Should I Write My Resume in Past or Present Tense?

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Using proper grammar, including consistent sentence structure, is an important part of creating a well-written resume. Selecting the correct verb tense to use in each section of your resume can make it easier to read and leave a good impression on employers. This article explains the importance of verb tense in a resume and when to use past and present tense.

Why is verb tense important?

Using the correct verb tense can make your resume easier to read for employers and easier for them to scan through their applicant tracking system. When used correctly and consistently, the verb tense you choose can highlight key qualifications and indicate your level of involvement in various activities. Regardless of which verb tense you choose for your resume, it should be as consistent as possible throughout each section of your resume in order to increase readability.  

Past tense vs. present tense

Past tense refers to words that end in ‘-ed’ and usually describe past actions, while present tense refers to the original verb. A present tense resume item describes what you are currently doing, such as ‘I communicate with others’ or ‘advocates for clients.’ The same items can be written in the past tense to refer to past responsibilities like ‘communicated with others’ or ‘advocated for clients.’ Usually, past and present tense should not be mixed within the same sentence or bullet point to avoid confusing language.

Should a resume be written in past or present tense?

Both past and present tense can be appropriate in a resume. However, most resume items make the most sense when written in past tense because they describe previous experience and accomplishments. Present tense should only be used in a resume when describing an ongoing activity, such as the responsibilities of a current position or your resume’s objective. Regardless of your decision, you should use the same word tense throughout each section of your resume and your choice should accurately reflect your experience.

Tips for deciding between past and present tense in a resume

Here are some tips to help you decide which verb tense to use in your resume:

When to use past tense

Always use past tense when describing a previous position, activity or volunteer commitment. Past tense can also be used throughout a resume based on personal style preference. One exception is that past tense should not be used when describing current or future goals. Past tense is often used when listing job history. For example, you could describe your previous job experiences by writing that you ‘directed phone calls and set appointments for top executives.’

When to use present tense

Present tense can be beneficial when describing your career objectives or listing activities that you are currently involved in. You can also use present tense when describing your current job and listing skills that you use regularly. For example, you may list ‘manages a team of 20 interns, coordinates staff schedules and creates monthly performance reports’ as the responsibilities for your current job.

When to combine past and present tense

Many people want to highlight past accomplishments along with their current responsibilities on their resume. When combining tenses, group past tense and present tense resume items separately. This will help improve the clarity of your resume. For example, you might write ‘teaches professional development courses and writes curriculum’ to describe your current job followed by a bullet point explaining that you ‘earned The 2018 Lifetime Award for Continuing Education.’

How to correctly use past or present tense in a resume

These steps can help you create a grammatically correct resume with proper tense:

1. First, decide on a format 

When first creating your resume, decide which tense to use for the objective, experience and skills sections of your resume. If you are including past experience and information about a current job, decide if you will use past tense only or a combination of past and present tense.

2. Second, check grammar rules 

Some verbs have unique grammar rules when changing from present to past tense. If you are unsure about the correct version of a verb, check a dictionary or ask a trusted friend or colleague to help review your word choice.

3. Third, use strong verbs 

Regardless of whether you are writing in past or present tense, you should select specific, accurate and positive verbs to describe your accomplishments and responsibilities. This adds variety to your resume and emphasizes your strengths.

4. Next, read each section separately 

Read each portion of your resume separately and focus on making the verb tenses the same within bullet points or sections. Make sure that each section matches the verb tense format that you think is appropriate.

5. Last, proofread the entire resume 

After checking the verb tense of each section, proofread the full resume for any errors you might have missed. Consider reading your resume backwards to check for correct spelling as well.