Using the Best Keywords in your Job Search

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In order to remain competitive in the job market, you may need to learn how to translate your previous experience using keywords.

Using the Best Keywords in your Job Search

In my career, I have held many job titles across many different institutions. The challenge, after two decades in higher education, remains that my job descriptions use out-of-date terms. I don’t want to mislead potential employers, but I want my experience to remain relevant in today’s world. Pivoting into new industries also requires rethinking how my prior experience highlights my current skills.

So I am now a slash person.

In other words, I share that I have experience as a director/program manager. Or an advisor/volunteer coordinator and trainer. Or any role that has a different definition in a new industry.

I have chronicled my job search in my blog and love to share my lessons learned. In order to remain competitive in the job market, you may need to learn how to translate your previous experience. Without exaggeration, you can still highlight your skills and use them as keywords in your next job search.

Group people sitting around a conference table. Photo by  Maksim Chernyshev on Scopio.
Before starting a new job search I now try to learn how to translate my experiences into a new industry and how my previous experiences are now ‘slash’ positions, such as director/program manager. Photo by  Maksim Chernyshev on Scopio.

Update the Keywords in Your Resume

Your resume is not a static document. It should be updated to reflect your skills, using words that align with current terminology and skills you practiced that relate to the new jobs you want. This could mean that you need to update one or more of the job titles you held in your career. Or at the very least, become a slash person.

Keywords in Your Job Titles

Susan P. Joyce, in 25 Keywords To Improve Your Job Search Profile, suggests, “As with your current job title, if a former employer called your job something unusual or simply out-of-date now, become a slash person — change that job title to use the current terminology that is accurate and appropriate for you.

“For example, maybe your job title 10 years ago was “MIS Project Manager.” The current terminology for that job is “IT Project Manager,” so edit that job title to be “MIS / IT Project Manager.” The goal is to be accurate, using current technology.”

Depending on the job I am now applying for, I may use terms such as program manager or volunteer coordinator rather than an assistant director or advisor. These terms have meaning and relevance in higher education, but lose meaning in other industries. During an interview, I will discuss the original term and what it meant in that office to provide clarity.

white printer paper beside silver laptop computer
Make a list of the keywords that describe your new dream job. Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Keywords in the Job Descriptions

For many people, their previous work may feel too important to edit. But it is important to recognize why we need to translate these previous experiences.

Christopher L. Caterine, in Lost in Translation, encourages people to look at who will read your resume. He says, “You will necessarily make choices in how you tell your story that enhance, obscure, or warp specific details any time you tell it. What makes you a better or worse translator is how you select details that matter to your audience rather than privileging those issues that matter to you.”

One is is to focus on the results of the job you did. Kat Boogaard in Here’s How to Translate Your Skills From One Industry to Another, shares, “Employers everywhere—regardless of specific industry—appreciate an employee who’s able to get things done and produce results. That’s universal.

“For that reason, it’s smart to highlight the results you achieved in your past positions—rather than simply listing the duties that you were responsible for. Particularly when you’re changing industries, prospective employers will care more about what you actually accomplished, and less about how you specifically did it.”

I have learned to discuss budget totals (managing and reconciling $XXXXX in budgets), training and on-boarding staff (create on-board curriculum and training programs for XXXX people per year) or provide context (planned events for XXXXXX people annually). When looking for positions outside of higher education, providing context has made all the difference.

Choosing Your Keywords in Search Engines

Not all keywords are equal to each other. Pick keywords in your search engine that reflect the job you want, not just the jobs you’ve held.

The Balance Career suggests the following tips:

  • Field or industry: While it won’t narrow the results too much, begin by putting in the field or industry you’d like to work in, such as “marketing,” “publishing,” or “database engineering.” Once you see the results, you can add more keywords to ensure more relevant results, and a slimmer list of jobs to wade through.
  • Desired job title: You can try putting in your desired title (e.g., marketing coordinator) but keep in mind that not all companies use the same titles. One company may call the position “marketing coordinator,” while another calls the exact same role “PR associate.” Try different variations to see which generates the best results. Be cautious about using job titles as a search method, and widen your search parameters if you do not get a lot of results.
  • Industry-specific skills, tools, and jargon: As well as searching by job titles, you can search by the functionality required by a job. For instance, you might search by a programming language or the skills required to do the job.
  • Job type: When you are looking for a specific type of job you can narrow down search results by putting in terms like full-time, part-time, contract, freelance, internship, remote, etc. That will give you a list of jobs that match the type of position you’re looking for.

Word to the Wise – Don’t Lie

At one point in my career, I was an interim director. It wasn’t a formal appointment but I add the title as a ‘slash position.’ I held the role for 16 months. And on a resume, it would be easy to delete the word ‘interim.’ It wouldn’t change the work I did for that role. Except an employer could find out.

And then I would get fired for lying.

Lying on a resume may leave you vulnerable to being fired. It's not a risk worth taking. Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Lying on a resume may leave you vulnerable to being fired. It’s not a risk worth taking. Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Krishna Reddy, in List of Best and Most Popular Keywords for Job Search, reminds us about the pitfalls of lying on a resume. She says, “You can use keywords suitable for your intended job, however never ever resort to a lie in your resume in order to land a job. A Lie can be easily spotted at a later date if not earlier and you could get into trouble for that. Hence, make sure that you do not ever provide any wrong information.”

Also, avoid using elevated keywords to describe your work, especially if you don’t have the skills to back them up. For instance, if you don’t know or understand software used by data analysts, it will be difficult to say you have experience for a data analyst job.

Rather, take the opportunity to learn the required skills, or brainstorm relevant and related skills you can share. For instance, if you don’t know certain software, have you learned similar software? Share that instead! Or take the time to learn it and discusses your commitment to learning software used in this new industry.


Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional

I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill. Even a resume review to check over your use of keywords! Let me know how I can help.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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