The secret to a great resume is easier than you think: Using strong action words.
When you’re up against hundreds of other applicants, your resume needs to be distinct and compelling. But how can jobseekers catch the attention of busy recruiters?
The secret is resume power verbs. Power verbs are action words that succinctly show recruiters your capabilities and highlight your key skills. They start each bullet on your resume off strong, and compel the recruiter to keep reading.
If you’re not sure your resume has enough power verbs, ask one of our writers to look it over with a free critique.
Action verbs take simple responsibilities and elevate them into compelling accomplishments. They grip the reader and show them how capable you are in just the first glance. Most importantly, they set the tone for the rest of the resume and deliver an impactful first impression.
The power of first impressions
You may have heard that recruiters take an average of six seconds to scan applicant resumes. While recent research shows this number is closer to 30, it’s still important to make the most of that time. Showing you’re a quality candidate immediately will significantly strengthen your chances of being reviewed again, which will lead recruiters to look closer at your skills and accomplishments.
Strong action verbs set an active tone throughout the resume, as opposed to a passive one. They instill a sense of confidence in the reader that you’re someone who takes charge and makes things happen, instead of someone who simply shows up and follows the rest of the crowd.
The benefits of using resume power verbs
Strong action words improve the overall quality of your resume. Not only do they make the most of the space by communicating your role in just one word, but they make your achievements stand out. They indicate you’re a proactive worker and leader who’s prepared to step up.
Resume power verbs also show that you can clearly communicate your thought processes. Being specific about the role you played, instead of using a generic term like “worked on” or “managed” means you pay close attention to the key aspects of your job, and are prepared to educate others on the process as well.
Examples of resume power verbs
Okay, so resume power verbs are important. But how do you translate your experience into one?
First, think about the role that you played in the accomplishment you want to describe. What kind of skill did you use? Were you a leader, a problem solver, or a researcher? Once you’ve determined the category of the skill you want to convey, then you can look for applicable synonyms. Here are a few to help you get started:
If you acted in a leadership or management capacity, try using spearheaded, orchestrated, or cultivated. If you contributed to the achievement of a company metric or expectation, try surpassed, amplified, or enabled.
Let’s say you’re a fantastic communicator. Instead of just saying “communicated with” or “communicated between,” you can say liaised, articulated, or showcased. For research and analysis bullet points, try leading with evaluated, synthesized, or assessed.
If your bread and butter is problem solving and process improvement, you can use innovated, revamped, or streamlined. If you’re a proactive worker who creates and leads new initiatives, try pioneered, instigated, or developed.
More than likely, you’ll find a lot of possible options for relevant action words. Instead of selecting them at random, take your time. Really think about the key role you played and how it helped achieve team or company goals.
Tips to implement resume power verbs effectively
For most effective job searches, you need to tailor verbs according to the job description. This involves carefully reading the description and noting the action words used throughout. For example, if they’re looking for someone who can “streamline” processes, don’t use “transformed” or “revamped.” While they may seem like the exact same thing, there may be a reason a company is scanning for that specific word. Using the same verbiage instills confidence that you’re a good fit for the company culture.
Be sure to avoid redundancy by diversifying your verb usage. Can you imagine reading a document where the first word in every sentence is the same? Not only would this bore your reader, but it would also limit your perceived capabilities. Variety demonstrates a greater breadth of skills than using the same word over and over.
For example, if the majority of your job is liaising between teams, you may be tempted to start every bullet point with this verb. However, if you only use “liaise,” you miss the opportunity to show that you can foster communication across departments, facilitate meetings, and enable profitable cross-functional initiatives.
In addition to using power verbs at the beginning of each bullet, pair them with quantifiable results as often as possible. Metrics show the impact of your work and the value you add to your team or company. The strongest resumes combine the two to quickly and comprehensively show the reader exactly how (and how much) you improved the organization.
Additionally, if you’re changing careers, make sure that the power verbs you choose are applicable across industries. Don’t use insider terms that are only commonly used in your company or industry. Refer back to the job description often to be sure your selected verbs are compatible.
Finally, double-check to make sure all of your verbs are consistent in tense. If you’re describing a role you’re currently working in, you should use the present tense for all action words (except in the case the achievement was completed and not currently ongoing.) For all previous roles, make sure your verbs are in the past tense.
Common resume power verb mistakes to avoid
It’s easy to get excited by the impact of power verbs and be tempted to shove them in whenever you can. But like keyword stuffing, overloading the resume with power verbs that don’t have context will hurt you more than help you. Actions don’t exist in a vacuum. They need to be tied to things that you accomplished to convincingly prove what you’re capable of.
It’s also important to make sure that you only use power verbs that align with your actual experience. For example, If you supported leadership throughout a project, but didn’t lead the initiative yourself, don’t say you spearheaded it. However, be sure you don’t undermine yourself, either. You can still use your role in this project to demonstrate your capabilities in teamwork, collaboration, or administrative support. You just have to get a bit creative.
Finally, make sure you actually understand the definition of the power verb before you use it. If you’re not sure that it’s accurate, double-check the definition, ask a coworker, or get advice from a professional writer with a free resume critique. Otherwise, you can misrepresent yourself and mislead hiring managers about your capabilities. Whether you do it intentionally or unintentionally, your credibility will take the hit.
Tools and resources to help us with resume power verbs
Before you get started, don’t be afraid to access your resources! There are plenty of verb lists online tailored for resume building that can help you find the most applicable power words for your experience. You can cross-reference them with the job description for best results.
Thesauruses and digital thesaurus tools are also great for expanding your vocabulary. If you notice you’re using the same word over and over, take a break and find one you haven’t used yet. Always double-check the connotation of the synonym, however, just to be sure you’re accurately representing yourself.
Resume critique services also can be helpful in this area. Professional resume writers can evaluate whether you’ve used enough power verbs, and if they’re applicable to the related bullet point. They can spot redundancies you may have missed, and point out place where you can strengthen your verbiage.
Before and after: Resume transformation with power verbs
Here are a couple of examples of how to implement power verbs to strengthen your bullet points.
Before: Responsible for management of a $30M pipeline by starting new lines of business through customer relationships to deliver new products
After: Spearheaded customer relationship processes to support $30M pipeline and expand new lines of business and product delivery
Before: In charge of selecting and communicating with 12 subject matter experts to advise contract negotiations
After: Orchestrated a team of 12 subject matter experts to conduct due diligence and enable mutually beneficial contract negotiations
Resume power verb takeaways
Whether you incorporate power verbs can make or break your resume. When you update your resume, make sure you have them in there, and that you’re using them correctly. Additionally, if you have a general resume that can apply to multiple roles, it’s best to always refine and tailor it for each specific job you apply to. Incorporating keywords from job descriptions strengthens your power words and helps you choose the right ones for each application.
The strongest resumes are always evolving. As you grow in your career, you have to adapt and refine your language to stay relevant in your industry. Buzzwords come and go, but the right ones can make your resume stand out.
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