In the hundreds of resumes I have critiqued and rewritten over the past 20 years, a major short coming I see is an ineffective past or present tense used for action verbs. These can water down the accomplishment you are trying to describe, and make a genuine achievement sound insignificant.

People often also use weak verbs to describe their work. These can similarly dull your contributions. Some of the most common examples include help, handled, assisted with, and worked.

  • ‘Handled’ is too vague, use a more definitive verb. You don’t handle people (which is where one usually sees this), and if you handled money what did you do with the money?
  • ‘Worked’ is too generic and doesn’t evoke any vision of the action you actually did to accomplish the task. For example: Worked with the team…doing what? Resulting in what?
  • ‘Assisted’ isn’t the accomplishment or action verb, it belongs at the end of the sentence. For example: Accomplished A,B,C and D, while assisting the Vice President of Human Resources with E,F.
  • ‘Helped’ doesn’t say very much. What did you actually help to do? What more specific action verb would be more definitive? Managed? Directed? Collated? Fine-tuned?

Each of your accomplishment-based statements or bullet points, needs to have a definitive, descriptive, strong action verb describing your skill. Where possible, use skills that are out of the norm, that stand out, that are very visual.

  • Use design, develop and deliver or execute, all in one statement. It is perfectly acceptable to use two or three skills to describe the action taken.
  • Conducted a needs analysis…..,
  • Pioneered the first….. (When you initiated it.)
  • Spearheaded a team of…. (Sure beats ‘Led.’)
  • Trail blazed our company into social media… (When breaking new ground, similar to pioneering.)
  • Facilitated strategic meetings… (Instead of ‘held.’)
  • Utilized a full range of services… (Instead of used.)
  • Developed and implemented… (If you did more than manage something tell what you got your hands dirty doing.)
  • Revamped outdated training materials…
  • Orchestrated the United Way campaign… (Think of yourself as a maestro, coordinating various departments then use orchestrate.)
  • Negotiated 15 labour contracts… (Use numbers whenever possible.)
  • Divested five subsidiary companies from… (Use your thesaurus.)

Though most resumes are written from an Action + Result perspective, it is also acceptable to start a bullet point with the verb that defines the RESULT.

  • Reduced/Increased
  • Reversed
  • Divested
  • Strengthened
  • Recovered, etc

After determining what powerful action verb to use you need to add in a strong result. After the action ask the questions HOW? or SO WHAT? to get the result.

For example: ‘Managed a team of eight sales reps…..’
‘How’ doesn’t work here, so use ‘So What.’

Action: ‘Coached and managed a team of eight sales reps.’
So What: ‘Who trail-blazed 10 new territories in eight months, acquiring 150 new clients and increasing revenues by 80%.’

No one knows better than you what you really did from day to day, so help the reader out and blow your own horn.

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking: How to build relationships that count and How To Get a Job and Keep It