Small details, like whether to write your resume in the past or present tense, can make all the difference when trying to impress a hiring manager.
How sick are you of hearing that you have to proofread your resume? The reason that proofreading is brought up so much is that it is of the utmost importance. If you take hours or even days crafting the perfect document, but there are grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, your time has been wasted.
There's more to proofreading than just using spell check, though. One question that is asked again and again is, “Should I write my resume in the past or present tense?”
The short answer is, “It depends.” And when you're reviewing your resume, ensuring you're consistent with using the past tense or present tense is vital.
What is past tense? What is present tense?
First, let's have a review of what past and present tense means. Is your sentence describing something that's happening now, or did it already occur?
Past tense is anything that's already happened. The verbs that describe past tense often end with -ed. Of course, there are some exceptions like “oversaw.” Reminder: every sentence of your resume should start with a verb.
Present tense is anything that's happening now. You'd use present tense in the summary paragraph at the top and in the bullets you use to describe your current job.
Pro tip: The gerund form of present tense verbs often adds an -ing at the end. There is some debate as to whether the use of the gerund is appropriate for a resume. With that said, you should avoid using it.
Should I use past tense or present tense on my resume?
You will likely use both the past and the present tense in your resume. However, it can get tricky because you don't want to mix both in the same section. If you have one-off achievements (like successfully completing a specific project) in your current role, you can't talk about that in the present tense because it already happened.
In the spirit of being consistent, here are some rules about when to use past or present tense:
When to use past tense on your resume
Build your education, past jobs, awards, and accomplishments using the past tense. You aren't in school anymore and you no longer work at your past jobs. Therefore, they belong in the past. For example:
Championed a 20% increase in sales by onboarding 30 new customers each month.
Architected complex algorithms that improved the efficiency of more gathering, scrubbing, and merging data from more than 20 disparate sources.
Engaged in real-time troubleshooting with approximately 40 customers per day and achieved an 85% first call resolution rate.
When to use present tense on your resume
The career summary or profile summary of your resume should always be in the present tense. The skills you list in this prominent section of your resume are skills you do all the time. You can write your current position in present tense, too. This is the it-can-get-tricky part because you can also talk about your current position in the past tense -- more on this in just a bit. Here are a couple of examples:
Direct full-cycle hiring processes, including telephone interviews, to ramp up department operations.
Source, interview, hire, and onboard a new team of 7 developers.
Train 6 associates and 2 clerks to ascertain the needs of clients and improve customer satisfaction.
When to use both past and present tense
Your resume is supposed to be a customized career marketing document that demonstrates you're the best candidate for a specific position. You sell yourself to new companies by highlighting career accomplishments.
So, how do you handle talking about past and present items in the description of your current role if you shouldn't mix past and present tense within the same section of your resume? Separate the bullet points under your current role into things you do everyday first and achievements last. Write daily responsibilities in present tense and your achievements in the past tense.This is what that would look like:
Document, report, and present project milestones, performance KPIs and status updates in weekly executive meetings attended by as many as 12 board members.
Implement and execute all standard operating procedures to ensure adherence to protocols, mitigate risk, and improve overall safety rating to 0 incidents per month.
Saved more than $300K by tracking spending, identifying waste, and authoring/implementing new project metrics that reduced spending.
Nominated by leaders for the I'm-The-Greatest-Employee award, 2021.
Something that is confusing can still be simple. Following this easy rule — if it happened in the past, it's past tense, if you're still doing it, it's present tense — can help make sense of things. Also, our brains process visual and auditory information differently. It helps to read your resume out loud to help determine if things are correct.
Our free resume critique can also help guarantee your resume is ready to go.