You’ve probably heard the advice that action verbs should be sprinkled throughout your resume. By starting each bullet point about your past experience with a powerful action verb, you draw hiring managers in and give them a concrete picture of your expertise. Certain action verbs are also likely to help your resume get past automated scanning tools.
But it’s not as simple as just throwing a bunch of verbs on a piece of paper and hoping something sticks. Here’s how to use action verbs on your resume intelligently to help you land the job of your dreams.
Choose Them Carefully
“It is important to be strategic on the action verbs used to describe your skills and experience,” notes Jessie Czerwonka Roller, Manager of Career Services at Turning the Corner. “Being in the career services field for over a decade, I have seen an abundance of resumes: the good, the bad and the ugly.” The ones that stand out, she says, are resumes that are tailored toward both the job and the industry, using verbs that feel relevant and targeted.
Shefali Raina, an NYC-based executive coach, agrees. “For maximum impact, use action verbs selectively and convey simple, direct messages. Nothing dilutes the impact of action verbs than being surrounded by many other action verbs!” In other words, you definitely want action verbs throughout your resume, but don’t go overboard.
Show Who You Are
It’s a good idea to include action verbs that showcase your personality. “Empowered speaks to your ability to give energy, authority, confidence and power to a group or a team to achieve a certain result,” Raina says. “It suggests that you possess the confidence and the influence to be able to authorize and energize a team or group to have a powerful impact.”
“Organized is a wonderful verb that denotes an individual who can prioritize not only the items on their desk, but their tasks too,” says Gabrielle Pitre, Recruiting Team Lead at Coalition Technologies. “This lets employers see that you understand what is valuable to your job. But, perhaps, an even better verb is orchestrated, as it's rarer and more likely to attract attention.”
“Initiated is a powerful one because it demonstrates that you are proactive and that you spent the time and energy to begin a project or originate an idea,” Raina notes. “To employers and recruiters, it speaks to a positive, ‘can-do’ mindset and says that you will be a solution starter.”
One of the most important rules for using action verbs effectively is to choose them based on the jobs you’re applying to. “If you are a job seeker who wants to gain a leadership position, you want to describe both your skills and experiences using strong leadership action verbs such as advocated, bolstered, drove, engaged, elicited and spearheaded,” Roller explains.
To highlight management experience, you’ll want to use verbs like established and delegated, Pitre says. “These words can say much more than more common verbs, such as led or oversaw. You want to show how proactive you are and these verbs express that well.”
Try brainstorming industry-specific action verbs, as well. For example, “if you are a job seeker targeting the IT industry, use action verbs such as administered, centralized, configured, engineered, installed and programmed,” Roller recommends. These show that you know the space inside and out and you won’t need to be brought up to speed.
If you’re looking at creative jobs, you might want to consider the verb designed. “This word tells me that the candidate has built something new that did not exist before,” says Amanda B. Gulino, founder of A Better Monday.
Be Open to Trial and Error
“A job seeker’s goal is to entice the recruiter or search committee member to read more and get excited about their background to elicit an interview invite,” Roller points out. “You know your resume isn’t working if you aren’t getting interviews.” If your current resume isn’t working for you, be flexible in switching it up until you find the right eye-catching combination of words and phrases.
And remember, it’s not just about the verbs. “We love to see candidates stray from ordinary statements,” Pitre says. “It's not always just about a specific adjective or verb, but everything around it. The best candidates often understand how important it is to share their specific stories, give examples and show how and why they are good at something, rather than just stating that it's a skill.”
More Verb Ideas
Need a little more inspiration? Here are some of our favorite action verbs to get your resume-updating wheels spinning.
Entry level and above:
Audited, Built, Collaborated, Created, Delivered, Earned, Exceeded, Generated, Identified, Improved, Minimized, Negotiated, Obtained, Outperformed, Planned, Presented, Produced, Redesigned, Reduced, Researched, Solved, Trained, Tested
Manager level and above:
Championed, Coached, Consolidated, Decreased, Enabled, Facilitated, Grew, Hired, Implemented, Instituted, Integrated, Launched, Managed, Mentored, Partnered
Advised, Aligned, Cultivated, Developed, Evaluated, Founded, Guided, Motivated, Transformed