Avoid the Resume Black Hole: How to Use the Right Keywords in Your Resume.

WorkCoachCafeSadly and annoyingly, without the “right words” in the “right places” a resume is often ignored. The infamous “black hole” where resumes disappear is one of the most discouraging aspects of job search today.  Appropriate use of those right words (a.k.a. “keywords”) can help the resume to avoid the black hole.

Over the last few weeks we’ve covered many aspects of the black hole.  And, last week’s post addressed the issue of finding the right keywords for your resume.  This week, we’ll explore some of the ways to use your list of keywords most effectively.

In case you are wondering what keywords are, they are the words typed by employers and recruiters into a search box to find appropriate resumes.  They are also used to find appropriate resumes on sites like CareerBuilder and Dice, in an employer’s applicant tracking system, and even on a recruiter’s computer.

How to use the appropriate keywords in your resume.

Appropriate keywords must be used in the following locations:

  • The resume file name:

Often, a resume is attached to an email message sent to a recruiter or potential employer (how to get your email noticed), and the name of the attached file can be critical in the success of the attachment.  To be most effective the file name should be clear and obviously connected to the job seeker and the job.

Many times the attached file is named “myresume.doc” or “resume.doc” which are probably helpful for job seekers on their own computers, but not that helpful on someone else’s computer, particularly if that person has received 20 resumes the same day, all with the same file name.

Make the file name easy for someone to save, initially, and to recognize, later, on their computer, like: Smith-M-J-CPA-resume.doc, Smith-Mary-J-accountant-resume.doc, or Smith-MJ-PhD-consultant-resume.doc.  The name should include the word “resume” and your name plus a version of the job title and any other appropriate marketing keywords you can throw in without making the file name too long.

  • The resume title:

For most resume database systems, even including craigslist, each resume has a “title” visible in search results for the searcher to click on to select the resume for viewing.  So, before you post your resume, analyze the titles used in the job postings you see to identify and use the keywords that are appropriate for you and for the job you are seeking.

For example, as we discovered last week, the job posting titles used on craigslist job postings for administrative assistant jobs, when analysed, were broken out by job title as follows:

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

Based on the analysis in the examples above, I would recommend that someone looking for a position as an administrative assistant use the complete job title, “Administrative Assistant,” spelled out in the title of their resume when posting it online.

Do the same kind of analysis for your target job title to make sure you use the one which is most commonly used by employers.  Using the most frequently used job title for your resume should increase the probability that your resume title would contain the keywords (job title) used most often by employers searching and would thus be shown to the employer doing the searches more often.

  • The body of the resume:

Include the job title in the body of the resume as well for sites and for searches that don’t have or use a resume title.  See how Susan Ireland has used the job title in these two examples from Job-Hunt.org  (a new window or tab will open for these sample resumes) – resume sample using an objective and resume sample using a job title.

In addition, use all of the keywords that are appropriate for you, in as many different variations as you can fit acceptably.

For example, rather than just listing proficiency in Microsoft’s Office product set, name all of the Microsoft products in the resume (and the LinkedIn Profile!) that are appropriate for you.  If you were skilled in all of these Microsoft products, I recommend using this kind of statement in your resume:

Proficient in Microsoft Office software, all versions for the PC from 2003 through 2010, including Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and Microsoft Calendar.

Perhaps a bit repetitive use of the term “Microsoft”?  However, “Microsoft” is clearly a very important and relevant term, and those are the names of the products and the versions.  Don’t be afraid of repetition – sometimes it helps.

As another example, someone looking for a job in social media, a growing field, should name all of the social media sites for which he or she can claim relevant experience, like this:

Over 3 years of experience using social networks and social media for marketing, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, and YouTube.  

In addition, when either the words or the acronyms of important keywords could be used by an employer or recruiter in a search, include both the acronyms and the phrases in the resume to ensure inclusion in search results regardless of the version actually used for search, like this for a military veteran:

Veteran of 15 years of service in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as an officer in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).  Honorable Discharge as a Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.).

No Guarantees!

Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes, and many, many variables are involved with the black hole (including incompetence on the part of the employer).  Although I cannot guarantee that every resume submitted using these techniques will receive a positive – or any – response, the probability of a response is improved if the resume is viewed and the information is clear and relevant.  Hopefully, this article will help you improve your resume’s “find-ability” in an applicant tracking system or resume database so the black hole can be avoided or at least not visited quite so often.

More About Avoiding the Resume Black Hole:

Beat the Resume Black Hole: How to Find the Right Keywords for 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 (Job-Hunt.org)

Resume Keywords (Career Dictionary)


© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


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 WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. I have mainly been in 2-3 fields of work in my lifetime. Real Estate, Mortgage Lending & Printing, which most recently have been doing printing as a self employment opportunity however not enough income has come in. Now on the job hunt again. Actually met with a person from a program through the EDD called Alliance. The girl there pretty much told me my resume was horrible? She said that it said nothing about sales and that since I listed my personal business people would be leary to hire me thinking since I was self employed that I cant take direction from anyone or may want to steal their print clients. What? Anyways this meeting really gave me no hope for any work out there. Is there help out there to review resumes? Thank you for your help….this economy we are in is very difficult….never thought finding a job would be so hard

    • Hi Christie,

      I am sorry that you’ve received such negative feedback on your resume; that said — it is only one perspective. Recommend you get additional information — and help from someone who can provide you with concrete help on how you can fix your resume.

      I am a big fan of the book Resume Magic by Susan Britton Whitcomb; your public library may have it. See Resume Magic or other resume writing books for advice on how to present independent freelance work — you can present it in such as way that shows your interest in moving forward with full-time employment.

      Work Coach Cafe cannot review individual resumes, but you may try to sign up for help through local community agency or job search groups. You can find a directory of them here.

      If you are applying for positions that involve sales, you do need to reference sales in the resume.

      Good luck and all the best,

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