- Action words are the verbs used on your resume that actively highlight your skills and experience and make your resume easier to read.
- The proper use of action words can improve reviewer rankings of resumes by 20% to 30%, depending on the competitiveness of your industry.
- Tailor your action words and resume to each specific job description you apply for.
- Avoid using passive language, buzzwords and meaningless terminology on your resume.
When it comes to a resume, having great work experience and a wide swath of skills isn't enough to get you the job. Poor wording that does not adequately reflect your qualifications can be the difference between landing an interview and landing at the bottom of the resume pile.
According to Bob MacReynolds, vice president of Cutwater Dynamics, action words are the verbs on your resume that allow hiring managers to quickly understand where you spent most of your time in each job and what impact you had on the organization as a whole.
"Resumes should not only be a summary of someone's experience – they should be a call to action to all those who read it that this person must receive an interview because of their positive impact on the business," MacReynolds said.
Before your resume reaches a set of human eyes, it will likely have to pass through an applicant tracking system (ATS). These systems filter resumes based on keywords, which often include action words.
Jobscan cites recent studies that showed more than 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS, while 66% of large companies and 35% of small organizations rely on some type of recruitment software. With the use of technology on the rise in the hiring process, it is essential for job seekers to fill in the blanks correctly.
After your resume passes through an ATS, action words help hiring managers scan your information and make a quick decision about you and your experience. Jamie Cohen, career coach and HR manager for EndThrive, said the average recruiter looks at a resume for six seconds before making a decision, placing high importance on powerful descriptions that catch their attention.
Cohen said action words serve two main purposes: highlighting your skills and experience, and making your resume easier to read.
"Firstly, action words are used to paint a vivid picture of your experience, skills and achievements," he said. "Your potential employer needs to be able to visualize you doing the job and doing it well. Secondly, if you start every bullet point with an action word, you set an easy-to-follow rhythm for the recruiter."
Gerrit Hall, CEO and founder of RezScore, added that action words can frame your accomplishments in the form of a story, which guides the reader to form a mental picture and increases memorability.
"Action words contain the power to make your resume more memorable than resumes with passive voice," he said. "Our regression analysis proves action verbs can improve reviewer rankings of resumes by 20% to 30%, depending on the competitiveness of your industry."
How to use resume action words
While keyword-stuffing action words may be the easy route, it is not a successful one. To stand out to a hiring manager, employ the proper usage of action words.
For example, use action words to quantify the results you achieved for the company you worked for. If you can use supporting statistics too, that's even better. Showing how your efforts directly impacted an organization's bottom line demonstrates your abilities better than simply stating what you did.
MacReynolds said that businesses are thinking about return on investment when they make a hire, so it helps to spell out exactly what ROI you have previously provided.
"For job seekers, I always recommend they talk about ways their accomplishments increased profits for the company, decreased costs or improved efficiency," said MacReynolds. "Those are measurable results that all companies look for at quarterly earnings time and at year-end."
Another way to use action words is to look for keywords in job postings and tailor your resume to use those specific action words. Cohen provided the following job description as an example:
Sales manager responsibilities:
Achieving growth and hitting sales targets by successfully managing the sales team
Designing and implementing a strategic sales plan that expands the company's customer base and ensures its strong presence
If you were to apply for this sales manager position, Cohen would recommend using the specific action words "managed," "designed" and "implemented" and explaining how you accomplished these tasks.
The best resume action words
In addition to highlighting job skills, the University of Michigan Career Center advises job seekers to use a variety of action verbs to make their resume pop. The university listed more than 135 action verbs to consider using in your resume.
Cohen has his own list of 25 of the action verbs he thinks are best for resumes. He divided up the following examples by scenario.
If you improved or increased something:
If you facilitated or managed something:
If you started a project:
For day-to-day activities:
If you achieved something:
- Honored (with)
Words to omit from your resume
Clever, meaningful words have a positive impact on your application, while the wrong words leave a negative impression. Avoid passive words and phrases on your resume. These include any verbiage that signifies something was done to you or assigned to you, rather than signifying that you actively took initiative and did something. You should also take care not to try too hard in phrasing something on your resume – it is not a requirement to describe your experience in a unique way. If you created a new method for a project, sometimes it's best just to say "created."
Avoid overused or meaningless words that add fluff to your resume. These include the terms "responsible for," "transformational," "synergy" and "dynamic." Also avoid buzzwords like "self-starter," "detail-oriented" and "team player."
These are some other words and phrases to avoid on your resume:
- Think outside the box
- Track record
- Strategic thinker
- Best of breed
- Bottom line
- Go-to person
"Instead of saying you're hardworking because you're self-motivated, try to prove it with results," said Cohen. "Mention how you've organized a team or increased sales by 23%."
While experts we spoke to had mixed opinions on using first-person language like "I" and "me" in a resume, they agreed that you should limit or even omit the use of "we."
"On a resume, the word 'we,' when used repeatedly, describes someone who cannot get something accomplished on their own," said MacReynolds. "I always wonder who else had to be involved for that person to handle those duties or achieve that type of success."
You should also consider removing your GPA if you have a higher degree.
"For the most part, employers won't even notice if it is not included on a resume," said Tim Davis, resource manager at staffing agency Kavaliro. "Only include GPA if a company specifically requests it on the application."
When writing a resume, always focus on what you did and the results you achieved for your organization. Using action words to clearly convey those messages brings you one step closer to your dream job.
Additional reporting by Skye Schooley. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.