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Should A Resume Be In Past-Tense? Sometimes, But Not Always

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Should a resume be in the past tense? When writing a resume, you are talking about things you have already done. However, it may be more effective to use present tense.

Generally speaking, past tense should be used when listing your work experience and any related accomplishments.

This should include job positions you have held in the past and any education or training relevant to the place you are seeking.

Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of resume writing.

Should Your Resume Be In Past Tense?

Past tense refers to events and activities that have already taken place.

It is often used when discussing something that has happened or has been completed.

For example, “I drove to the store yesterday” is an example of a sentence written in the past tense.

On the other hand, the present tense typically expresses an action or event that is happening now or is continuous.

For example, “I am driving to the store” is an example of a sentence written in the present tense.

Both tenses have their places in resume writing.

Past tense should typically be used when discussing previous work experiences, such as past jobs.

Learn more about the definition of a resume.

What Tense Should You Use On Your Resume?

The answer to this question depends on the type of job you’re applying for.

Generally, you should write resumes in the past tense because it is more accurate and professional; it conveys that the action has already occurred or been completed.

However, there are some cases where you can use the present tense effectively on a resume, such as when describing ongoing activities in a current role or highlighting accomplishments that provide context for the job.

If you’re wondering what to put on a resume, start simple with your work history and work-related accomplishments.

Why Does Resume Tense Matter?

Tense is important in writing a professional resume because it conveys information about the applicant’s experience and skills to potential employers.

Past tense typically indicates that a job or activity has been completed, while present tense signals that the work is ongoing.

By using the appropriate verb tense for each section of your resume, you can ensure that your qualifications are presented as transparently and professionally as possible.

When to Use Past Tense

Past tense describes any job, experience, or activity that has been completed in the past.

This includes previous positions you have held, volunteer work you’ve done, and even academic achievements.

When writing about past experiences on your resume, use language that accurately reflects what happened in the past.

When Writing About Past Work Experiences

When describing your work experience, you should use past tense for any job you are no longer in.

This includes any positions you previously held, whether for a few weeks or multiple years.

When discussing specific tasks you completed in those positions, use action verbs to describe what you did in the past.

For example, instead of saying, “I was responsible for accounting,” you could say, “I managed accounts receivable and payable processes.”

Past Tense Resume Writing Example

Before: Accountant at ABC Company

After: Managed accounts receivable and payable processes for ABC Company

It should be written like this when talking about a position you have held in the past.

When to Use the Present Tense

The present tense is often used when discussing the duties and responsibilities that you have in your current position.

This effectively demonstrates how you are currently using your skills and qualifications in a professional setting.

It is also important to note that some resumes include sections devoted entirely to highlighting skills and qualifications, which you can also write in the present tense.

This helps emphasize how you are currently using your expertise.

For Your Current Job

Present tense is often the best choice for describing your job duties and responsibilities.

This allows you to provide a detailed explanation of your job duties and responsibilities.

This can help potential employers understand the value you bring to their organization.

Present Tense Resume Example

Before: Handled customer complaints

After: Handle customer complaints efficiently and effectively, resolving disputes with diplomacy and tact.

This example showcases how the present tense can highlight how you are utilizing your skills in a professional setting.

It emphasizes that you are an experienced problem-solver who works quickly to resolve conflicts.

This is more informative than the past tense version, which does not explain your capabilities in detail.

When You Can Use Future Tense

When you are applying for a job that requires an extensive amount of training or certification, consider using the future tense on your resume.

For example: “Seeking to obtain certification as a public accountant.”

This shows the hiring manager that you have plans to pursue the qualifications necessary for the position.

It can also demonstrate enthusiasm and dedication.

In a Cover Letter

A cover letter is a great place to use the future tense to express your interest in the position and enthusiasm for learning more about the company.

It is also an opportunity to explain why you are interested in the job and demonstrate how your skills and experience make you a great candidate.

Consider using phrases such as “I am excited at the prospect of learning more about the role” or “I am confident that I can bring my skills to bear in this role.”

These phrases show a hiring manager your dedication and enthusiasm for the opportunity.

When Talking About Your Goals

When discussing your goals in a resume or cover letter, you should use the future tense to show that you are looking forward to taking on new challenges.

Think about phrases like “I am eager to take on new responsibilities” and “I am excited by the prospect of working with a dynamic team.”

Such statements demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role and your commitment to doing great work.

When Talking About Graduation

When discussing your graduation, you should use the present tense to emphasize that it is already complete.

Think of phrases like “I graduated with a degree in…” and “I am proud to have achieved my academic goals.”

These statements will let the hiring manager know you have the skills and experience necessary for the job.

When You Can Mix

Generally, it is best to use past and future tense when writing your resume.

Use past tense to discuss any prior experience or qualifications that you have while using future tense to explain what you hope to gain from the position and how it could benefit you in the long run.

This will give hiring managers a comprehensive idea of your professional background as well as your plans for the future.

What Other Grammar Rules Do You Need to Follow in a Resume?

  • Use Active, Not Passive Language – When describing your past achievements, you should use active verbs rather than passive ones.
  • Keep it Simple – Avoid using big words and flowery language. Your resume should be easy to understand and get your point across quickly.
  • Use Powerful Language – Your resume should highlight your strengths and the positive outcomes of your work. Aim to use words with impact, such as “accomplished”, “excelled,” and “achieved”.
  • Use Accurate Grammar – Make sure your grammar and punctuation are correct. A resume full of typos or incorrect grammar will give a wrong impression to the hiring manager.

Seek out resume tips when you aren’t sure you’re going in the right direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Writing a resume can be challenging, and many people have questions about the correct verb tense to use.

But with the help of these questions, you can make sure your resume is in the correct tense.

Should a resume be in the third person?

No, you should not write a resume in the third person.

The best practice is to write your resume in the first person and use the present tense when referring to your current job duties and past tense for positions you’ve previously held.

What tense should your job description be in?

Your job descriptions should be in the past tense when referring to positions held in the past. For current jobs, use the present tense.

Final Thoughts

The answer can be more complex when deciding whether a resume should be in the past tense.

However, the best practice is to use the present tense for current job duties and the past tense for positions held in the past.

This ensures that your resume will be clear and consistent, allowing employers to understand your work experience.

If you struggle with resume writing, you could always hire a resume-writing service.

Use the appropriate tense to ensure accuracy and clarity when writing job descriptions.

Doing so will help you stand out and make a great impression on potential employers.  

Good luck!

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