Resumes need action language. This is how to get it.

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jan 24

Writing resumes can be tough. There are so many rules. Most of the rules don’t mean much. But this one does: Use action verbs to describe your work.

Most of the time, people put their job responsibilities on their resume. Maybe a line or two of that is okay, but most of the resume should be about the results your work have provided your department or business.

And the best way to describe your work is through action verbs. Or, a little more generically, your resume needs your active voice, not your passive voice.

I have trouble with that because no matter how hard I try, I am a passive voice kind of guy. Like that last sentence up there. I typed, “…your resume should be…” and that’s where I caught myself with that passive voice. I changed it to, “…your resume needs your active voice…”.

So how do you get your resume filled with more action and less passive words?

Start sentences with action verbs

It’s a good bet that if you start a sentence with an action verb, it will naturally continue on for the rest of the sentence. Starting a sentence with an action verb usually forces fewer words in the sentence as well since a more passive voice — at least in my case — means more words are used to get the same idea across.

Action verbs. Gotta love ’em.

Measurable results are actions

This may sound weird, but when you build your accomplishment through measured results, you have (first pass: tend to have) actions naturally defined.

It’s hard to say that you “decreased your departments cost by 3%” and have that sound passive. When you say you’ve “processed 1,200 requests, up 15% over last year,” it’s tough to sound passive. That’s because when you put down some number, you naturally have describe what happened with that number. What happened was an action verb – decreased, processed.

So make sure you get your business results for the stuff you work on. Having the actual, measurable results will up your action orientation.

Use bullet points for your results

Yeah, yeah, I know. Bullet points suck. You don’t use them.

But that’s for presentations. Not resumes.

Resumes have a very finite amount of space — it is not like you are going to write a paper on your accomplishments. So bullet points, on resumes, rule.

The thing about bullet points is that it forces you to shorten what you say. Fewer words each have more significance in a shorter sentence. Fewer words in a sentence means (first pass: usually means) you are less likely to bulk up the language.

Bonus: most recruiters are brutal about how long they look at a resume. Scan is the name of the game (which is also true of blog posts like this one). Bullet points allow the recruiter to scan your resume, grabbing the bullet points of importance because they are easily found compared to a written paragraph.

Examples of action verbs to start your results bullet points on your resume

Here’s a few to start each of your results lines on your resume – copy and paste them into a text file and reference them next time you update your resume:

Delivered, processed, analyzed, completed, exceeded, established, designed, progress, introduced, deployed, implemented, increased, decreased, reduced, continued, removed, retired, launched, achieved, created, modernized, managed, concluded, adopted, added, partnered, improved, integrated, successfully, enhanced, expanded, solved, and saved.

What other action verbs have you used in your resume?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.