How Verbs Make Your Resume Sizzle

Use the verbs that will inspire recruiters and hiring managers to pick up the phone to schedule an interview.

Think of your work history as a string of verbs. Any history, after all, encompasses a series of actions with corresponding results.

Resumes can describe those actions in two different ways: They can limp anemically across the document and put hiring managers to sleep, or they can jump off the page and grab the recruiter’s attention, inspiring him to reach for the phone to schedule an interview.

If you’d prefer the latter scenario, your resume must summarize what, exactly, you’ve accomplished in your work history and present the string of actions in a way that leaves the reader with the impression of an energetic, results-oriented professional.

Active verbs can inspire recruiters and hiring managers to follow through with scheduling an interview. They can make your resume pop, letting employers know that you Addressed, Advertised, Arbitrated, Arranged, Articulated, Authored, Clarified, Collaborated, Communicated, Demonstrated or Diagnosed.

Resume professionals told Ladders about instances where spicing up the verbs transformed a bland resume. To show how verb makeovers work in real life, here are examples that show how common, weak verbs and verb constructions drain resumes of blood, as well as how professional resume writers infused new life with action verbs and active phrases.

Missing verbs

When it comes to the most common verb crimes she sees people commit when they write their own resumes, Mary Schumacher, a certified professional resume writer who works with Ladders, points to verbs and verb phrases such as “was responsible for,” “provided” and “assisted with.” Stronger would be “spearheaded,” “steered” and “influenced,” Schumacher said.

But worse yet, many amateur resume writers simply ignore verbs. “Some people don’t even use verbs when they write resumes,” she said. “Their bullet points start off with verbs [turned into noun phrases], saying something like: ‛Project management and process improvement’ or ‛Implementation of process controls and standardization procedures.’ ”

Those who write their own resumes also have a tendency to overuse a perfectly good word, such as “develop,” Schumacher said. “People need to really mix up their verbs.”

No magic list, but a magic fix

Steve Burdan, another certified professional resume writer who works with Ladders, said his clients often have the idea that there’s a common list of keywords or verbs that will work in every resume situation, but there’s no such magic list. Verbs must fit into the context of a specific resume, he said.

But, he said, there is a magic technique that will work on every resume: Start sentences with a verb or an adverb to keep the reader hooked as their eye runs down the page.

“Keep them tight; stack them up,” he said. “Keep the verb(s) on the left-hand side. As the reader’s eyes run down the page, there are the keywords, the buzzwords, one after another – you hit them like a nail gun. Give them the verbs right at the start. These verbs are the hooks at the beginning of each sentence.”

And as far as action verbs go, Burdan prefers forceful verbs that imply progress. “I probably wouldn’t start a sentence with a verb like ‘addressed’ or ‘articulated.’ I would say ‘advertised,’ ‘authored,’ ‘clarified,’ ‘demonstrated.’ Those kind of verbs have more movement implicit in them.”