June 26, 2017

For a Punchier Resume, Use the Active Voice


If your resume is full of phrases like “was responsible for …”, then you’re using the passive voice. A lot of people make this mistake. If you want a stronger resume, you need to replace the passive voice with the active voice.

The Difference Between Active and Passive Voice:

In a nutshell, the passive voice describes things that happened to you; the active voice describes things that you did.

The difference between active and passive voice can be seen more clearly in these two examples:

Passive Voice: “Responsible for answering phones and directing calls.”

Active Voice: “Answered calls and directed lines to the appropriate individual.”

See how the first example makes it sound like you were passively given responsibility, but the second shows you actually doing something – i.e., you “answered” phone calls and “directed” lines.

The second option is stronger and packs a bigger punch. Instead of using the passive voice, choose an active verb and use it as the first word in your sentence when you can.

Here is another example to help you get the hang of it:

Passive Voice: “Work was recognized for efficiency.”

Active Voice: “Earned recognition for efficiency and work ethic.”

The first example shows people gave recognition to your work, but the second example shows you actively earned recognition for yourself. The second example is a much stronger statement that locates the value of your work in your actions.

Why You Should Use Active Voice in Your Resume

Your resume’s purpose is to show potential employers what you have done in the past and can do in the future. You want to prove you are beneficial to a company. Companies want to hire proactive, motivated individuals, and the active voice makes you look like someone who takes charge and gets things done.

As Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder, said in a press release about a study of the best and worst words to use in resumes, “Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills, and accomplishments.”

How to Use the Active Voice in Your Resume:

Whenever you can, start your sentence with a verb. You want to use verbs that articulate how you were actively pursuing opportunities or delivering results. If you need a little help finding good verbs, check out this article.

Don’t use the same verbs over and over again. Try to vary your vocabulary to make your document interesting. Continually repeating the same information will bore people, even if you’re using active voice.

You want your resume to stand out and highlight your accomplishments. The best way to do this is to ditch the passive voice and use the active voice instead. Don’t just say you “are results-driven”; show employers what actions you took to achieve results!

A version of this article originally appeared on Write Styles.

Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and the founder of Write Styles.

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A native San Franciscan, Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and founder of writestylesonline.com. She has a passion for helping others present the best version of themselves, both on paper and in person, and works to polish individuals' application packages and personal styles. Aiming to help create a perfect personal branding package, Write Styles presents tips to enhance your resume and style and boost your confidence.