SurfA quick Google search for “resume action verbs” brings up thousands of lists. But what are action verbs? And why are they so important?

In terms of grammar, so-called “action” verbs are no different from any other verbs. English has “strong” (or irregular, as in get/got) and “weak” (or regular, as in walk/walked ) verbs like many other European languages. However, strong verbs aren’t the same thing as action verbs.

We also have active and passive voice, which sometimes gets mixed up in discussions of action verbs. In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action, as in the sentence “The girl pitched the baseball.” Most of us write in active voice the majority of the time. In passive voice, the roles are reversed: the action is done to subject. For example, “The baseball was hit by the girl.” While it’s a good idea to write in active voice when composing your resume — not only is active voice more concise, but it’s also less confusing than passive voice — it still has nothing to do with action verbs.

So what are action verbs? They’re verbs that clearly and vividly demonstrate an action. According to this surprisingly eloquent passage from CliffsNotes, “An action verb animates a sentence, either physically ( swim, jump, drop, whistle) or mentally ( think, dream, believe, suppose, love). Verbs make sentences move; sometimes dramatically, sometimes quietly.”

Action verbs are the opposite of linking or being verbs. Those are verbs like “is” that describe a state of being. For example, in the sentence, “She is the queen of France,” is functions as a linking verb. It’s not very inspiring or specific. Notice the difference when we change is to an action verb: “She ruled France.” Not only is the sentence shorter, but it makes more of an impact.

What does this mean for your resume? You have a limited amount of real estate on the page and less than a minute to make a good impression. By using powerful, dynamic verbs, you can describe your experience very specifically and in fewer words. Not only should you avoid linking verbs when possible, but you should also ditch generic verbs like worked and did.

“I worked in advertising for fifteen years” may be an accurate statement, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything specific or interesting. “I created a national advertising campaign that generated $120,000 in revenue during the third quarter of 2012” is specific, interesting — and, even better, measurable.

According to a 2013 study conducted by CareerBuilder, potential employers want to see action verbs. “Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills, and accomplishments,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

The top verb choices from HR managers include:

  • Achieved
  • Improved
  • Trained/Mentored
  • Managed
  • Created

Go through your resume and highlight any boring verbs. Replace them with action verbs. If you’re stumped for ideas, start with this list of 185 verbs from The Muse, which is organized into categories of achievement and action.

Any time you make a change on your resume, you run the risk of introducing an error. It doesn’t matter how powerful your verbs are: if you meant to type “chaired” and accidentally wrote “chained” instead, you’re not going to make a good impression on HR. Always proofread! Get a friend to look over your resume, or check out Grammarly’s automated proofreading tool.

 



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