Grammar and consistency are key when it comes to your resume. Uniform and error-free writing not only makes your resume easier for a recruiter or hiring manager to understand, but it also shows that you are conscientious, pay attention to detail, and care about your job search. (Don’t say you’re meticulous, then submit a typo-filled resume!) And the verb tense or tenses you use are one vital way to make sure your resume is professional and easy to read.
“Using proper tense is an essential detail for a well-organized resume that will help you stand out to future employers,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith. Resumes are primarily written in past or present tense. Past tense (think verbs ending in -ed, primarily) describes actions that are no longer happening, while present tense describes actions that are currently happening.
But overall, the most important resume rule for verb tenses is to be consistent. When Smith was a recruiter, she “would notice if a resume [was] a mix of present and past without any consistency.” Mixing tenses inappropriately makes resumes more difficult to read—which means you’re less likely to move to the next stage.
When to Use Past Tense on a Resume
Most of your resume should be in the past tense because the bulk of your resume space is taken up by past work experiences. “Use past tense for sections of your resume you are no longer doing,” Smith says. This means your previous jobs, completed accomplishments, volunteering or other activities you’re no longer participating in, awards you’ve won, certifications you’ve earned, or education you’ve completed.
A bullet point for a past job might look like this:
- Conceived, planned, scheduled, and wrote copy for 20+ social media posts weekly for Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
When to Use Present Tense on a Resume
You’ll use present tense on your resume anytime you’re describing something that’s currently happening. Present-tense verbs primarily belong in your resume summary and descriptions of your current job duties and ongoing accomplishments because those are about who you are and what you’re doing right now. If your resume headline has a verb or if there are any activities, volunteer work, or projects you’re currently working on outside of a full-time job, those should use the present tense as well. Basically, if the date range ends with “Present,” that’s a good indicator you should be using the present tense, Smith says.
Here’s an example resume summary that uses present tense:
Personable and motivated SaaS account manager who takes pride in finding the right solutions and products for every client through individual attention and relationship building. Team player who is always willing to help others and has a strong track record of reducing churn.
When You Can Mix Tenses
You should avoid mixing your verb tenses within the same resume entry or section whenever possible. The one exception is in the entry for your current job or any current volunteer work or activities—if you want to highlight accomplishments that are fully completed and not ongoing.
When you have both past and present tense in the same entry, group the present-tense bullet points at the top of the entry and all of the past-tense bullet points at the end, Smith says. You might consider creating a “Key Achievements” or similar subsection under your current job and putting the past-tense bullets under that heading to make things even more clear for anyone reading your resume.
For example, a project manager might write this about their current job:
Project Manager | OrangeYellow Co | Cleveland, OH | August 2018–Present
- Lead the delivery of initiatives using Agile/Scrum methodologies
- Define timelines, budgets, KPIs, and milestones for each initiative
- Coordinate a cross-functional team of 20+, delegating duties and allocating resources using Asana, Google Workspace, and Airtable
- Communicate with key stakeholders from conception through completion
- Oversaw the creation of a new $100k client portal, meeting all key milestones on time and coming in 5% under budget, leading to a 50% increase in customer satisfaction and 20% increase in client renewals year-over-year
- Won Manager of the Year 2020 for receiving the highest scores from direct reports in a company-wide survey on management styles and employee satisfaction
Still confused? There’s an easy fix: To keep things simple and ensure consistency, some people choose to keep every verb on their resume in the past tense, Smith says. So if you’re not sure, sticking to the past tense is a safe bet.