Using Keywords and Action Verbs: An Introduction


"Keywords" are buzz words, the "hot" words associated with a specific industry, profession, or job function, that communicate a specific message about a specific job function, qualification, accomplishment, or responsibility. Keywords are best defined as nouns, noun phrases, abbreviations, or acronyms. In this article, keywords are in red, to make it easier for you to spot them.

Some examples are:
benefits plan design - for Human Resources jobs
market share ratings - for Marketing jobs
new business development - for Sales jobs
logistics management - for Transportation jobs
SAP - for Manufacturing jobs
platform architecture - for Information Technology

To be effective in your job search and catch an employer's interest, your resumes and cover letters must be action-driven and clearly demonstrate the value you bring to a company.

The best way to accomplish this is through the use of keywords and keyword phrases that showcase your qualifications, capabilities, and skills. Keywords get you noticed, not passed over.

To help you better understand the concept of keywords and their powerful use, here is a sample listing of keywords for the primary industries and professions outlined in Best KeyWords for Resumes, Letters, and Interviews (Impact Publications, 2003).

Industry / ProfessionKeyword / Keyword Phrases
Administrationoffice management
Association Managementmember retention
Bankingdebt and equity financing
Customer Servicecustomer loyalty
Engineeringproject management
Financetreasury administration
General ManagementP&L management
Health Careacute care
HospitalityF&B outlets
Human Resourcescompensation
Human Servicesclient advocacy
Information Technologywebcasting
International Businessemerging markets
Law and Legal Affairsintellectual property
Manufacturingprocess automation
Marketingcompetitive intelligence
Public Relationscrisis communications
Purchasingvendor sourcing
Real Estateindustrial development
Salesnew product introduction
SecurityVIP protection
Senior Managementworld-class organization
Teaching and Educationcurriculum development
Transportationtraffic management

In addition to keywords for specific industries and professions, more general (and of a professional nature) keywords should also be key components of your resume, cover letters, thank-you letters, interviews, and other job search activities. For example, your "professional" keywords might include:

Business Planningperformance and productivity improvement
Customer Servicebusiness process design and optimization
P&L Managementteam building and team leadership
Project Managementoral and written communications
Change Managementproblem solving and decision making
PC Technologypresentations and negotiations
Consensus Buildingorganization and administration
International BusinessPC and Internet technology
Efficiency Improvementcost reduction and avoidance
Revenue Growthbottom-line profit improvement

See how many you can think of, and use them to create strong sentences and phrases that will give your resumes, cover letters, and interviews an energy and power of their own.

For more information on keywords used in your own particular career or job, see Wendy S. Enelow, Best KeyWords for Resumes, Letters, and Interviews (Impact Publications, 2003).

You should keep in mind that a minor change to a keyword can significantly alter its meaning. For example:

Keyword: sales negotiations
Message: negotiate customer sales contracts, pricing, terms, and conditions

Keyword: executive negotiations
Message: negotiate directly with top-level decision makers

Keyword: international negotiations
Message: negotiate with international customers, vendors, and suppliers


Just as keywords are an essential component of your job search, so are action verbs, which are words used to present your qualifications, achievements, and results (your keywords) in an action-driven style.

Action verbs are common verbs such as organized, delivered, led, negotiated, administered, transacted, designed, conceived, created, reengineered, and directed. These are the words that will give your resume energy, power, and punch.

For example, suppose you want to use the keyword phrase customer service. Compare how it looks without action verbs and with action verbs:

Keywords without action verbs: Responsible for the daily operations of the customer service center.

Keywords with action verbs: Planned, staffed, and managed the daily operations of a 45-employee customer service center.

Chapter 45 of Best KeyWords for Resumes, Letters, and Interviews contains a listing of Action Verbs, High-Impact Phrases, and Personality Descriptors that you can use in all of your job search communications.

SOURCE: Adapted from Wendy S. Enelow, Best KeyWords for Resumes, Letters, and Interviews (Impact Publications, 2003), pages 3-6. All rights reserved.