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Written by Charlotte GraingerCharlotte Grainger

Resume tenses: should resumes be in past tense or present?

6 min read
Resume tenses: should resumes be in past tense or present?
Resume tenses can be confusing, to say the least. Read our guide on how to navigate this somewhat tricky grammatical issue.

Writing an interview-winning resume that showcases your skills and expertise can be hard enough.Throw in navigating potential grammatical issues and it’s enough to give anyone a headache. Don’t worry—we have the super easy pain relief you’ve been looking for. 

Here at Resume.io, we are experts in creating applications that turn hiring manager’s heads. In the following guide, we will be answering these core questions about resume tenses: 

  • Should resumes be in past tense or present tense?
  • How should you decide which one to use and why
  • What rules do you need to stick to when writing your resume?

Past tense and present tense definitions 

If you skipped one too many English classes or simply need a refresher course, we’ve got you. Before we delve into when to use each tense, you need to know what the words mean. Luckily, we have the answers. Here’s a quick breakdown for you: 

  • Past tense. This is the tense when something has already happened—in the past. Often enough, the verbs end in the suffix “-ed”. For example, “organize” becomes “organized” while “change” becomes “changed”. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, including “lead,” “wrote,” and “thought,” to name a few.
  • Present tense. On the other hand, the present tense is what we use when the action is happening now. Present tense verbs include “organize,” “oversee,” and “motivate”. If something is currently happening or ongoing, you should use this tense.

Chances are, you automatically switch between tenses when you are speaking and writing. However, taking the time to identify which tense you are using (and why) is a helpful activity. This process allows you to gain a better grasp on the language you use on a daily basis. 

Should your resume be past or present tense?

If you’re looking for a simple answer, we will apologize now. There isn’t a catch-all you can use here. Instead, whether you use past or present tense on your resume depends on a couple of things. And, it’s most likely that you will end up using a mixture of both. 

That means knowing when to use each tense can be complicated. Luckily, in the next section, we will cover when you should use the past tense and the present tense on your resume. You will be able to use the below rules as general guidelines to help you. 

Resume tenses guide: when to use each and why

When resume sections should be in past tense 

When should your resume be in the past tense? There’s an easy guideline you can follow here. Whenever the action has ended, you should use the past tense on your resume. That means that you should most likely use the past tense for the following sections: 

  • Education (so long as you have finished your education)
  • Employment history (with the exception of your present role)
  • Awards and accomplishments

Most of the time, using the past tense in these sections is the winning formula. Of course, you should always read your resume thoroughly to ensure that it makes sense. 

When resume sections should be in present tense

Some resume sections naturally lend themselves to the present tense. These are the most up-to-date sections, in which the action is on-going. For example, you should use the present tense when describing a job role that you currently hold. Equally, it is smart to use this tense for any ongoing voluntary work and, of course, your professional summary.

Expert tip

Show the hiring manager you’re a “do-er”!

When you are writing your professional summary, the sentences should be written in the present tense. This is your chance to show the hiring manager that you have what it takes to succeed. They don’t want to hear about what you’ve done in the past here — they want to know what you can do now. The present tense puts them right in the heart of the action. 

When resume sections should be in both tenses 

While you can switch between tenses throughout your resume, there’s one golden rule you need to keep in mind. When you are writing a specific section—such as the breakdown of a job role or your summary—you need to stick to one solid tense; past or present. 

Mixing things up too much will be confusing to the reader. Frankly, you want to avoid anything that will give them pause and stop the flow of their reading. While there are exceptions to this rule, you should keep it in mind while writing your next resume. 

Expert tip

Sometimes, you have to break the rules!

Of course, there is an exception to the rule. Let’s say that you previously won an award that you received from your company in your current position. 

  • The section in which you describe the role needs to be in the present tense because it is ongoing. Your duties happen in the present.
  • When you get to the bullet point about the award, that can be written in the past tense. That is because you won the award in the past and it is not ongoing.

In this case—and similar cases—you would end up with both the past and the present tense in the same resume section. 

Key takeaways 

  • Not sure what resume tenses you should be using? Most of the time, this document will include a mixture of both tenses.
  • There are some easy rules you can follow when you are deciding whether to use the past tense or the present tense.
  • However, there will be times you need to break these rules. For example, if you won an award in the past within the scope of your current job.
  • If you want to make sure your resume stands out from the crowd, check out our tech-powered resume builder and get started now.
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