I see it all the time: resumes that feature a box containing a bunch of keywords that represent skills or areas of expertise. But are keywords important in a resume, or is the context around them what actually matters?are keywords important in a resume?

Answer: It’s the context.

A sales executive sent me his resume that included a box titled, “Core Abilities,” that listed these keywords: operational excellence, turnaround strategies, talent development, growth optimization, B2B sales effectiveness, driven entrepreneur….I could go on, but you get the point. What do those keywords mean without any context, other than – nothing?

As part of my process in working with clients, I asked him to tell me a story about each of those keywords. That accomplished two things. First, we could evaluate if the keyword made sense for his career. “Driven entrepreneur” got cut because he’s not an entrepreneur; he’s an employee. He was trying to convey that he has an entrepreneurial mindset, but that’s kind of a given in sales, so we left it out.

Second, the stories he told me about the other keywords gave me plenty of context for me to differentiate him from his peer group. Instead of just listing “turnaround strategies,” I wrote a bullet describing how he turned around a struggling company. We demonstrated his skill at “talent development” by mentioning how many of his direct reports got promoted. “B2B sales effectiveness?” That was easy – he gave me metrics to quantify his effectiveness in selling to other businesses. And so on.

Keywords are important in a resume because they help the Applicant Tracking System software match the resume to the job posting. You can read more about this here. And since artificial intelligence is the enemy of the job search, candidates should network their resumes to reach the hiring manager’s eyes. The human brain likes to see the words it expects to see – further validation that keywords are important.

But remember context. Ultimately, the stories you tell about how you work and what you’re good at are your value proposition. And if you want some expert help in translating those stories, check out my page on Pricing & Process.

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