Heather K Adams
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Content + Copy Writer

So this is you: stuck with a job you either never liked very much, or feel you've outgrown. 

Problem is, your resume feels stale, and it needs updating. You want something clean and professional, that highlights your experience and your skills. But the key to creating a truly successful resume is nailing all the tiny details. Verb tense is one of those!

Many people don't know when to use past or present tense in their resume bullets. 

A simple rule of thumb is: if it happened at a previous job, list those responsibilities in the past tense; if it's at your current job, use present tense. Let's break down an example below, and give you one less thing to worry about while job hunting.

Write your resume in the past tense when...

The job you're listing is over. This could be because the job is way in your past, or, if you recently left the position voluntarily or because you were laid off.  

If you're no longer employed at, say, the ice cream shop where you were the assistant manager every summer during college, then write the description and accomplishment bullets in the past tense. This shows you've moved on, but still have that experience and those skills in your toolbox.

Past tense job description and tasks:

Served as seasonal assistant manager at Tasty Freeze from May to September, 20XX to 20XX. 

1. Greeted and served customers; named best and friendliest employee of the summer three out of four summers in a row. 

2. Trained 14 new employees each summer on a variety of tasks, including cash register operations, service and cleaning and stocking.

3. Ordered weekly supplies and tracked inventory, with a budget of over $10,000 a month.

4. Assisted the general manager in scheduling, managing time off requests, payroll and employee onboarding.

5. Completed opening and closing duties as one of two keyholders.

Write your resume in the present tense when...

You're still currently employed in the position you're describing. 

Let's say you're a younger job seeker, still working at the ice cream shop. You'd describe those same duties above in a way that shows you're still performing them: in the present tense.

Present Tense Job Description

Seasonal assistant manager at Tasty Freeze, May to September, 20XX to present.

1. Greet and serve customers

2. Train 14 new employees each summer on a variety of tasks, including cash register operations, service and cleaning and stocking.

3. Order weekly supplies and track inventory, with a budget of over $10,000 a month. 

4. Assist the general manager in scheduling, managing time off requests, payroll and employee onboarding.

5. Complete opening and closing duties as one of two keyholders.

Finding work is work. Having a resume that shines and that you can feel proud of is crucial. Now that you know when to put your resume in the past or present tense, you're ready to tackle the next steps: finding the right job and nailing that interview.

Supporting confident professional women like you is what Fairygodboss is all about. We're here to help with everything from building a great resume, to making those big next-level career moves, and beyond.

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Heather Adams is a freelance storyteller living in a tiny home on wheels. Read more on her blogs story notes, thick description & the great misc. Follow her on [email protected].

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