At the senior level, do keywords matter and where do they belong on an executive resume—in a keyword section or organically throughout the document?

When crafting a senior level resume, the strategic placement of keywords is critical for capturing the attention of both human readers and digital gatekeepers. Incorporating high-ranking keywords into your resume can indeed improve its chances of passing through ATS, but it’s crucial to maintain a balance. This means strategically selecting the right keywords that are highly relevant to your specific industry, role, and target employers—not simply inserting a laundry list of generic terms.

Dedicated Keyword Section

Resume writers who advocate for a non-storytelling approach often champion the use of an old-school keyword section in resumes. They tout its efficiency in navigating the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) screening process by compiling a comprehensive list of keywords at the forefront of the document. This method is believed to ensure that the qualifications seamlessly align with the specific requirements of the desired position.

However, despite its perceived benefits, this approach comes with its own set of pitfalls. Resumes inundated with keywords risk appearing generic and devoid of personality. While they may pass through digital gatekeepers unscathed, they often fail to capture the attention of human readers. In a competitive job market where employers seek candidates who can clearly convey and prove their value, a resume lacking in storytelling and personality may fall short of making a lasting impression.

Organic Keyword Approach

Executive holding computer keywords on executive resumeAs the Founder and Executive Resume Writer at Breakthrough Resumes, I advocate for an organic approach. By seamlessly integrating keywords throughout the document within the context of the candidate’s achievements, we ensure authenticity and readability while catering to ATS algorithms.

This approach not only enhances the resume’s chances of passing through digital gatekeepers but also resonates more deeply with human recruiters, who seek genuine insight into the candidate’s expertise and qualifications.

For me, each keyword serves as a thread in the tapestry of the candidate’s career journey, reinforcing their unique value proposition and positioning them as the ideal candidate for the desired role. Crafting a narrative that speaks to the candidate’s expertise and resonates with potential employers strikes a balance between keyword optimization and readability—something a laundry list of keywords simply cannot achieve.

A Combined Strategy

At times, I do employ a writing strategy that combines a dedicated keyword section with seamless integration of keywords throughout the narrative. This approach necessitates thorough research beyond simply emphasizing generic keywords like “strategic planning”. By carefully selecting and incorporating industry-specific terms and achievements, the finished resume not only satisfies ATS requirements but also showcases the candidate’s unique expertise and qualifications in a compelling and authentic manner.

On my LinkedIn, I posed the question, what’s your approach to incorporating keywords on a resume?

Are they part of your branding strategy, tailored to reflect your unique skills and achievements, or are they a list of generic buzzwords?

Your answer could make all the difference in standing out amidst the competition.


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