ats resume keywords

The Best ATS Keyword Every Time

Smart job seekers use applicant tracking system (ATS) keywords to help recruiters find them in databases.

A Common Mistake People Make with the ATS & Keywords

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.
Multiple Versions of Keywords

When I recruited, I tried to think of all the possible versions of the keyword I wanted to find. For instance, if one of my keywords was nonprofit, then my search string looked like this:

Nonprofit OR Non-profit OR Not-for-Profit

How to Find the Best ATS Keyword

But not every recruiter does that.

So when I write resumes, I check LinkedIn/People search results for the most common versions of my clients’ keywords and use those.

I try to think of all the permutations recruiters might use.

Here are some examples:

Nonprofit Keywords
  • Nonprofit yields 4.1 million results.
  • Non-profit gives 3.1 million hits.
  • Not-for-profit gets 285,000 results.

I would go with nonprofit in the resume and most of the LinkedIn profile. However, I would also put non-profit in the Skills section of the LinkedIn profile or show it as an alternative in the About section.

CPA Keywords
  • CPA yields 1.6 million results.
  • Certified Public Accountant gives 660,000 hits.

I would put both of those keywords in a CPA’s resume.

Attorney Keywords
  • Attorney yields 2.4 million results.
  • JD delivers 1.6 million results.
  • Lawyer gives 1.2 million hits.

I would use all 3 of those keywords in an attorney’s resume.

Scrum Master Keywords
  • Scrum Master delivers 1.6 million results.
  • Scrummaster gives 334,000 hits.

I would use the Scrum Master keyword in a Scrum Master’s resume.

BTW, there’s a good story about that down this page a bit.

Healthcare Keywords
  • Health Care yields 19.7 million results.
  • Healthcare gives 11 million results.

I would use both of those keywords in healthcare resumes.

Call Center Keywords
  • Call Center yields 2.9 million results.
  • Contact Center yields 2.1 million results.

I would use both keywords in a call center resume.

Recruiter Keywords
  • Recruiter is the winner with 646,000 results.
  • Talent Acquisition is next with 380,000 results.

You’ll find several more recruiter resume keyword options here.

The Best ATS Keyword

You get the point. Recruiters might not build a search string to find all the versions of a particular resume keyword.

Because of that, you have to identify the keywords they’re most likely to use and put them in your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Always use the most common keyword. It’s the best.

But as you can see from the examples, I also look for ways to weave other keyword versions into resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

Note: When responding to a job posting via an ATS, be sure to use keywords mentioned in the posting. If you’re not sure what they are, click on the link in this paragraph. It will get you there.

A Happy Keyword Tale

Al Smith, 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 1.6+ million of them on LinkedIn.

It turns out Al’s client was using “ScrumMaster,” a keyword that’s on about 335,000 LinkedIn profiles. Consider, if the recruiter looking for Scrum Masters hasn’t had any caffeine yet, they 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 search results for Scrum Master.

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

Let’s Connect on LinkedIn

Please invite me to connect on LinkedIn here. The more I know about my readers, the better I can make my blog.

Image: fizkes
Updated February 2021

© 2015 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 8

  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.

  7. Great article!! you have provided very informative post here, as a fresher i am going to create resume for myself and looking for some information about which things to include or not to, this article has cleared my doubts so thanks a lot for this article.

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