Keywords and Action Verbs

Employers receive numerous letters and resumes from eager applicants. Often these letters and resumes don’t emphasize the candidates unique qualifications and they lose their opportunity to stand out from others. Each statement on your resume  should communicate that you have skills that you can use to achieve results.  As mentioned previously, it is most effective to use skills-based work impact statements that contain keywords and action verbs.  The list of action verbs and the following information on keywords will help strengthen resumes and cover letters.


Keywords describe the knowledge, understanding, skills or motivation that demonstrate you can perform a task or job. Keywords are:

  • Nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Phrases
  • Action verbs

Keywords can be:

  • Job titles
  • Responsibilities
  • Competencies
  • Acronyms, jargon and employer terminology
  • Education, memberships, leadership roles, certification

Many employers are electronically scanning resumes. Scanning resumes for keywords produces “hits” related to the experience and competencies the employer determined are important for the job. With more “hits,” the chances increase the employer will contact you for an interview.

Keywords are included in the job description used by employers to advertise a position opening.  When reviewing job postings look for required or preferred qualifications, desired skills, etc.  As you progress through your curriculum and obtain work experience, note the engineering skills and competencies that you are developing.  When at work on a co-op, an internship or a summer job, discuss with your mentor or supervisor the types of keywords that should be emphasized in your letters and resume.

A list of some good keywords to use on resumes and cover letters can be found here in Canvas.

Some Tips for Using Keywords

  • Evaluate your resume to identify the keywords the computer might recognize as keywords and add more nouns, adjectives, phrases and/or action verbs
  • Use different keyword forms; for example, if you use “coordination” in the resume use “coordinate” in the cover letter and elsewhere in the resume
  • Develop a master keyword log by compiling a list of keywords that apply to a particular job that you have performed or would like to perform, or to a particular type of industry; include unique “buzzwords”