Copywriter, Human Resources Manager, and Marketing Expert
Writing a resume that stands out takes more than using keywords and savvy formatting. It’s not just about having an impressive list of accomplishments. It’s also about how you position them using action verbs and deliberate word choice. So if you are looking for a way to craft a resume that stands out and gets calls back? Start by sprucing up your resume with captivating action verbs.
What are action verbs?
By definition, all verbs are a
class of words that… typically express action, state, or relation between two things.”Dictionary.com
Without getting too deep into English grammar, action verbs are specifically verbs that demonstrate physical or metaphorical action like organized, initiated, or pioneered. Using strong action verbs is a great way to capture attention quickly and highlight the skills and experience hiring managers are looking for at a glance.
Are all verbs active verbs?
It is important to differentiate between ‘active’ and ‘action’ verbs. No, not all verbs are active verbs. While it’s true all action verbs convey action, not all are active. The easiest way to make sure you’re using active verbs is to avoid words like is, was, and were as much as possible, as they are helping verbs and tend to be a sign of passive verbs (passive voice). This includes use in phrases like was responsible or is helping. These kinds of phrases are ones that you’ll want to avoid as you write content in your resume.
Why should I use action and active verbs?
The best words for resume success are those that capture attention quickly and portray the jobseeker as professional and competent. Not only do you want to promote yourself, but here are a few additional reasons choosing the right resume words matters.
Paints a picture
A resume tells the story of a jobseeker’s history. Action verbs help to tell that story in a more dynamic and interesting way. Additionally, active word choice also helps to shine a positive light on candidates by making them seem more action-oriented and expressing his or her value.
The majority of recruiters and hiring managers scan resumes — spending just six or seven seconds looking at each. With that limited attention, it’s important to stand out. Instead of starting all bullet points or resume sections with the same few words, try out a variety of action verbs.
Capture more keywords
Another reason to use a variety of action-oriented resume words is to increase the overall number of keywords in your resume. While this doesn’t apply to all fields, many positions have industry-specific action verbs that will also serve as keywords.
Cuts down on fluff
There’s a limited amount of information that can fit on a resume. That’s why being clear and concise is key. In fact, the best way to do that is to use active verbs, avoiding passive verbs as much as possible. For example, “Was responsible for putting worms as bait on hooks” could be shortened to “Baiting hooks with worms” or even “baiting hooks.” Of course you’ll want your bullets to be more captivating, but the more succinct your sentences, the more you can fit on the page.
Action verbs vs self-descriptive words for resume
Many modern resume templates, especially those for teenagers, students, and recent graduates emphasize the “skills” and “traits” section. This is a great way to fill space with information about your personality, as well as other hard and soft skills.
Adding a “skills” section is a great way to showcase a deep knowledge in a broad field. For example, a chef might include things like sauteing, sous-viding, or slicing to a skills section. These are all things that can be done (action verbs). In contrast, a “traits” section should be filled with self-descriptive words (adjectives) that describe your personality. Examples could include things like being compassionate, empathetic, or friendly.
If you find it difficult to choose enough skills or traits to fit the layout of your resume, you can also elect to have a “skills & traits” section where you can intermingle good resume verbs and adjectives.
How to choose resume action words
In general, a resume should be one to two pages, which means choosing the right word is vital. Not only should resumes contain appropriate keywords for the job and/or industry, but they also need to have strong power verbs.
Uncover your trouble spots
When describing a role or responsibility, you should begin each bullet with an action verb. First, look for easy areas of improvement. For most people, this means targeting any sentence that begins with non-action verbs. Identify words like is, am, was, or has. Then, look for sentences with bland verbs. Not every bullet point needs to be sensational or have an over-the-top word choice (don’t reach for your action verbs list yet!), but this is the time to consider your sleepy verbs.
Don’t forget authenticity
Your resume represents you, so it should sound like the best, most polished version of you. When looking for upgraded words to use in a resume, it’s important to choose language that represents you. If you’ve never used a word in daily life and you can’t imagine yourself using it personally, then don’t use it on your resume. Remember, your resume is a reflection of you.
Create a resume power words list
According to 2018 research, more than 50% of Americans change jobs every five years at the least, a stat sure to increase with the Great Resignation. The resume you’re writing now is unlikely to be the last resume you’ll ever need. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to keep an idea file for your current and future resumes. Searching out templates, examples, and real-life resumes of other people in your field can help you build a list of trends, expectations, and power words.
Action words for resume: What to avoid
Unfortunately, crafting a well-written resume isn’t as easy as hitting the thesaurus for some shiny, new resume buzzwords. Instead, each line of the resume should be considered individually to see if improvements can be made. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you begin tweaking your resume.
The first is avoiding awkward word choice. One of the biggest mistakes people make when upgrading their resume is using unrealistic word choices. Resume verbs should not be forgotten SAT vocabulary. Additionally, the words shouldn’t carry a negative connotation or alternate meaning. Keep in mind, this can change depending on the industry (ie “capitalize” is an acceptable word in business, not a good choice for a job in social reform).
In addition to choosing the right words, it’s important that your resume doesn’t read like a middle school term paper. That is to say, good resume words will paint a clear picture of the candidate while still keeping a natural tone. If it feels unnatural to you, it’s likely time to ask a friend or mentor for a second opinion.
Example list of action verbs to avoid
How to use buzzwords for resume success
A few years ago, many companies started looking for ninjas, rockstars, and gurus in their job listings. However, currently using these words on your resume isn’t really recommended. Today, more jobs are seeking applicants with keywords like blockchain or web3 on their resumes. It’s a good idea to include keywords from a job posting in your resume to optimize for AI and machine-powered resume readers.
The struggle for most resume writers and job seekers is that buzzwords are often based on concepts so new, the applicant doesn’t have much experience. So to get around this, try using an action verb like endeavored, explored, or researched to show interest (ie Explored blockchain technology and engineering concepts).
Overused power words to avoid
Action verbs and buzzy adjectives can make an applicant seem in the know, but they can be a double-edged sword. Words that were once dog whistles for those on the cutting edge of an industry can quickly seem overused and worn out. The following are examples of overused power verbs and adjectives to avoid in 2022.
Unless heading into a mystic-leaning industry or career, keep the energy fields to a minimum when it comes to your resume.
The connotation of a word is almost as important as its literal meaning. Aggressive buzzwords, such as these, can be polarizing and should be strongly reconsidered for many industries.
Agile (unless specifically referencing agile methodology)
Agile is a concept that has gone from referring to a very specific methodology to meaning something akin to flexibility. Because of this, it has largely lost its impact, except where it is kept to its original meaning.
For a while in the late-2010s, every company billed itself as a disruptor. They were the “Uber for X” or the “Netflix of Y” — and people loved it! But somewhere along the line, being disruptive became the norm, turning this buzzword into a cliche.
As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t use a word in a professional conversation, then don’t use it in your resume. Word choice should be intelligent and professional, but fluffed up resume language is easy to spot for experienced hiring professionals.
Good verbs for resume by job task
All resumes are designed to highlight a job seeker’s achievements and experience. Instead of looking for industry-specific resume words to use, try updating your action verbs with these strong resume verbs.
Clerical task action verb list
Replace these: Assisted, completed, filed, gathered
With these: approved, arranged, cataloged, categorized, charted, classified, compiled, dispatched, distributed, documented, executed, generated, implemented, monitored, ordered, processed, routed, scheduled, standardized, systematized, transcribed, updated, validated
Communication task action verbs list
Replace these: asked, communicated, said, spoke, talked, told, wrote
With these: addressed, advertised, arranged, articulated, authored, clarified, collaborated, conferred, consulted, contacted, conveyed, convinced, corresponded, developed, directed, drafted, edited, enlisted, formulated, influenced, interpreted, interviewed, mediated, motivated, negotiated, observed, outlined, persuaded, presented, promoted, publicized, recruited, referred, resolved, solicited, summarized, synthesized
Creative task action verbs for resume
Replace these: created, designed, made, put together, wrote
With these: adapted, arranged, conceptualized, customized, developed, founded, initiated, integrated, invented, modeled, performed, planned, produced, revitalized, scripted, shaped
Financial task action verbs for resume
Replace these: billed, bought, budgeted, sold
With these: administered, allocated, appraised, audited, developed, earned, forecasted, grossed, projected, reconciled, streamlined
Management active verb list
Replace these: managed, oversaw
With these: advised, aligned, centralized, championed, enforced, identified, implemented, optimized, refocused, sustained
Related Jobs: Management Job Titles: Which One Fits You?
Sales action verb list
Replace these: achieved, convinced, sold
With these: acquired, boosted, captured, converted, generated, maximized, negotiated, outperformed, yielded
Service-oriented task action verb list
Replace these: helped, cared for, served
With these: advocated, assessed, assisted, coached, contributed, counseled, demonstrated, expedited, facilitated, familiarized, mentored
Research task active verb list
Replace these: researched, looked at, saw, watched, observed, wrote
With these: analyzed, critiqued, detected, evaluated, experimented, explored, hypothesized, identified, interpreted, investigated, published, summarized
Supervisory task active verb list
Replace these: managed, oversaw, responsible for, told
With these: analyzed, assigned, attained, authorized, chaired, consolidated, coordinated, delegated, directed, expanded, initiated, instituted, mentored, motivated, orchestrated, oversaw, presided, reduced, reorganized, streamlined, strengthened, surpassed
Technical-task active verbs list
Replace these: applied, appraised, built, functioned as, completed, studied
With these: adapted, assembled, automated, computed, debugged, designed, devised, engineered, fabricated, overhauled, refined, regulated, restored, specialized, standardized, upgraded
Replacing common bullet points with action verbs
Many resumes contain generally the same information. For competitive positions, the candidates likely have similar educational and professional experiences. Instead of blending in with the crowd, innovative job seekers should use smart word choice and active resume verbs to stand out. Here are exciting ways to revise common resume bullet points to illustrate this point.
Instead of: “Responsible for…”
Instead of: “Worked on…”
Instead of: “Used…”
- Handle/Promote/Specialize in
Instead of: “Improved/Increased…”
Improving the word choice of your resume isn’t a one-and-done solution. Instead, action verbs will change over the course of your career as you gain new levels of experience and responsibility. Keeping your resume fresh by updating the information and using strong action verbs will help give you the best chance of success.