There's a lot of discussion of the role that keywords play in creating effective, powerful, compelling executive resumes. Many resume writers advise that keywords are absolutely necessary in any strong document—and that executive resumes without those magic keywords will doom your hopes of getting an interview.
I don't agree with that position, and I'd like to present a few thoughts on keywords, to help you build an effective strategy for your executive resume and job search.
Much of the discussion revolves around the need to create resumes that will get through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). So, the first question is:
1) How do Applicant Tracking Systems select candidates?
I'd love to give you a definitive answer to this question. But the situation is somewhat analogous to Google search. Google is a blackbox. While they give some information, their algorithms are proprietary. That makes gaming the system much more difficult, which is a good thing. But it does mean that the old style SEO strategies of keyword stuffing will cause far more harm than good with today's Google.
Google is looking for clear writing in which keywords are used naturally—writing that will be natural for human readers, rather than the incredibly stilted SEO-based writing of a few years ago.
Of course, Applicant Tracking Systems don't begin to reach the complexity of Google—nothing does. But the trends, I believe, are the same.
That means that simply loading keywords in a core competencies section of your executive resume may not add a lot of value.
2) How are your keywords different from your competition’s keywords?
Unless you're working in an extremely narrow discipline, much of your basic job description will appear pretty similar to others at your level.
That means, for example, that most CIO resumes will have very similar keywords. There will be some differences in detail. But the majority of the keywords are going to be consistent across your resume and those of your competition.
Which significantly reduces the value of loading your resume with those keywords.
They need to be there—that goes without saying. But keywords can't be the core of your executive resume strategy.
Because the most important keywords will appear naturally and organically in any well-crafted executive resume.
3) Your resume will be read by an actual human being.
ATS are still used—especially for relatively junior positions.
But for senior positions? It's far more likely that your resume will be screened initially by a human being—with subsequent readings by senior leadership.
And senior leadership is not looking for a document with the same keywords every line. That's hard to read, unnatural, and far more likely to turn a reader off than to encourage a call for an interview.
Bottom line? If your executive resume is thoughtful, well-crafted, and well written, all the important keywords will be in the text naturally and organically.
That's the way it should be. So, I recommend not worrying over much about the advice you'll need on how critical keywords are in today's executive resumes.
Because I think that advice is a few years out of date.