Oops, I Forgot to Use Alternative Keywords on My Resume

Smart job seekers use keywords to help recruiters find them in applicant tracking systems, on job boards, and on LinkedIn.

The Most Common Keyword Mistake

The problem is, many people don’t stop to think about the possibility there might be more than one version of a keyword.

Consider the words I’ve written so far in this post:

  • Keywords could be key words.
  • Job seekers could be jobseekers.
  • Applicant tracking systems could be ATS or ATSs or ATS’s.

Not All Recruiters Compensate for Multiple Versions of Keywords

When I recruit, I try to think of all the possible versions of the keyword I want to find. For instance, if one of my keywords is nonprofit, then my search string will look like this:

  • Nonprofit OR Non-profit OR Not-for-Profit.

When I write resumes, I check LinkedIn for the most common version of my clients’ keywords and use those. For example:

  • 862,422 members use CPA on their profile, while only 5,956 use C.P.A.
  • 3 million members use MBA. 1.1 million use M.B.A.

You get the point, right? Recruiters might or might not build a search string to find all the possible versions of a given keyword.

BTW, if you want to see all of the keyword possibilities for recruiter, check here.

Easily Mistaken Keywords

I’ve noticed these categories of easily mistaken keywords:

  • New-ish compound keywords (like keywords).
  • Abbreviations (MBA or M.B.A., CPA or C.P.A.).
  • Synonyms (recruiter, search consultant, headhunter, etc.).

If you can think of other categories, or good examples for the listed categories, please share them in the Comments section below.

A Happy Keyword Tale

Al Smith, President of Transition Sherpa, and co-author of Hired! Paths to Employment in the Social Media Era (not an affiliate), suggested I write this post.

He said he looked for one of his clients by typing “Scrum Master” into LinkedIn and couldn’t find him in his search results. Most recruiters will search on “Scrum Master” because there are over 36,000 of them on LinkedIn.

It turns out Al’s client was using “ScrumMaster,” a keyword that’s on about 5,400 LinkedIn profiles. Consider, if the Scrum Master seeking recruiter hasn’t had any caffeine yet, s/he might not think to check ScrumMaster too.

Al had his client replace ScrumMaster with Scrum Master. After the change, his client ranked #15 in Al’s LinkedIn’s search results for Scrum Master.

I promised a happy tale. Yes, Al’s client got a job.

Audit Your Resume and LinkedIn Keywords

Pull up your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Look for keywords that might have alternatives. Ask a friend to check too.

Then search on LinkedIn for each possibility. Go with the most common version of each of your keywords because those are the ones recruiters will likely use to find you.

Per Renee’s comment below, it’s a good idea to use the less common version(s) too.

Note: When responding to a job posting, be sure to use the keywords mentioned in the posting too. If you’re not sure what they are, ask yourself, “Which words in this text would I search on to find people like me in a database?” That should get you there.

Let’s Connect on LinkedIn

Please don’t hesitate to invite me to connect on LinkedIn here. The more I know about my readers, the better I can make my blog.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at donnasvei@gmail.com for more information.

Image: Canva
Updated May 2017

© 2015 – 2017, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.


Comments 6

  1. Donna, in my work as a recruiter I see candidates run afoul of this every day. The example you mention are excellent, but it’s even more important with technology.

    If you’re an information security pro, you likely know all about MDM, or mobile device management.

    But if the abbreviation MDM is the only reference to it on the resume, its entirely possible a recruiter will miss you completely. Yes, the recruiter should know–but why leave it to chance?


    Exactly. Thank you for your insight, Ed. Sometimes it’s a good idea to use more than one version of your keyword!

  2. It is even worst.
    Keep in mind: if searching; are you sure that the one you are seraching for speaks your language, or you his? Maybe “Denglisch”?
    “Organized the technical setup of the Beamer, Laptop, Microphones and other equipment required for events that occur in the University.”
    No that one did not setup a Laptop, Microphones and other equipment required on top of a BMW and it also has nothing to do with textile. A projector (Beamer in German) has been also setup.
    How about 1st Level support? First Level Support=1stLevel support=1. Level=1 st Line and so on.
    So how can you handle it? Build up a repository database where you can have your “master word” accompanied by the synonyms. Have a look before you start searching and build up your strings.
    Better use more than one version of your keyword. 🙂


    I love the idea of keeping a repository of all the permutations of your keywords! Thank you for the smart idea for recruiters and job seekers alike.

  3. I coach clients to use both versions of key words in their LinkedIn profile to account for this. Also think about names – you can spell Eric or Erik so if you have a name that has multiple spellings you should think about using both in your name field – Eric (Erik) Jones


    Smart! If someone is searching for us by name, then our name becomes a keyword — and we all know how many permutations of names there are.

    I list common misspellings of my last name in my summary.

    I like your approach too, Renee. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thank you Donna, great post to make job seekers aware of this. I always ask them to put themselves into recruiter’s shoes. How would you start searching for candidates on LinkedIn to fill the positions you want to apply? 😉


    Exactly! Thank you, Marta.

  5. Hi Donna,

    Great points and, as always, a great post. One little quibble, though:

    If you’re using Boolean logic, if you search for nonprofit AND not-for-profit, you won’t find many people, because the search is looking for profiles with BOTH nonprofit and not-for-profit. A better search would be: (nonprofit OR not-for-profit OR non-profit OR ngo)..

    We’ve all made that mistake. (Boolean is SO fussy.)

    All the best,



    Thank you, Andy. I fixed it.

  6. In workshops I joke about George Boole who created algebra’s order of operation…the basis of today’s Boolean search. As high school freshmen we all hated Boole. I am convinced that freshmen algebra students threw their text books at his head killing him at a mere 49 years of age. So you might say Boole also invented “texting.”


    That’s funny, Al.

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