A Guide to Choosing the Right Resume Tense
When writing a resume, you want to make sure that it's a flawless representation of your skills, expertise and current job history. Your resume should be well-organized, easy to read, professional and stand out to hiring managers. Using the proper resume tense or tenses is one detail that helps you make a good impression on hiring managers if done correctly.
In this article, we discuss the importance of using the correct resume tense, how to choose a resume tense and offer examples of both past tense and present verbs that you can use to write an effective and polished resume.
Why is resume tense important?
Keeping a sense of consistency is key when writing a resume. One way to maintain consistency throughout is by using the correct tense. Choosing the right tense helps prevent a confusing impression, as it helps hiring managers to know quickly what you are currently doing versus what you have achieved or done in the past.
List of tenses
There are three tenses that you can use when writing a resume:
Present tense: Use this tense when describing the work you're currently doing.
Past tense: This tense is appropriate when describing positions you have had in the past and are no longer doing.
Future tense: This tense is rarely seen in resumes, but students could use it when applying for educational internships. It can also be used in a resume objective to show what you hope to achieve in a specific role or at a specific company.
How to choose a resume tense
To help you choose the right resume tense, use the following guidelines:
Use past tense for past jobs.
Use present tense for current jobs.
Avoid combining present and past tense under one heading.
Use future tense when applying for an internship or when referring to your goals in your resume objective.
1. Use past tense for past jobs.
If you are referring to previous employers that you're no longer with, use the past tense. List every accomplishment (e.g., work experience, education background and skillset) and responsibility in the past tense. The same is true for volunteer positions or extracurricular activities that you have had in the past but are no longer a part of.
To keep things simple, some people prefer to list all the elements of their resume in the past tense. If you don't have an idea where you should switch to the present tense or you are worried about the consistency of your resume, listing all resume elements in the past tense is a good strategy that reduces some of the stress of putting together your resume.
Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing
2. Use present tense for current jobs.
If you want to include present tense verbs on your resume, use these exclusively for work that you still perform. You may list all your responsibilities for your current position in the present tense while listing the responsibilities for your previous positions in the past tense. If you are writing a resume with little to no job experience, you may include work on volunteer projects or extracurricular activities that you're still involved in and mention them in the present tense.
If you have graduated from college, any activities you participated in during your stay would remain in the past tense. However, if you are mentioning your work with an organization that you are still a part of, it's best to use the present tense.
3. Avoid combining present and past tense under one heading.
To keep a sense of consistency throughout your resume, avoid combining past and present tense under the same heading. For instance, if you've had two or more positions within the same organization or company, it can sometimes look confusing to have both present and past tense for a position that has basically the same job title but different roles. In this case, it would be best to keep your resume to the past tense only.
You may only combine past and present tense if you have a current job for which you are listing as accomplishments and responsibilities. Keep specific accomplishments in the past because you completed it. Job responsibilities would stay in the present tense because they are ongoing. List the current responsibilities first, followed by your past accomplishments, as this mirrors the way you demonstrate your entire career history in the chronological order. Here's an example of how a list of past accomplishments and present responsibilities should be listed:
Supervise the team of 10 customer support agent
Manage the work of the sales department
Carry out strategic development
Trained 10 new employees
Developed a performance appraisal system
Implemented an effective employee training program
You can use both tenses in a resume as long as you adhere to the rules for resume tense usage. Using this approach creates a sense of commitment and carefulness, which an attentive hiring manager is likely to notice.
4. Use future tense when applying for an internship.
The future tense is rarely used in resumes, but it could have possible benefits for college students. For instance, if you are applying for a summer internship and you want to emphasize that you will be doing something else during the fall that will help your application, you can include a brief description of it in the future tense.
Keep in mind, however, that mentioning work experiences that you will expect to have can hurt you when looking for a job. If you're applying for a position in a company that looks for part-time employees or interns to later transition into full-time, saying that you have something lined up may not work in your favor. If you're applying for educational internships, however, this may be a good option.
Examples of past tense resume verbs
Here are some examples of resume action verbs in the past tense you can use to highlight past accomplishments:
Instead of using common past-tense phrases like "served as," "responsible for," "duties included" or "actions encompassed," try the following verbs:
If you want to demonstrate your communication skills, try the following verbs in the past tense:
List of present tense resume verbs
Here are some examples of resume action verbs—categorized by skill type—in the present tense you can use to highlight current responsibilities and skills:
If you want to demonstrate your management skills, you can try the following present tense verbs:
To demonstrate your organizational skills, try:
To demonstrate your technical skills, use the following:
To demonstrate your helping skills, use the following:
To demonstrate your financial skills, try:
To demonstrate your creative skills, try:
Additional tips for choosing the right resume tense
Here are additional tips to help you choose the right resume tense:
Optimize your resume for ATS
Many companies today use the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to scan applications for resume keywords. It turns out that even the resume tense can affect the way the system searches for results. If the job description mentions "research," which is in the present tense, and you used the word "researched," which is in the past tense, ATS may overlook your resume.
To optimize your resume for ATS, you have to include the search terms that the employer or recruiter is likely to put into their ATS. To figure out these search terms, read the job description closely. Look for keywords that the employer uses in the job description and use them in your resume.
For example, when the employer uses the verb "train" in the present tense, you can change your resume phrase from "trained 100 customer support agents on company policies and procedures" to "managed to train 100 new customer support agents on company policies and procedures." This optimizing trick helps your resume beat the ATS.
Avoid verbs in their present participle
Some candidates use verbs in their present participle form (verbs that end with -ing) rather than in their past participle form (verbs that end with -ed) when describing their previous job responsibilities. It seems much easier to write "training the team of customer support agents" in your past or current duties than to decide between "managed" or "manage."
However, using this method may leave an impression of incompleteness. Verbs used in the past or present tense, on the contrary, provide a sense of achievement and active involvement, giving it a sense of authority.
Here's a template to help you draft a resume that uses the correct tense:
[First Name Last Name]
Objective statement/ Career summary
[Write your objective statement or career summary here]
[Company or organization], [Location/Address]
[List three to five work experiences]
[Begin sentences with past or present action verbs]
[Be specific about technology or procedures used]
[College degree earned, Name of School]
[Three to five bullets focused on your achievements, accomplishments or memberships while in college]
[List three to five relevant skills]
[Name of certification, name of certifying body or agency, dates of obtainment, location (if applicable)]
[List each certification in reverse-chronological order. Begin with your most recent.]
Here's an example of a resume that uses the correct verb tense:
12071 Crest Ct., Studio City, Beverly Hills, CA
IT Professional with over 15 years of experience specializing in IT department management for business process outsourcing companies. I can implement effective IT strategies at local and international levels. My greatest strength is business awareness, which allows me to permanently streamline applications and infrastructure. Seeking to use my IT management skills in Microsoft, Inc.
Senior Project Manager
St. Lukes Medical Center, ME
Responsible for developing, improving and creating IT project strategies
Oversaw all IT projects of the hospital for over 10 years, focus on cost reduction
Implemented the highly successful Six Sigma and Lean Training projects
Reduced costs by 50% in less than two months
Cut the costs of IT maintenance in 2010 by successfully reconstructing the server infrastructure resulting in about $100,000 of annual savings
Junior Project Manager
St. Lukes Medical Center, ME
Streamlined IT administration and logistics operation, cutting costs by 30%
Diagnosed issues with operating and hardware systems.
Maintained the use database of more than 100,000 patients.
Migrated three servers to new data architecture
IT Support Office
New Town Hospital, ME
Prepared more than 100 infrastructure performance reports and analyses
Assisted hospital staff and project managers for two years
Resolved more than 150 issues in regards to IT infrastructure
Master of Computer Science, Harvard University
Year Graduated: 2005
Graduated Magna Cum Laude.
Managed a student project to develop a daily nursing podcast
Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
Year Graduated: 2001
Graduated Cum Laude
Member of Student Association of Information Technology
Managed a student project to conduct a conference for over 30 professionals
*Sales analysis: background in IT sales with knowledge of negotiating contracts*
*Project scheduling: more than 80% of projects led was completed in due time*
*Vendor management: managing vendors in projects with a budget of more than $1M*
**Business process improvement: history of successful innovations that lead to cost reduction
CAPM, Project Management Institute, 2009, ME
PMP, Project Management Institute, 2008, ME