Should You Write Your Resume in First Person or Third Person? …It’s Complicated.

Apr 15, 2021 | Resumes

A title graphic featuring the Career Warrior Podcast logo and the article's title: "the Top Career Warrior Podcast Episodes of 2020."

A lot of job seekers get tripped up on voice when they sit down to write their resumes. The trick? Lose the I

By: Jennifer Meehan | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Whether you’re planning to write your first resume or refresh your old one, make sure you use correct grammar. Nothing stops me cold like “Have went” instead of “Have gone.” Grammar could make all the difference between getting noticed or getting tossed!

A big part of grammar in a resume is the voice you use. Job seekers often wonder, “Should my resume be written in the first person or the third person?”

Archives

Tired of not landing interviews?

Get our free 3-step guide to writing better resume bullet points, featuring 70 ideas for metrics you can use!

The answer is: neither, really. Your resume should be in “first-person implied.” All that means is that as you write a simple declarative statement about yourself, such as an accomplishment bullet point, you leave off the I and start with the verb. It’s clear from the context that the subject of the sentence is I.

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

A professional resume presents your accomplishments in the “absent first person” voice. Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

So, rather than:

I manage a team of 20 salespeople
I managed a team of 20 salespeople

The statement becomes:

Manage a team of 20 salespeople
Managed a team of 20 salespeople

Can you see the difference? Without the I the statement becomes much less passive because you’re starting with an active verb. And it’s a complete statement because the subject is implied. 

While we’re on the subject of verbs, always try to use active ones. Instead of “Did the publishing schedule,” for example, say “Created and implemented the publishing schedule.”

A Very Short Primer on Grammar

I have been a copy editor for some 30 years and I still have to look up grammar questions from time to time. It’s been a long time since middle school, so here’s a refresher about voice, grammatical person, or point of view. Don’t worry, there will be no questions about “third-person omniscient.”

All you really need to know about person for the purpose of job hunting are the pronouns:

  • First-person pronouns include I, me, mine, we, ours because you are referring to yourself, or a group of which you are a part. As mentioned before, you’ll use this voice in your resume, without the pronouns. You should also always use first person in your cover letter, and since it’s a letter you’ll use pronouns, for example: “I mastered French when I was three.”
  • Second-person pronouns include you and your because you’re referring to another person or group of people. Of course, you would not use second person in a resume because you are talking about yourself. But it can be used in a cover letter: “Your company will be grateful you hired me.”
  • Third-person pronouns include he, she, it, they because you’re referring to an “other,” a third person or persons being talked about in the sentence. You should absolutely not use these pronouns in a resume because it’s just silly and pompous, for example “Ms. Jones manages the sales team,” when you are Ms. Jones. Your reader already knows it’s you because your name is at the top. Third-person pronouns have a place in a cover letter, though: “He was my first mentor.”

Appearance Counts

Woman frustrated at computer. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Anything you can do to make the hiring manager’s life easier will be greatly appreciated. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

You don’t want to resume to stand out in a bad way. Using an implied I can make your resume more readable and interesting. Besides, it saves space. When you’re trying to keep your resume under 600 words or so, even the narrow I takes up room and counts as a word.

Also, dropping the I will even make the resume look better because you avoid a river of Is running through the page. As an editor, I learned the importance of avoiding repeated words because it’s distracting to the eye – especially a short word like I.

Anything you can do to make the resume more readable and engaging for hiring managers is essential. They are already so busy, they don’t want to spend time looking for the verbs showing what you did. Besides, bullet points written with an absent I look professional and give a sense of objectivity. The style detaches you from the person eagerly seeking an interview and presents your serious business self.

Besides, the first-person implied is expected by resume readers. In fact, it is really only used in resumes. As a longtime editor, I can guarantee that you will never see a novel or nonfiction narrative written without subjects and pronouns!

Ready for more job search help?

Start landing more interviews with our free eBook – you'll learn our professional resume writers' 3-step process for writing better resume bullet points, plus 70 ideas for numbers you can use in your resume!