessing you understand and differentiate the value you offer.
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), keywords and your job search
Keywords play an important role in your personal SEO. That is, the keywords and phrases you will use in your personal marketing materials (LinkedIn profile, resume, online presence, etc.) to help people find you online.
Here’s how it works:
Google and other search engines strive to deliver the most relevant, helpful search results, when you enter words and phrases in a browser.
One of the many factors they use to prioritize search results is on-topic content with substance, that includes the words and phrases being searched (that is, relevant keywords).
When people look online to find people to meet their various needs, they search certain words and see what comes up.
You know this, if you’ve ever searched online for a professional to help you with home repairs, or other services, or if you’re researching various topics.
You search for, say, “heating contractor, city, state” and begin the process of assessment and selection, based on what you find.
It works pretty much the same way in job search.
Recruiters and hiring managers search on keywords relevant to the kinds of candidates they’re seeking, such as “Information Technology Executive, Enterprise Business Systems”.
Working from this understanding, you need to determine which are the right keywords for your particular job search.
Then you need to place those keywords in the right places in any job search-related content you create, including:
- LinkedIn and other social media profiles
- LinkedIn and other social media posts and articles, including updates, comments, LinkedIn Groups participation, LinkedIn Pulse articles, etc. And don’t forget to add hashtags to the relevant keywords.
- Any content you publish online to support your subject matter expertise and thought leadership
A few words about keywords, SEO and your LinkedIn profile
If you want executive recruiters and your target employers to find you on LinkedIn, you need to draw them to your profile through the relevant keywords and phrases they search to source candidates like you.
Strategically placed, the right keywords elevate your search rankings in LinkedIn’s search engine, increasing your profile’s SEO and significantly boosting the likelihood you’ll be found and considered by them.
The content in certain sections – typically those that sit higher on the web page containing your profile – rank highest with LinkedIn’s search algorithm.
Make sure these top-of-the-page profile sections are load with the right keywords – profile headline, your name (where you can add certifications to your last name), Featured section, job titles, and the About section.
But also strive to use plenty of your relevant keywords throughout your profile. And pay special attention to the Skills section, which is entirely about your relevant keywords and phrases.
An important caveat about keyword density (how many times a particular keyword or phrase appears on a web page, compared to the total number of words). Always be mindful that human beings are also reading your profile, so make sure that your profile content is not too tightly packed with keywords, and that it’s an interesting read.
Also, search engines typically don’t like keyword stuffing (too many of the same keywords on a web page), and may downgrade your profile’s search ranking.
Executive resume writer Sarah Johnston suggests your identified keyword or phrases should appear 9-10 times in your LinkedIn profile.
“When creating LinkedIn profiles, I strive to have the keyword or phrase used across the ENTIRE profile at least 9 times:
– In the header
– 2-3x in the About section
– 3-5x as one of the 5 highlighted skills in your job section
– 1-2x in the featured section
– 1x in the skills section at the bottom
– Perhaps 1x in the volunteer section”
2. Keywords and Resume Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
You also need the right keywords in your ATS-friendly resume. That’s the document you will send to recruiters and online job postings to go into their Applicant Tracking Systems.
This is especially true for submitting your resume to online postings, either on job boards or the employers’ own websites.
Many recruiters actually read every resume that comes their way, and don’t rely as heavily on ATS to qualify candidates.
Talent recruiter Peggie Arvidson commented on a recent LinkedIn update of mine about ATS:
“I look at every resume that comes in for every job. The ATS doesn’t parse them out – EVEN if they don’t have any keywords to be honest. That’s why I read resumes everyday of people who have no experience in, say, affiliate marketing but they’ve applied to the job. not once does affiliate marketing show up in the resume – but “magically” they “beat” the dreaded ATS.”
But that’s not to say that keywords don’t matter in resume versions that won’t go into ATS.
Much of your job search will revolve around networking you way into the goldmine of hidden jobs that are never advertised. You’ll be sending (or giving) these people copies of your nicely formatted resume (maybe including color and various enhancements) because human eyes will be reading it.
Since this version of your resume is not the stripped down version designed to make it through ATS, it’s okay to spruce it up. You’ll only use this one for networking.
But you still want the right keywords in it (even though there won’t be ATS parsing for them) because, as I noted above, keywords typically represent your hard skills and areas of expertise. And, of course, those things need to be in all your job search materials.
3. Keywords help people understand who you are
Of course, search engines and ATS are not the only “eyes” that will be on you and your supporting job search materials when you’re job hunting.
Humans will be reading the same information you put online about yourself, plus perhaps other information you provide them, to help them understand what makes you a good fit for the employers you’re targeting.
Where do you find the right keywords for you?
If your initial job search prep didn’t include targeting specific companies or organizations that will be a mutual good fit, you’ll need take a step back and do that.
Then research these companies to find out what, specifically, makes you a good fit and how your expertise will help them.
Pay attention to the skills and areas of expertise that consistently come up in your research.
Those are the best relevant keywords for your job search, if they apply to you and your promise of value to your target employers.
For example, keywords for a Chief Information Security Officer (along with that job title itself) may be:
Cybersecurity | Business Optimization | Cloud Operations | Strategic Planning | Change Management | Program/Project Management | Vendor Management | Process Engineering | RFI/RFP | Client Retention
If you’re working from job descriptions, your relevant keywords are the words or phrases usually found after the words “responsible for”, and listed under the required hard qualifications.
Your full name is a relevant keyword phrase, too
The keywords and phrases important for your job search are not just the things that represent your skill sets and qualifications.
Your name itself is something that will be Googled and searched on LinkedIn and other search engines, once people have identified you as a potential candidate.
And people who already know you (or know of you) will be searching “your name” to find out all they need to know about you.
Be consistent with the way you state your name across all social channels.
Other things to consider about your name and SEO
Be grateful if you have an unusual name. It may help you stand out online.
If, on the other hand, you have a common name, things can be a little more challenging.
When people Google “your name”:
- Will they have a hard time distinguishing you from others with the same name?
- Will they have to scroll through several pages of search results before they find anything about you?
- Will they mistake you for someone with the same name who is nasty and has a less than stellar online presence?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, it’s wise to make some adjustments, if possible:
- Add your middle initial – John G. Smith
- Add a professional acronym or short job title – John Smith, MBA – OR – John Smith, CFO
- Add either or both of the above to a new email address – firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Create some personal branding videos, put them on YouTube, and get them into circulation. Since very few job seekers use videos, your videos will help you stand out from the others.
What to do if variations of your name appear online
If you’ve recently changed your last name, include both the new and old name at least for a time, such as:
Susan (Walters) Steinberg
Be sure to also do this in the name field, at the top of your LinkedIn profile.
If you are known by both your nickname and given name, include both, such as:
Frederick (Fred) Walters
And again, be sure to also do this in the name field, at the top of your LinkedIn profile.
Misspellings or alternate spellings of your name
This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a good idea to list at the bottom of your LinkedIn profile About section common misspellings or alternate spellings of your name. A short entry like this should do the trick:
Alternate/misspellings of my name – Susie Steinberg, Susan Stineberg, Suzie Steinberg, Suzie Steinburg
Search engines will “see” the various spellings of your name and call up your LinkedIn profile, even if someone has Googled one of these misspellings or alternate spellings of your name.
Here’s a case in point.
A colleague of mine posed a question to me about LinkedIn recently.
She was working with a job seeker whose LinkedIn profile was not showing up in LinkedIn search results for his full name, but he landed in the #1 search result spot when his nickname was searched.
He had a common name, so let’s say his name was “Robert J. Smith”.
He had customized his LinkedIn URL to read:
But the name he placed in his profile name field was “Bob Smith”.
My colleague wanted to get his profile to land at the top of search results for his full name because lots of people would be using that, instead of his nickname.
Why did this matter?
People looking for more info about him (and especially wanted to see his LinkedIn profile) would only find him if they knew he went by his nickname.
If they couldn’t find him on LinkedIn, they’d probably wonder why he didn’t have a presence there, which would not reflect well on him AND they wouldn’t find enough of the kind of useful information one puts in their LinkedIn profile. That could make them pass him right by as a job candidate.
My suggestion was to change his profile name field to:
Robert (Bob) J. Smith
This would mean that people searching variations on his name would still find his profile in search results.