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Do “stupid keywords” belong on your resume?

resume resume writing Mar 14, 2023

In February, LinkedIn released its 2023 list of the “Most In-Demand Skills,” which is a compilation of the top skills that employers request when recruiting, posting, and hiring for jobs on the LinkedIn platform.


Surprisingly enough, soft skills and personality traits top the list across all categories, job levels, and industries:

  1. Management
  2. Communication
  3. Customer Service
  4. Leadership
  5. Sales
  6. Project Management
  7. Research
  8. Analytical Skills
  9. Marketing
  10. Teamwork

Check out the full list here:

What are “stupid keywords?”

A “stupid keyword” is often associated with vague personality traits or other skills that would be difficult to judge. For example, “excellent communication skills” usually tops the list of stupid keywords. In fact, many job search experts and resume writers will even tell you to leave that off your resume simply because such phrases are boring and not quantifiable.


By comparison, a “smart keyword” is any skill or area of responsibility that can be easily tested or quantified. For example, an Executive Assistant who is an expert in Microsoft Office 365 or a CEO who holds $MM P&L responsibility.


What is up with the “stupid keywords?”

So, how do stupid keywords get into job descriptions in the first place? Well, the conversation starts with HR and the hiring manager:

HR: “So, what are you looking for in your new Sales Associate?”

Hiring Manager: “I really need someone who can write and understand our professional emails. They should be able to speak clearly with clients, especially about our highly technical products. In addition, they should be willing to research the market and be driven to satisfy our customers.”

HR: “Got it. Communication skills, research, and customer service.”


While a simplified discussion, this is not that far off from reality. HR must take the concepts and boil them down into keywords that the screening computers (aka the Applicant Tracking System or ATS) can use to evaluate resumes.


Survive the ATS

In truth, a candidate’s resume must reflect a minimum of 50-70% of the keywords in the job description to get through the computerized screening. However, that does NOT guarantee an interview – it simply means that an actual human being will read your resume.


To make matters worse, the 50-70% includes BOTH smart and stupid keywords. If you don’t have the stupid keywords, the computers will probably screen you out, saying that you aren’t qualified for the position.


Stupid, indeed!


Why some advocate for dropping stupid keywords

While some may question the need for stupid keywords, consider their perspectives. After all, a hiring manager may not understand that writing “excellent communication skills” on the resume is necessary to survive the computerized screening. Similarly, many resume writers encourage using more descriptive language in the resume to demonstrate communication skills. However, the AI screening is not smart enough yet to judge on context. It is still reacting to keywords.


Nailing the keywords

While websites like are a great double-check when tweaking your resume for a specific job, it is best to have a solid core resume that is directed to your target job. And yes, that does mean both the smart and stupid keywords in addition to your action-oriented phrases, achievements, areas of responsibility, education, and everything else.


Start by evaluating several different job postings for the same job title. First, pay close attention to the Qualifications or Requirements. Then, look for the keywords and phrases that are repeated between the various jobs. If a term appears in most job postings, I call it a “drop dead requirement.” Meaning, you must have this skill – or at least the keyword – in your resume to survive the screening computers.


I bet you anything that you will see “excellent communication skills” in the vast majority of job postings.


After all, it IS the second-most in-demand skill, according to LinkedIn.


Not sure how your resume stands up to the screening?

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