Action Verbs: Why They’re Resume Musts

Here at MyPerfectResume, we like talking about resumes. Sometimes we focus on formatting. Sometimes we talk about reader preferences and expectations. Sometimes we talk about keywords and automated scanners, and sometimes—like today—we turn our attention to one of the most undervalued yet powerful resume building tools of all: a confident command of the English language.

As you apply for work, the delivery of your message will matter just as much as the content of that message, and sometimes more. Your experience can help you land a job, but you'll need to share and describe that experience using strong communication and critical thinking skills. And strong writing starts with strong verbs.

The Power of Action Verbs

A sharp, focused resume relies on sharp, focused verbs (otherwise known as action verbs). These little units carry big impact, and recruiters and hiring managers across the board generally agree that they're critical components of the work experience section. That's because they make writing more concise and they allow decision-makers to truly envision how you accomplished your duties in past positions.

But what exactly are strong verbs, and why could the difference between a strong verb and a weak one mean the difference between an interview invitation and a lost opportunity?

For starters, weak verbs are abstract; they represent no specific illustrative action. They drain the life and energy from all vibrant writing (not just resumes and cover letters), and they tend to include verbs like the following:

  • Is
  • Was
  • Were
  • Are
  • Am
  • Has
  • Went
  • Does
  • Did

They usually suggest static states of existence or possession, and they represent iterations of "to be", "to have", "to stay" or  "to go".

Strong verbs, by contrast, suggest concrete actions that can be visualized and executed in the real world. (Some studies show that parts of the brain light up on an MRI when the study subject hears or reads these words because the person envisions the action or imagines carrying it out.) Before you describe an accomplishment or responsibility in the work history section of your resume, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does the description begin with a concrete verb?
  2. Could you demonstrate this verb or draw a picture of it?

Examples of Powerful Action Verbs

Here are a few common examples of verbs that take sentences and phrases to the next level.

Weak: Is/Was
Stronger: Serves as, Supports, Provides, Holds, Takes, Leads, Organizes, Builds, Cultivates, Sustains, Coaches, Inspects, Formats, Partners With, Challenges, Markets, Trains, Designs

Weak: Does/Did
Stronger: Accomplished, Restructured, Won, Solved, Handled, Fixed, Connected, Founded, Launched, Created

Weak: Give/Gave
Stronger: Lend, Offer, Extend, Provide

Weak: Has/Had
Stronger: Holds, Maintains, Relies On, Retains, Makes Use Of

Strong Action Verbs May be Industry Specific

As you polish your resume, move through your draft and circle every verb you see. Then edit your verb choices and give each one a boost from abstract to concrete. As you do so, recognize that some industries allow you to take this process one step further, since they involve jargon or industry-specific verbs, like "rolled out", "implemented", "redesigned", which mean specific things to hiring managers in the marketing, manufacturing, or IT industries. If your target industry places a lot of weight in specific concrete verbs, and using these verbs can mark you as an experienced insider, by all means use them—just make sure you use them correctly.

For support and guidance as you edit your resume and cover letter, turn to the job search tools available on MyPerfectResume.

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MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

At MyPerfectResume, we are passionate about two things: sharing our knowledge about the workforce and providing exceptional tools to help jobseekers get ahead. Thanks to our well-rounded assemblage of experts, we offer industry-specific resume and cover letter writing tips and career advice for almost every job. MyPerfectResume culls detailed advice…

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