How to use Keywords to make your CV stand out

No matter how long you spend on your CV, the fact remains that most employers will spend on average 3-10 seconds skimming over your work history and looking for keywords.

The majority of recruiting agencies will take keywords from a job description they are recruiting for and use this to search CV databases held on top recruitment sites and internet sites to bring up CVs that might match the criteria they’re looking for.


Knowing this can really help you tailor your CV towards the jobs you’re trying to bag and make sure your CV makes it onto the ‘Yes’ pile for interview. Some things to consider:

1. Use the Right Keywords

When completing your CV, make sure you have a specific job or at least industry that you want to work in. I’ve talked about it in previous articles – no one likes a generic CV or a ‘Jack of all trades’ so keep it focused for the job you want.

Research the types of jobs you want to secure and review their job description – use the role specification and person specification and select keywords from this to complete your personal profile, skills list and job duties in your work experience. By reviewing a few job descriptions you will start to notice the words that are used more frequently and these are the ones you want to take on board yourself. Make sure they feature throughout your CV.

Related: 20 Helpful Key Verbs for Your CV and LinkedIn Profile

2. Make the Keywords Stand Out

You want the keywords to be the first thing an employer or recruiter picks up on – remember they’ll only skim your CV so draw attention to them.

In your skills list put the key skills that match the job description in bold so they are picked up on immediately. Most people read from left to right – it sounds really simple but make sure when listing your work experience you put your job title on the left first, bold it and keep this format consistent.
On the note of job titles make sure yours match the jobs you want to attract or are applying for. Some jobs might have different job titles but could essentially be the same role and fulfil a lot of the same duties (think Account Manager and Relationship Manager or Sales Advisor and Sales Assistant). Again, it’s a simple thing but could make a difference in your CV coming up in a recruiters search.

3. Use Action Words

You want your CV to have as much impact as possible in the first few seconds and using action words can be a great way of getting straight to the point and highlighting key duties and achievements. Instead of starting points with ‘I did ..’ or ‘We achieved ..’ go straight for the main point. For example instead of ‘I successfully led a team of six to achieve targets over a 12month period’ break it down – ‘Led a team of six’ and ‘Achieved all targets consistently’.

Your CV is about getting the attention of the right people, it has to be the right mix of information and detail. Don’t forget, once an employer or recruiter see’s you have the right experience they will call you to discuss the role and your experience in more detail (some of these calls are not unknown to last a good hour!) and that’s your chance to really sell yourself.

4. Use Industry Appropriate Keywords

A lot of industries and fields will have their own jargon and industry specific keywords – the public sector (particularly medical roles) and also IT based roles are well known for this. If you’ve worked in these areas and are planning to stay there, then make sure you use appropriate phrasing on your CV. Schools and Hospitals all have specific systems that they use so if you’re experienced with this make sure it’s on your CV. Likewise if you’ve used various CRM or computer systems you know are widely used in a particular industry – get it on your CV as a buzzword.

See also: 5 Great Tips for Writing a Successful CV

This does go for the opposite as well however – if your CV is full of industry specific jargon and you’re looking to move into something new make sure you translate this into more user friendly vocabulary that won’t have recruiters scratching their heads!

5. Don’t forget your Cover Letter

The majority of roles will require you to include a cover letter – whether you’re applying for a specific role or uploading your details on to a jobsite (Yes they have the option for you to upload a cover letter too – make sure you do!), don’t forget to use some the above ideas on this too.
Use keywords throughout the cover letter, match it to the job descriptions you’re interested in and highlight anything you know will get you noticed in your desired industry.

Most of this sounds like common sense and a lot of people I’ve worked with start off with these intentions but quickly become frustrated when they’re not getting anywhere. It’s always important to review and refresh your job search and job applications if you’re not hearing back. An effective job search can be a waiting game and when frustration sets in, common sense can go out the window. If you’re not getting anywhere, take a step back, get some support and start again – You will get there!

photo by: ivy style

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