Past or present tense in a resume?

When is it better to use past or present tense in a resume?

This is one of the most popular questions about resume writing. First, you need to define what past or present tense in a resume means and how it is used. For the non-English majors, most of the time, past tense is when you add the “ed” to a verb. Resumes are filled with action verbs but the past tense would be words like these:

  • Engineered
  • Designed
  • Created
  • Streamlined
  • Propelled
  • Cultivated
  • Centralized
  • Diversified
  • Enhanced
  • Except for some tricky ones like “wrote”

Present tense is the verb by itself without any “ed”s added. Like this:

  • Brainstorm
  • Champion
  • Strategize
  • Pinpoint
  • Pioneer
  • Reinvent
  • Spearhead
  • Accentuate
  • Document
  • Educate
  • Eliminate
  • Write

Clients come to me perplexed because “someone” told them they are doing it wrong even when I wrote the resume for them. Here’s my rule: In a past position, the action verb is always in the past tense. You are not in the job anymore, it is in your past.

Current job: past or present tense in a resume?

However, in your present job or position, you may have a mix of past or present tense in a resume. Huh? You’re thinking, that’s impossible!

Here are my thoughts: in your present job, there are some things you have completed and will never do again. If you researched and wrote the new sales training manual, you completed the project, hence the past tense verbs: researched and wrote. If you facilitated the merger of two organizations or companies, you completed the task. This leads us to the next question.

Am I still doing the task or action?

In your present position, you may still enhance and solidify client relationships or analyze client expenditures and create realistic budgets. You may also consistently evaluate productivity.

I know resume writers can differ and some put everything in the past tense. In my view, if you are still doing it, it belongs in present tense. In your past jobs, you need to make sure everything is past tense. When you update your resume and add a new position, be sure to check your tenses. Once you add the new one, double-check the past or present tense in a resume and change all of the tenses to past.

This way when you are ready to move on, your resume will be too.

I am a triple-certified resume writer whose interactive coaching style helps job seekers earn winning positions as I create tactical resumes and LinkedIn profiles to market you for success. Learn more here.

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