How to Beat the Resume Black Hole: Find the Right Keywords for You

WorkCoachCafeOne of the most discouraging aspects of job search today is the resume “black hole” – the place where resumes seem to disappear after submission.  Often resumes end up in that black hole because of technology used by many employers to search through the resumes of qualified applicants.  Without the “right words” in the “right places” a resume is ignored.

This week, we’re looking at how to avoid that giant resume black hole, whether you have emailed your resume or submitted it online.  In the last 2 weeks, I have written about  how to get your resume noticed when you send it through email and how to make a good impression when someone opens the email with your resume attached.  Now, the next part of the process…

What can help avoid the resume black hole? The Right Keywords!

We see the term “keywords” all the time, but you may be wondering what keywords are and why they are so important.

The reason keywords are so important is because keywords are the words typed by employers and recruiters to find appropriate resumes.  Typically, they are searching through a large collection of resumes like a resume database (Indeed Resumes, for example), a job board, or an employer’s applicant tracking system.

Regardless of how well-qualified you are, if your resume doesn’t contain the words used by the searcher in his or her query, the system will not find your resume.  So the searcher will not see it in the search results. 

Simple.  Deadly.

How to find the appropriate keywords for your resume:

To be most effective, the resume needs to be customized for a specific job or class of jobs.  So, if you are looking for a job as an administrative assistant or an office manager, those would be 2 different resumes, each with keywords customized for that specific job and requiring research into the keywords used in those 2 different positions.

In this example, we will do the research to discover the keywords for one of those 2 resumes you want – the administrative assistant resume.

  • What words (keywords) are most commonly used in the titles of the jobs you want?

Analysis of the target job board or target employer can be very helpful in determining the best keywords.  Using the administrative assistant position as an example, several variations of this job title are used.

This is what I discovered in my recent analysis of jobs posted on the San Francisco Bay Area craigslist site:

Administrative Assistant – 334 job postings
Admin Assistant – 72 job postings
Admin Asst – 5 job postings
Admin Assist – 2 job postings

What does this mean?  This means that, assuming the searcher uses the same terms as the person writing the job description, the term “Administrative Assistant” in the title of your resume would mean your resume would appear in the search results most of the time.  If the term “Admin Assistant” was used as the title of your resume, the resume would appear only about 20% of the time.  The other terms would not be effective at all.


Employer-specific titles.  Some companies have developed their own version of a job title, like “staff assistant” or “administrative associate” rather than “administrative assistant.”   If you have found employers who have their own versions of a job title, put those terms on the resumes submitted to them or used in a job board they use, rather than the more common industry-standard terms.

Different level; different title. Sometimes the job title changes with a change in job level.  If you were looking for a “senior” administrative assistant position, analysis of the SF Bay craigslist postings uncovered this usage:

          Senior Administrative Assistant – 0 job postings
Executive Assistant – 207 job postings

What does this mean?  Double-check to be sure you are using the appropriate terms for your target employers and jobs.  Please note, another job board or a different location could show quite different results than we found in the SF Bay area craigslist postings.

  • What words (keywords) are most commonly used in the descriptions of the jobs you want, particularly describing the requirements of the jobs?

Continuing with our administrative assistant example, you would collect examples of the requirements in 10 or 15 job postings of jobs you wanted.  Assuming our administrative assistant is familiar with the Microsoft Office product set, I collected the Microsoft requirements from a dozen different admin assistant job postings, and put them into a form on for analysis of the frequency of their use.
Wordle analyzes the text submitted and highlights the most frequently used terms by making those words appear larger than the words used less frequently.  This is what Wordle showed me when I submitted my collection of administrative assistant software product job requirements:

Clearly, some terms definitely stand out.  “Microsoft” is the largest word because it is the word which appeared most often in the requirements.  Next largest and most-frequently used word is “Excel,” followed by “Word,” “Office,” and, less frequently, “Outlook.”

What does this mean?  This means that if you were using only the term “Microsoft Office” in your resume, your resume wouldn’t be found for many searches, particularly searches for the term “Excel” and “Word.”  Although Excel and Word are parts of the Microsoft Office product set, the system retrieving resumes is looking only for the exact words being used by the searcher.  So, a resume which did not include the words “Excel” “Word” and “Outlook” would not be found, even though they are Microsoft Office components.

[More Avoid the Resume Black Hole: The Resume Customization Cheat Sheet ]

No Guarantees!

These days, no one can guarantee that every resume submitted will receive a response. But, the probability of a response is improved if the resume is viewed.  And, often, the reason a resume is not viewed is because technology has gotten in the way, somehow.  Hopefully, this article explained how to improve find-ability in an applicant tracking system or resume database.

More About Avoiding the Resume Black Hole:

Beating the Resume Black Hole: How to Use the Right Keywords on Your Resume

New Resume Black Holes: Applicant Tracking Systems

Avoid the Resume Black Hole: The Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

Climb Out of the Resume Black Hole in Three Steps

How to Get Your Emailed Resume Noticed

Applying for a Job: 5 Tips for Avoiding the Discard Pile

Picking the Best Keywords for Your Resume (

Resume Keywords (Career Dictionary)


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .



  1. Hello I have finish my CV collection for Word & Pages Mac best regard, Simon.

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