Woman highlighting words in job ad

Visualizing Keywords in Any Job Ad

It can be difficult knowing which keywords to include in your resume. Unlike chemical formulas or parts of speech, there is no hard-and-fast rule for identifying these critical terms. So how do you know what they are?

Generally, keywords are the qualifications, duties, and skills an ideal candidate would hold and/or have demonstrated in the past. They should include your hard and soft skills, education, and relevant experience (both professional and unpaid).

Though there are other options, the job description is your best source for keywords. This is where employers directly tell you much of what they are looking for. Luckily, there are several tools and strategies to help you pick out the right vocabulary to get your resume seen.


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ATS Simulator

Once you’ve written your resume and optimized it for the keywords you picked out, find a website with software that functions like an applicant tracking system (ATS). These tools will scan your resume and let you know how it measures up to the job ad. Basically, you can test-drive your resume and see if it makes it past the bots.

sample resume score

sample resume score with in-depth information about keywords

iScore Resume Match is one such program that goes above and beyond the standard. It not only rates how well your resume keywords match the job posting’s, but also identifies terms that are missing from your resume. This allows you to add experiences you might have opted to leave out and tweak verbiage until your application is ATS optimized!


Word Cloud

Another method that people use is a word cloud, like Wordle or TagCrowd. These websites allow you to copy and paste text into their tool, and they will present a graphic representation of how often certain terms appear. For example, the word cloud for this accounting associate job advertisement looked like this:

sample job description with word cloud showing keywords

With this visualization, it’s easy to pick out the high-frequency vocabulary: government, accounting, maintain, accounts, receivable, payable, billing, clients, knowledge, etc.

Unfortunately, these websites only measure repetition; they can’t read an employer’s mind. This causes word lists from clouds like the one above to grow excessively long, including several obvious (accounting) or non-competency-based items (knowledge).You need to sift through the image and note the larger terms that are also skill or experience related. While useful, these sites should not be your only strategy.


Trigger Phrases

If you see one of these expressions, it may mean there’s a keyword involved.

  • ________ experience or experience with ________
  • Background
  • Knowledge of ________
  • Ability to ________
  • Must ________
  • Authorized/Certified/Licensed
  • Names of industry-specific tools or software
  • Action verbs (ex: supervise or build), particularly in the job duties/responsibilities section


Reevaluating that accounting associate job advertisement with these tricks of the trade reveals several keywords for responding resumes.

graphic showing how to identify keywords in a job description

Check that you maintain the same wording when you’re integrating these key terms into your resume. And if you use an acronym, make sure that the first instance includes the entire phrase followed by the abbreviation— for example, “Registered Nurse (RN).” After that, however, you can just stick to the shortened form.



Because job ads are filled with handpicked qualifications and skills, they are a fantastic source for keywords tailored for a specific position. However, the information is often tightly packed, making it difficult to identify the most important terms. With the strategies and resources described above, keyword research becomes a much simpler task.

By Erin Coursey, iHire | September 19, 2016
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