How to Guides Resumes & Cover Letters

How to Create a Resume Packed with Action Words

resume-action-words
Written by Kate Lopaze

Action. Romance. Intrigue. These aren’t words you’d usually associate with resume-writing, but they’ve got your attention, right? When you write anything, you want it to be as interesting to the reader as possible. And that’s doubly true for your resume—you want it to pop so that the recruiter or hiring manager looks at your resume in a field of similar ones and thinks, “This person needs to come in for an interview.”

And while your resume doesn’t need to be written like an action movie to get attention, you could take some of this concept to heart as you get ready to revamp your resume. One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your resume has nothing to do with the format or bells and whistles—it comes down to good old-fashioned writing. If you choose strong verbs throughout, you can convey a lot of information with a small handful of words, saving precious, precious space on your resume and saving the reader some time and energy by getting right to the point.

It may have been a while since your last round of grammar lessons, so let’s do a quick recap of what you need to know when writing your resume.

1. Generic Verbs 

2. Action Verbs vs. Passive Verbs 

3. Rewriting with Action Words 

Generic Verbs

Verbs are words that convey an action. I came, I saw, I conquered. In a resume, they tell the reader what you currently do and what you’ve done in your career.

If you look at your resume, there are probably a number of perfectly cromulent verbs that describe your career up to this point: managed, was responsible for, organized, handled. There’s nothing technically wrong with these words, but there are a couple of reasons why they’re not ideal for your resume 2.0.

1. They’re super-common


95% of the resumes that come through for any given job opening are going to have the same exact words. And you want to stand out from that crowd, don’t you?

2. They don’t actually say much

Great, you were responsible for sales reports. What did you do with them? Did you process them? Analyze them? Use them to make paper airplanes? Any information that’s left vague will leave the reader with an incomplete picture. That’s a gap that will need to be addressed in the interview, if you’re lucky enough to get to that step. More likely, the reader’s gaze has skipped right over the generic statement about your sales report experience.

Active Verbs vs. Passive Verbs

When thinking about the verbs in your resume, another important point to consider is the voice. Is this an active verb (showing direct action) or a passive verb (showing how action was done to you/someone/something)? Let’s try a quick example.

I was given the 2015 Employee of the Year award.

 OR

I won the 2015 Employee of the Year award.

Now, the difference is subtle, but in the first example, you’re a passive participant, like you just happened to catch the award as it passed by. In the second example, you went out and won that award because you deserved it, darn it!

You want your resume to convey a confident voice, and strong verbs (the ones that show specific, decisive action) are a shortcut to that confidence. This may require a bit of unlearning what you always thought true of resumes. I know that personally, I once thought that formal and complicated language was the way to go on a resume. After all, I wanted them to know I was dignified and articulate, and what better way to do that than revert to a kind of super-formal, fancy-sounding prose? (I will neither confirm nor deny that one of my earliest cover letters included the phrase “good day, sir or madam.”)

It’s kind of human nature to think that extra words = high-quality. But you don’t necessarily need to hold onto that kind of thinking. Now that resumes are read on screens more than on paper, you have less space, and less attention to your words on the page. You want to make the most of that opportunity. There’s no reason to sacrifice direct, accurate information for the sake of a “traditional” voice.

What it comes down to is that the person reading your resume is not the strict 8th grade English teacher of your nightmares. The person is a regular reader, who likely has little time to sit down and read a treatise on what you were responsible for handling and organizing in your previous three jobs. Really, he or she just wants to know what you’ve done, how you express yourself, and that you can show how qualified you are up front. The more straightforward you can make that process, the more likely you are to catch the right kind of attention.

Rewriting with Action Words

Before you go into your resume with a surgeon’s scalpel for revisions, take a look at what you already have in the current version of your resume. (Or, if this is your first time creating a resume, look at the list of bullet points you want to import.) Go through carefully, and underline every verb you see. At each one, ask yourself, is this verb as specific as it could be? Is it active or passive? Could it be more interesting? Once you have your roadmap of verbs to update, you can start thinking about words that would work better instead.

You don’t need to replace every single word in your resume. For example, sometimes organized is the best word to describe what you did, but the important part is taking a closer look at every bullet point on your resume and seeing which ones could be better. It’s crucial to

Now let’s walk through some alternatives to common resume verbs.

Leadership Verbs 

These are words that show how you’ve led and managed tasks and/or people.

Instead of: Try one of these:
Led Chaired Directed
Motivated Coached Cultivated
Managed Controlled Enabled
Enforced Coordinated Excuted

 

 

Service Verbs

Words that flesh out your experience working with clients or other stakeholders in your previous jobs.

 

Instead of: Try one of these:
Communicated With Arbitrated Enabled
Dealt With Clarified Explained
Supported Consulted Facilitated
Fielded Informed

 

Communication Verbs

Words that show how you’ve presented information throughout your career.

 

Instead of: Try one of these:
Communicated Authored Conveyed
Relayed Briefed Convinced
Spoke to Campaigned Corresponded
Wrote About Informed Critiqued

 

Analysis Verbs

Words that convey your ability to parse and process information.

Instead of:    Try one of these:
Analyzed Assessed Audited Investigated Quantified
Determined Evaluated Explored Mapped Tested
improved Identified Interpreted Qualified

 

Innovation Verbs

Words that show creativity and initiative.

Instead of:            Try one of these:
Improved Assembled Converted
Organized Customized Created

 

When you’re evaluating your resume to see which word fits the best, make sure that you’re using the right word. The last thing you want to do is use words inaccurately. It could give the reader an incorrect impression about your experience, or if it’s just plain wrong, could give the reader pause about whether you know what you’re talking about. If you have doubts about any word, don’t feel obligated to include it. A quick search online should tell you if you’re using it correctly, if you need backup. This is yet another spot where a resume buddy comes in handy: a trusted pair of eyes can help you identify action words that don’t seem quite right, or ones that need a little sprucing up.

Once you’ve selected the perfect verb for each bullet point, make sure you go through and present them all the same way (also known as parallel construction). This means that all of your verbs are in the past tense (for previous jobs) or present tense (for your current job), and are presented similarly from section to section in your resume.

For example:

  • Working with clients
  • I revised the filing system for the entire Omaha branch office.
  • Was responsible for leading the Social Activities Committee.

These are kind of all over the place—you want them to be consistent. The best way is to lead with the action word. You don’t need subjects like “I,” because the reader already knows you’re talking about yourself. Better to cut to the chase.

Revised approach:

  • Liaised with clients
  • Revamped the filing system for the entire Omaha branch office to include digital record management
  • Chaired the Social Activities Committee

Remember: you want your resume to be a lean, mean machine, with the most important information about your career and your readiness for the job clear to the reader. Any reader, which means the paper reader, the busy digital reader, and the no-attention-span reader. Clean, clear, and concise will always get you where you want to be.

Happy wordsmithing!

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