Resume Verbs Reconsidered

Job search season is upon us.  Now is the time of resume updating, cover letter writing, and interview prepping. While visions of resumes dance through our heads, it is important to think beyond the average piece of advice and dig deeper into what makes a resume pop off the page.

Anyone who has participated in a workshop on resume writing has heard something like, “You must use active verbs to describe what you do.” So that means you “managed a budget” not “was responsible for a budget.” The latter is too passive. Seems straightforward enough, right? Words like manage, lead, advise, administer, organize, and serve are powerful words to lead off the sentences in our resume that describe what we do. I certainly agree, but about 15 years ago I learned that not all active verbs are created equal or have equal impact.

I was on a search committee for a Vice President for Student Affairs and one resume JUMPED out of the pile for everyone on the committee. This individual was one of the four finalists invited to campus. She did not get the offer (Reminder: the job of the resume is to get you the interview, your interview gets you the job!).  In fact, she didn’t do very well in the interview, so I went back to her resume to try to figure out why everyone loved her (based on her resume). That analysis led me to recognize and label two types of active verbs: Passive active and Active active.

Passive active are necessary verbs that communicate the basics of your position. These represent the kind of activities that virtually anyone with a job in student affairs will have done, including participated, consulted, managed, trained, evaluated, conducted, assisted, and provided. These verbs are on everyone’s resume.

Active active verbs, on the other hand, indicate creativity, drive, initiative, leadership, and autonomy. These tend to set people apart from those who just do their job. These verbs include created, established, initiated, conceived, devised, led, instituted, spearheaded, designed, originated, developed, and implemented. The VP candidate’s resume I analyzed was chock full of these verbs.

So, the question is: How many Active active verbs can you put on your resume? Whatever ones you have now, they should lead off the section, since they are the most powerful verbs you can use.

The second, long-term, question is: What will you do starting now or in the very near future to allow you to add lots of Active active resume verbs for your next job search? So often we can get caught up in doing the day-to-day tasks that we do not carve out the time for innovation and initiative. It is in our best interest and in the best interest of our students to not settle for merely doing the basics of our job. For grad student and new professionals even small initiatives allow you to use Active active verbs and show your leadership and drive to make a difference in the lives of students.

Patrick Love
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs
Rutgers University
love@oldqueens.rutgers.edu

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