This should not be a news flash if you're out there applying for roles via online application, or attempting to optimize your LinkedIn profile so that you turn up in the right kinds of recruiter searches.
If it is a news flash, here's a quick rundown of why they matter: If you're applying for roles via an online portal, there's a reasonable chance (especially if it's with a mid- to large-sized organization) that humans will not be looking at your resume first. Instead, it's going to first pass through an applicant tracking system, or ATS.
The ATS will be looking for certain keywords, experience, and credentials, and will assign your resume a "match score.” Only those resumes that rank as "strong matches" will move forward in the process. That said, if you're relying on this method for job applications, you need to pass through the robots or you won't receive human consideration.
Given this, we of course need to discuss the big question: How do I figure out the most important keywords?
Here's one incredibly simple technique that our team uses: Make a word cloud.
It's fast, it's free and it will give you a quick visualization of the words that come up over and over again in the job descriptions that align with the roles you're targeting.
There are plenty of free online word cloud providers. We use TagCrowd and WordItOut.
Here's what to do: Assuming you're targeting similar types of roles, gather up 2-4 job descriptions that exemplify the type of position – or the exact ones – you're most interested in. I typically drop all of the descriptions into one Word or Text file, and then copy the entire block of text.
Paste it into the text box within whichever word cloud generator you desire, and voila!
Here's one we ran through both TagCrowd and WordItOut. This client was targeting senior sales leadership roles within the athletic apparel industry:
Now, you will of course get some weird, ignorable terms batched in with the golden nuggets, but what you see here are some important words that you should consider weaving into your narrative, on both your resume and any online jobseeker profiles you maintain.
You'll also note that there are some differences between the two word clouds, so you may wish to run your job descriptions through more than one tool so that you can compare and contrast.
It's a simple, "can do it today" exercise that will help you narrow in on the keywords that are right for your job search.
And while you never want to rely 100 percent on the keywords (or online applications in general) to do all the heaving lifting for you – get out there and talk to people! – you will be very very wise to make sure yours are lining up with the roles you're looking to land.
Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice behind the popular career website, JobJenny.com, which offers advice and services for navigating job search and career transition.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on JobJenny.com.