Using keywords correctly: a keyword primer for the tech job search

Keywords are critical to the tech job search. What are the best practices for utilizing the right keywords, and where do they matter?

Think about the various roles – personal and professional – that you play every day. At work, maybe you’re a software engineer or a database programmer. In your personal life, you may be a marathon runner or a pet owner. When you think about these statements, it’s easy to see that in general, we all love to “classify” or name things. From our jobs to our hobbies and everything in between, we seek to define these roles and the way in which we do that is via keywords.

So what really is a keyword? If you look it up, you’ll see it’s defined as “an informative word used in an information retrieval system to indicate the content of a document.” And if you asked a search engine professional, they will tell you that it’s “a particular word or phrase that describes the contents of a Web page.” Essentially, when you type a search into Google, you are using keyword or key phrase searches to locate information.

In the world of job searches, keywords are critical; using the right ones can really get you noticed whereas using none at all – or the wrong ones - may potentially hurt your chances of being found. If an employer lists a specific skillset within a job description and your resume and LinkedIn profile do not list that skill, then you may miss out on the potential audience of recruiters and hiring managers who are looking to fill that role.

So what are best practices for utilizing the right keywords and where do they matter?

It starts with the resume.

It’s no secret that having a clear and precise resume is crucial for a successful job search. Not only is it the first thing that a potential employer will see, it is a visual and written representation of you as a potential employee! To this end, you need to use it as a tool that will thoroughly and accurately communicate your value and capture attention.

When it comes to keywords, utilizing the right ones with the appropriate frequency is the key to success. For example, if you use the term “SQL Server” in your top summary statement but then don’t elaborate on “SQL Server” further down within the body of the resume – related to the specific role where you used that skillset – then you are really missing out on an opportunity to illustrate your expertise. Be sure to use these important keywords throughout your resume wherever it makes sense. Doing this will also showcase your ability to be detailed and will effectively demonstrate your competency around the subject matter.

Keywords and LinkedIn: A powerful combo

When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? LinkedIn is the most widely used professional network and so it’s important that you continually update it with your latest experience and skills.

Additionally, since LinkedIn has a very robust search capability, it’s extremely beneficial to include the right keywords. These should also be consistent with the terms you have already included in your resume. You may have also noticed the profile section where you can gain endorsements for your specific skills which is another great reason to include them.

Other keyword opportunities

Many developers and other technical professionals also highlight their work and portfolios on their own websites, as well as development communities like GitHub. These sites offer numerous opportunities to showcase your skills and list out the appropriate keywords so that when potential employers start seeking candidates, their searches on these sites – and via Google in general – will match with your profile.

Selecting the RIGHT keywords is…key!

As an IT and tech staffing firm, we are always asked which keywords are the right ones for specific roles. Keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach to keyword strategy but we always encourage candidates to do some research to figure out which ones will work best for them.

One great way to do some research is by using Google’s Keyword Planner (you need to sign up for an AdWords account but then you can use the keyword tool for free without developing ads). The tool enables you to put in a few keywords that you might be considering and then seeing multiple versions of that same keyword or keyword phrase. It will tell you how many times those terms actually come up in search so that you can evaluate their popularity.

Check out what other professionals in your field are using. Going back to our SQL Server example, look at other database professionals on LinkedIn. What terms have they included in their profiles that you may not have thought about? Check to see what kind of search value those terms may bring by evaluating out on the Google Keyword Planner.

Using various forms of keywords can be quite helpful, as well. If you find yourself utilizing the term “Project Manager,” you may also want to consider “Project Management” and other similar terms.

Keep in mind the geography can be important, too. For example, if you are currently working in Dallas but are in the midst of moving to New York, you can utilize geographically specific keyword terms in your social profiles so that employers clearly understand what you are looking for.

If you are including a cover letter, there’s another great opportunity to utilize these keyword terms and you can even get a bit creative. It offers the chance to further tell your “story.”

Do you have other suggestions or recommendations for keyword use during the job search? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us with questions or comments by posting to our LinkedIn page (using keywords, of course!) or sending us a note to