The ultimate action guide to resume action verbs

Your resume creates the first impression of who you are when you’re looking to make a career transition. The last thing you want to convey is that you’re passive, or that you just exist. Unfortunately, you can unintentionally do both, if you don’t choose words with intention. Enter resume action verbs!

Let’s talk about verbs

Some verbs are passive. Some are verbs of being. And then there are action verbs. Guess which ones make the most positive impression?

Wait — before going any further, let’s pause for a quick review of verbs.

They can show action: “The VP delegates the tasks.” She does something.

Or they can say one thing is another thing, kind of like an equal sign: “The VP is (=) an excellent project manager.” She is something. These are verbs of being.

An action verb can be passive, too: “The tasks are delegated by the VP.” See what happened there? In passive voice, the subject just sits there and gets acted upon by someone or something. In active voice, on the other hand, the subject does the acting.

You are the subject of your resume

Your resume needs action verbs in active voice, because after all, who wants to hire a passive person or someone who just is, who just fills a seat?

But be careful: not all resume action verbs are created equal. Some are too general to say much about you. The best ones are vivid and showcase your value.

“When you begin a bullet point with empty non-achievements such as ‘I was hired, I managed and I was responsible for,’ you are squandering the opportunity to showcase the benefits you brought to your boss and your company in your prior role,” says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders, Inc.

Word choice matters.

Your resume needs action verbs in active voice, because after all, who wants to hire a passive person or someone who just is, who just fills a seat? - resume action verbs

Action plan for resume action verbs

The following action plan will help you select and incorporate action verbs into your resume to enhance your desirability as a job candidate.

Be specific. Show your personality, your achievements, and your knowledge of the industry. You didn’t just organize the event, you orchestrated the summit. You didn’t just share information, you persuaded influencers and thus became one yourself. Did you lead a team? Was it a new one? You might say you established it.

For examples, check out Harvard Law School’s website, which includes a helpful list of resume action verbs. Cenedello’s article on the Ladders website also has a good list.

Focus on achievement and organizational impact, not tasks. You don’t want a recruiter to read your resume and think, “Well, anyone could have done that.” Combine resume action verbs with other specifics to show that you’ve accomplished noteworthy things that delivered significant benefit to your employers.

Writing for Top Resume, M.A. Smith, writer and media professional, gives an excellent example. A task-focused resume statement might say, “Responsible for inventory control and ordering products.” This tells nothing about the impact of what you can do. Contrast it with an achievement-focused statement: “Optimized inventory by monitoring for product shortages and ensuring efficient service usage.” If you can add a number that measures your impact, that’s even better.

Nail the nuances. Words carry shades of meaning that a hiring manager is trained to pick up on. When in doubt, use a dictionary and thesaurus. Then run your resume by a highly literate friend or editor to make sure you aren’t communicating something that’s not accurate.

Balance originality with practicality. Don’t repeat the same resume action verbs. But don’t try too hard either. It’s better to repeat a word once than to use one that doesn’t make sense or that feels artificial.

Use parallel construction for bullet points. Start each point in the accomplishments section with a verb.

Congrats! You’re now a resume action verbs expert.

Our Bradsby Group recruiters have reviewed thousands of resumes. They’ve seen the good, the ho-hum, and the standouts. Part of their work with candidates for career change includes resume review. We welcome your contact. We also encourage you to check out our candidates resource page for more counsel on resume writing.

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