Past Tense = Past Job, Present Tense = Current Job

Today I want to devote an entire blog to one very specific resume issue that crops up far too frequently if you ask me, and that’s the issue of tenses on a resume. If you are actively looking for a job, or better yet you know someone who is, I urge you to put this article in front of them. In either situation, pull out the resume in question and read this blog while looking at the resume simultaneously. This could really make a difference.

Okay so like the title says, when you are listing a job or volunteer position that you currently have on your resume, because of the fact it is a current position, that’s the cue to use words that are in the present tense. Using the same logic, when you are describing a job or volunteer position from the past that you are no longer doing, then you no longer use the present tense, you use the past tense; past job, past tense.

In practice, let me give you a specific example just in case you are a visual learner. Let’s say you are currently working a part-time job at a busy donut shop. You’re looking for a job that’s either another part-time job so between the two of them you have a full schedule, or you want a full-time job to replace the one you have now. Your resume may look like this:

Front Counter Representative, The Donut Shoppe 2012 – present
* Greet and welcome customers, take food and beverage orders, process payments

Now notice the following words above: ‘greet’, ‘welcome’, ‘take’ and ‘process’. All four of those words are in the present tense. The date on the far right, indicates this is a present job. So the reader has no confusion and clearly can see that the person is currently working and describing things they currently do. It’s proper grammar.

Now contrast the above with this:

Front Counter Representative, The Donut Shoppe 2012 – 2013
* Greet and welcome customers, take food and beverage orders, process payments

You’ll notice that all that has changed is the job ceased in the year 2013. This job is no longer current, it has become a job the person did in the PAST, and the PAST is the tip-off to use words that are in the past. The person who receives this resume and is considering whether or not to have you in for an interview will be confused. They see you are using current tense words, which means you are currently doing the work, but the years are in the past. Now they wonder are you employed or not? Do you have the education to notice your grammar errors or not? Do you have proofreading skills on something so important as your resume or not? So the past tense of those four words needs to be used. The change that is required is to make the resume now look like this:

Front Counter Representative, The Donut Shoppe 2012 – 2013
* Greeted and welcomed customers, took food and beverage orders, processed payments

Now you are consistent. Your work ended in 2013 and the words you are using are past tense. There is no confusion on the part of the person reading your resume any longer. You also don’t raise any doubts about your grammar skills, your attention to detail, or your proofreading skills. When you are proofreading your resume, read it s-l-o-w-l-y. If you read it at regular reading speed, you may not catch the errors you might have on the resume. And it’s never a bad idea to have someone look over your resume.

It may be that many people who started reading this blog never got this far. I’m willing to bet that this is such a basic, common sense kind of issue for many that they pretty much said to themselves, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, whatever”, and they stopped reading. That’s a shame really, because I often find that the people who think they don’t have this problem are the very ones who do.

Furthermore, there are a number of people I work with who when this common error of tense use is pointed out to them, dismiss all personal responsibility for the mistakes claiming that someone from some other agency wrote the resume for them. And to those people I ask whose name is at the top of the resume? And after they tell me it’s their name, I ask them at what point they are willing to assume 100% responsibility for what’s on the paper with their name at the top?

You know sometimes it’s the little details; the obvious mistakes in grammar rather than content itself that keep a person from getting to the interview stage. What a shame don’t you think if you are completely qualified to do the work you are applying for, but your grammar mistakes on the resume give the company a poor first impression of you, and they pass you by based on it.

Proper tense use will keep the person reading your resume focused on your accomplishments and qualifications and not your use of grammar. And it doesn’t matter what kind of job you are applying to, the rules of tense use apply to both blue-collar jobs and those running companies alike.



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