Identify Your Most Powerful Keywords to Help Your Job Search

In order to improve your chances of getting found during your job search, start collecting and using keyphrases (a string of two or more keywords together). Because companies like to have high search-engine rankings, too, you may have a hard time competing with Fortune 500 enterprises for certain keywords. Compile a list of at least ten powerful keyphrases. Keep this list by your side when you write your web copy.

Search engines don’t process verbs very well; they much prefer nouns. Verbs are for people readers. During your keyword research, focus on coming up with a list of nouns that are the most relevant to the kind of job you want.

Use your brain

One strategy for coming up with killer keywords is to use your brain. People often overlook their own common sense because the online tools are just, well, so convenient. But no online tool has the intuition you already possess about your desired role.

In order to come up with your keyword list, just imagine that you’re an HR recruiter looking for someone to fill an open position. What words would you type into Google to find someone to fill that opening? For example, if you’re an HR recruiter looking for a museum curator, you may search for the following words: preservation professional, collection management, exhibition development, or even history enthusiast.

Now, sit down with a blank piece of paper and brainstorm as many descriptive phrases as you can think of for your desired position.

Ask the government

Believe it or not, the U.S. government can be a good source for keyword inspiration. Every two years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a publication called The Occupational Outlook Handbook, or the OOH. This huge volume can be downloaded or read online in small chunks.

The OOH was never intended to be digitized. So the government set up a sister program called O*Net. O*Net provides much more functionality than simply looking up job titles. For instance, you can explore careers based on skills or interests you may have. Also, its entries provide great detail about what is required of you from certain job titles.

The OOH contains information about job descriptions, responsibilities, and even career paths and compensation for most jobs. Each occupation description is divided into main sections, including the following:

  • Significant Points: This section summarizes the key characteristics of the position.

  • Nature of the Work: To find out what a person in that occupation actually does, look at the Nature of the Work section. You can find the best general keywords there.

  • How to become…: Use this section to look for words to describe your education and training.

  • Employment: This section tells you just how competitive the job is in the marketplace.

  • Job Outlook: Gain a sense of a career path for the position you’re looking for in the Job Outlook section. You may glean some words or phrases that managers of that position may use in their search.

  • Contacts for More Information: In this section, find out what professional associations are available for any given profession, what accreditation programs you can take, and so forth. Use the many links in this section as a launching off point for additional research.

Wondering how to put these categories to good use? Say, for example, that you’re a museum curator. On the OOH website, type in “museum” in the Search OOH box on the right side of the page. Click the link for the top search result, which takes you to the occupation description as described in the preceding list. From that page description, you may find the following keyphrases significant:

  • Museum Technicians

  • Curators

  • Conservators

Explore job boards

Did you know that job boards can have a hidden function? They’re a great tool for finding out what language employers use to describe your desired position. For purposes of keyphrase research, find five or ten job postings that best match what you want to do. After you start reading these job postings, you may notice some repeating words and patterns. Write them down.

If you’re a visual person, try using a word-cloud tool. A word cloud is a visual representation of the words used in a body of text, with the larger words representing higher frequency. Using a word cloud is an excellent way to find commonly used keywords for the job you want.

Find a word-cloud generator you like (the most popular ones are wordle.net/create and tagcrowd.com or tagxedo.com) and copy and paste the job posting you found to see what you get. Paste one entire job listing for each word cloud. Then save the image that’s generated.

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