Should a Resume Be in Past Tense or Present Tense?

Resume Help

Whether you’ve just begun your job hunt or are actively pursuing a career,

You likely have only one thought in mind:

Get ready for the future and forget the past!

But hold on a minute—

The past counts in terms of work experience. A lot!

The present also does this.

What verb tense should you use on a resume to reflect both and make a section on your professional experience? Read on to learn more.

This article will teach you:

Using the past tense correctly in your resume

What obligations should be described in the present tense?

How to write your resume in the proper tense to pass the ATS test

how to write a resume in what tone.

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Use Past Tense for Past Positions

Is the past tense appropriate for a resume?

This question seems to have a simple solution:

Use the past tense when writing about the past, and the present tense when writing about the present.

The simplest rule is that one.

Use the past tense while discussing the employment you no longer have.

To improve your grammar:

The majority of past tense verbs, such as worked, discovered, and designed, finish in -ed. However, the outcasts lead their own lives and do things like make, run, and supervise.

But while discussing your work experience, don’t just use any verbs—

They can become resume power words if you choose them wisely.

How then can you give a clear image of what you’ve accomplished thus far?

Bullet-point your responsibilities and accomplishments (around 6 bullets for each position).
Use past simple action verbs in your resume (one verb per each bullet point).
Avoid using verbs like “is responsible for” and instead pick verbs that refer to certain actions.

Here is a collection of past tense examples of action verbs for resumes:

  • Acknowledged
  • Authorized
  • Blended
  • Collaborated
  • Contributed
  • Created
  • Diversified
  • Delegated
  • Designed
  • Directed
  • Executed
  • Encouraged
  • Energized
  • Fostered
  • Gathered
  • Harmonized
  • Inspired
  • Increased
  • Made
  • Mentored
  • Merged
  • Led
  • Participated
  • Partnered
  • Performed
  • Produced
  • Set up
  • Trained
  • Volunteered

They all refer to actual actions, as you can see.

They direct the hiring manager to your professional accomplishments and job history.

Note: Perfect tenses are not used in resumes. Additionally, they avoid using continuous forms. Maintain a basic resume by using the present or past simple.

Pro Tip: Always include a number to support action verbs on your resume. For instance, 20% more revenue after six months.

If you’re unsure about how many positions to include on your CV, see our recommendations here: When Should a Resume Go Back in Time?

Use Present Tense for Current Job Duties

On a CV, use the present tense to describe your current work. Just like that.

Put the following in the present tense:

things you continue to do for your employer.
You engage in additional relevant activities after work.
voluntary actions you frequently engage in.
any actions connected to the associations you are a member of.

The following verbs are in the present tense: brainstorm, reinvent, and educate.

Mixing Past and Present Tense

But what if some of the tasks you’re working on right now have already been completed? Or do you want to highlight the objectives you’ve already met?

The two tenses can then (and only then!) be combined under a single header on a resume.

List your duties in the present tense starting with the most recent. Then, use the past tense to continue with the completed acts and accomplishments. See the illustration below:

Tenses on a Resume

ESL Teacher

Victoria High School, New York, NY

May 2016-now

Key Qualifications & Responsibilities

  • Teaches ESL to 60 students of diverse cultural backgrounds in an international classroom.
  • Creates audio-visual educational resources to help students develop their language skills.
  • Prepares extra-curricular activities and after-school assistance for individual students.
  • Provides mentoring for a new teaching assistant.

Key Achievements

  • Planned and run a 1-year educational program for beginner students that concluded with an intermediate-level final exam (100% positive exam scores).
  • Won a “Teacher of the Year” award in 2017.

Pro Tip: Separate the present and past tenses whenever you utilize them on a resume. Don’t fluctuate between different tenses. Current obligations, accomplished tasks, and prior successes.

Yet another thing

Remember to alter the verb tense of your previous roles to past tense when updating your resume with new positions, while maintaining the present tense for your current responsibilities.

What is the formula for the perfect resume? In our article, learn more: The Eight Things the Top Resumes Have in Common—The *Perfect* Resume

Choose the Right Tense and Optimize Your Resume for the ATS

The majority of large businesses today utilize an ATS to search resumes for keywords in applicants’ applications.

It turns out that even the verb’s tense can have an impact on how the ATS looks for results.

If the job posting called for “research” in the present tense and you put “researched” instead on your CV, the applicant tracking system will ignore the error.

Reading the job description carefully is the only way to determine the search terms the recruiter is likely to enter into their applicant tracking system.

You must recognize the specific keyword the employer is referring to in the job description and adjust your resume accordingly.

For instance, you can easily alter the phrasing on your resume when they utilize the present tense of the verb “inspire” from “motivated students to produce creative projects” to “managed to inspire students’ creativity.”

Your resume will outperform the system with these simple optimization techniques.

More information on adjusting your resume to the job description can be found in our guide: How to Tailor Your Resume to the Job You Want with a Targeted Resume

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Write Your Resume in Active Voice

Even if we frequently use passive voice, it is not a good idea while creating a resume.

Why?

Passive voice devalues your accomplishments and renders your CV less interesting to the reader.

Let’s look at some illustrations.

Voice in the passive: Within a year, website traffic grew by 150%.

Active voice: In just a year, website traffic increased by 150%.

Passive voice: The implementation of a new marketing plan led to a 20% increase in product sales.

Active voice: 20% increase in product sales after implementing a new marketing plan.

Why are the examples using active voice superior?

because they demonstrate that you assumed responsibility and actively participated.

They are also simpler to read.

How can you tell if you are utilizing the active or passive voice? Passive voice is when you can finish a phrase with “by me” (for example, CRO was increased by 1.5% by me).

It’s dated to force passive voice as a symbol of formal detachment on your CV or job description.

The goal of hiring managers is to get to know you personally. They will identify with you if they think of you as the major character in the story.

But—

Can I use “I” on my resume if “I” am the speaker?

Avoid using the personal pronoun “I” when writing your resume, even if you are utilizing the active voice.

Instead of writing “I built a new marketing strategy,” mention “Developed a new marketing strategy” in your job experience section and career profile. Academic resources claim that is the preferred form.

Interested in other linguistic nuances pertaining to the job search? See our resume spelling advice here: Resume Spelling: Accents or No Accents? a resume, résumé, or a resume?

Additionally, a strong cover letter that complements your CV will set you apart from other applicants. You can create one using this cover letter builder. Here’s what it might resemble:

Key Takeaway

  • Give a past-tense account of your responsibilities and achievements.
  • Use the present tense to talk about things you’re still doing at work, and the past tense to talk about things you’ve accomplished.
  • To pass the ATS test, optimize your resume for keywords.
  • When writing your CV, avoid utilizing the passive voice and personal pronouns.

Are you still debating whether to write resumes in the past or present tense? Did your resume cause you any issues when you were seeking for jobs? Leave me a message in the comments.