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If you’re struggling to make your resume sound professional, maybe it’s time to consider tense. In this blog, we’ll help you put your resume in the past or present tense, depending on what’s required.
As the lynchpin of your application, your resume should present your writing abilities in the best light. A well-written resume can show recruiters that you have a knack for communication, a solid educational background, attention to detail, and a professional outlook.
Most people don’t consider tense when writing their resumes, but it's one of the best ways to make your writing sound more professional. Not sure whether to use past or present tense? In this blog, we’re going to explain some simple guidelines that you can use to determine when to use each tense, including:
Past vs. present tense: What’s the difference?
What tense should you use when writing a resume?
What is tense? In simple terms, it’s a grammatical term that expresses when something takes place. These are the three basic tenses:
Present tense. This tense refers to things that are currently happening. In a resume, you might write: “Supervise a team of nine writers and graphic designers.”
Past tense. Use this tense when speaking about something that has already happened. For example: “Developed seasonal menus using local ingredients.”
Future tense. As you might guess, future tense is used when something hasn’t happened yet, and really isn’t used in resume writing. Here’s an example: “I will use my cybersecurity skills to reduce risks to company data.”
This is all pretty simple and we use these concepts every day. If you’ve been viewing example resumes, you may have seen examples of present and past tense. So which do you use?
In general, resumes rely most heavily on the past tense, followed closely by the present tense. Each of these has a proper place in your resume, as outlined below:
While most of your resume will likely be in the past tense, there are two places to use the present tense: your professional summary and your current job. Your professional summary is a short statement at the top of the document that introduces you and lists some of your most relevant skills and qualifications. The aim of the summary is to quickly show the hiring manager you’re the best person for the job. Here is an example, using present tense:
Driven and innovative software developer with five years of experience designing, implementing, and managing complex software solutions. Proven track record of delivering scalable software applications that meet or exceed client expectations.
Next, there’s the work history section, listing your current and past roles. If you’re currently working, the first job description should be in the present tense. We recommend using a short paragraph to outline your daily responsibilities. You should also include accomplishments, and, since you’ve already completed those, they will be in past tense. Using a bulleted list will help these stand out and ensure they grab the hiring manager's attention. Here is an example of a job description paragraph (present tense) and bulleted achievements (past tense) for your current job:
Server and Bartender, 2019-Present Santa Clara Cantina, Reno, NV
Provide all guests with a memorable dining experience. Resolve customer complaints and answer queries. Maintain an in-depth knowledge of the rotating menu. Prepare and serve high-quality beverages. Complete side work in a timely fashion.
Created and curated regionally-inspired cocktail menu.
Increased customer spend 10% by introducing upselling program.
Organized and hosted weekly whiskey tasting events to foster more loyal customer base.
When you sit down to write your resume, the past tense will be your bread and butter. You’ll use this voice when describing your past work experiences, which normally comprise the majority of any resume. You may also use the past tense in your education section. Here is an example of how you might use the past tense when describing your work experience:
High School Teacher, 2012-2019 Westview High School, Lakeside, MI
Developed in-depth lesson plans in social studies and life sciences. Taught daily classes, assigned homework, and graded student projects. Assisted at-risk students with classwork and helped them access public resources. Proctored exams and assisted students with standardized test prep. Accompanied school groups on official field trips.
Achieved 15% increase in average standardized test scores within one year.
Led student debate team to first regional championship.
Here is an example of how to use the past tense in an education section:
Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, Marketing Concentration, May 2022 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Maintained 3.9 GPA throughout all four years Graduated Magna cum Laude
As you can see from the examples above, using the past tense is a good way to add clarity to your resume. If a recruiter read the first example above, they would immediately know that the candidate was no longer working as a teacher. In the second example, it’s very clear that the candidate has already completed their education.
Avoid the present participle in the past tense
The present participle refers to verbs with the ending “-ing.” For example–swimming, running, laughing, managing, overseeing, etc. When writing in the past tense, it may be tempting to use these forms, but resist the urge. It’s much clearer to use the past tense forms ending in “-ed.”
It’s vital to use tenses consistently throughout your document. If you switch from one tense to another without rhyme or reason, it can look sloppy and unprofessional, so it’s best to follow standard practices. Using tenses properly can also add clarity to your resume. It can help recruiters decipher your past experiences in relation to your current situation.
Still unsure of the proper tense to use? Need help creating your own resume? View our resume examples for guidance and inspiration!
In grammar, tense refers to when an action takes place: past, present, or future.
When writing about your current job, it’s best to describe your ongoing duties in the present tense and your most important achievements in the past tense.
Describe your former jobs and accomplishments in the past tense.
Patrick is a Nashville-based writer and editor who loves a good turn of phrase. He has worked for a variety of clients but has a special interest in career services, travel, and the arts. When not writing, Patrick is an avid musician who enjoys exploring the sights and sounds of Music City.