career-advice

Expert Tip: Should your resume be in past or present tense?

Matt Glodz
Expert Tip: Should your resume be in past or present tense?

We explain which resume verb tense is correct

You know that small errors and inconsistencies on your resume can cause a recruiter to reject your application.

But that’s why you’re here!

In this post, we explain the correct verb tenses to use when writing your resume bullet points.

By applying the concepts we discuss, you’ll ensure that your writing is not only be grammatically correct but also easier to read.

What kind of verbs should I use for my resume?

Because the purpose of your resume is to provide an outline of what you accomplished in each role, you should start each bullet point with an action verb.

As you might remember from English class back in the day, there are three types of verbs: action verbs, linking verbs, and helping verbs.

Action verbs are the verbs that tell us what a subject is doing.

We encourage you to vary your action verbs as much as possible to make your writing more engaging.

You should also be leveraging them to create achievement-based bullet points that provide examples of how you add value to an organization.

Now that we know which type of verb we’ll be using, we need to determine is whether to conjugate those verbs in the present or past tense.

When should I use present tense on my resume?

You should use action verbs in the simple present tense when you’re writing bullet points for your current role that describe:

  • Anything you do on a day-to-day basis
  • General responsibilities that you hold in your current position
  • Projects that are still ongoing (that you have not finished yet)

In other words, each bullet point for your current role should start in an action verb in the present tense, such as:

  • Prepare financial reports…
  • Deliver presentations to executive leadership…
  • Devise and implement strategic initiatives…
  • Negotiate lease agreements…
  • Optimize business processes and procedures…

By structuring your bullet points as described above, you’ll also ensure your phrasing is parallel.

As a result, readers will be able to skim and process the information more quickly – and that’s exactly what you’re looking to accomplish.

When should I use past tense on my resume?

You should use action verbs in the simple past tense when you’re writing bullet points for:

  • Any of your previous positions
  • Any projects or tasks in your current role that you already completed

Examples of bullet points written in the past tense include:

  • Organized conference for 5,000 attendees…
  • Taught lectures to undergraduate students…
  • Evaluated employee performance…
  • Doubled affiliate revenues…
  • Developed Excel models…

Is it okay to vary verb tenses on my resume?

Yes!

It’s okay to have bullet points in both the present and past tense for your current position.

Realistically, you’ll likely want to provide examples of impressive projects or reports you worked on in your role but already completed. These should be described in the past tense.

Any other activities that you are still responsible for will be explained in the present tense.

You should stick exclusively to past tense for your previous roles, however.

Don’t overthink it!

Past Position = Past Tense.

Always.

We often see people make the mistake of adding a new position to their resume without updating the bullet points for the previous role.

Make sure to carefully read through your bullet points before you submit your resume to avoid this error!

In Summary

Despite what people sometimes think, effective business writing should be simple.

You’re not making yourself sound any smarter by using confusing language.

When it comes to bullet points, starting your phrases will different parts of speech is grammatically incorrect.

Keep it simple.

Present position = present or past tense

Past position = past tense


About Resume Pilots

Resume Pilots is an award-winning executive resume writing firm and a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.

As a professional services firm, we take your reputation seriously. We are committed to delivering writing excellence and superior service while operating with integrity and discretion. Recruitment firms we partner with also trust us to consistently deliver quality documents for their clients.

Our writers have studied in the Ivy League and other top-tier universities and have strong writing backgrounds coupled with industry experience.

Here's how we can help you:

Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Writing Services: If you are looking for end-to-end support, hire one of our professional resume writers to rewrite your documents from the ground up.

Executive Resume Template Downloads: If you plan to prepare your own resume, consider using one of our classic, ATS-friendly resume templates for Microsoft Word.

To learn more about our services, book an introductory call with our founder here or email team@resumepilots.com.


About the AuthorMatt Glodz


Matt Glodz is the Founder and Managing Partner of Resume Pilots and a Certified Professional Resume Writer.

After studying business communication at Cornell University, Matt worked within Fortune 500 companies, where he noted that qualified candidates were frequently denied interview opportunities due to poorly written documents.

At Resume Pilots, Matt combines his business and writing background - which includes prior work for a Chicago Tribune publication - to craft resumes that give his clients the best chance of landing interviews. He works with clients ranging from CEOs to recent graduates and has been writing resumes for over 10 years.

He has been quoted on numerous business and career-related topics in outlets including Business Insider, CNBC, Fortune, Glassdoor, The Ladders, and Thrive Global.


Related Articles

Can Applicant Tracking Systems Read PDF Files?
The short answer is that most ATS systems are able to read and parse PDF files. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when using PDFs in your job application materials.
Read More
Should I Add a Recruiter as a Connection on LinkedIn?
Adding a recruiter on LinkedIn can be a useful way to build your professional network and stay connected with potential employers. We explain the advantages and disadvantages of connecting with recruiters on LinkedIn.
Read More
Free Template for Messaging Recruiters on LinkedIn
Use This Free Template to Contact Recruiters on LinkedIn: We also provide tips for customizing the template to make an excellent first impression.
Read More