Grammar rules can be a pain, but don’t ignore them—you can be sure hiring managers will be paying close attention! Choosing the right tense is important when you’re starting to write a resume and apply to jobs. As with so many elements of a good resume, the ultimate choice comes down to your individual style and preferences. Use these guidelines to help you choose the right approach.
Past tense resume elements
Nearly every resume will have at least some responsibilities that are in the past tense. If you’re listing a previous employer that you’re no longer with, you should list every responsibility and accomplishment in the past tense. The same is true for extracurricular activities or volunteer positions that you held in the past but are no longer a part of.
To simplify things, some people choose to list all their resume elements in past tense. If you’re struggling to decide where you should switch to present tense or you’re worried about keeping a sense of consistency throughout, this is a fine strategy that will alleviate some of the stress of putting together your resume.
Present tense resume elements
If you’d like to include some present tense verbs on your resume, you should use these exclusively for responsibilities that you still perform. Thus, you may choose to list all your responsibilities for your current job in present tense while listing the responsibilities for past positions in past tense.
If you’re filling out a resume with minimal job experience, you may choose to include extracurricular activities or work on volunteer projects. You may mention these in the present tense only if you’re still involved in them.
If you’ve graduated from college, any activities you participated in while there would remain in past tense. However, if you’re mentioning your work with, say, Habitat for Humanity and you’re still active in the organization, it’s appropriate to use present tense.
Mixing past and present
In general, you should avoid mixing past and present tense under a single heading. The one exception is a current position for which you’re listing both responsibilities and accomplishments.
A specific accomplishment, such as “Achieved N150,000 in sales in the first quarter with Client X” should stay in past tense because you completed it. Responsibilities like “Oversees sales associates” would remain in present tense because they’re ongoing.
The most important part of using past or present tense in your resume is maintaining consistency. An employer won’t judge you harshly for sticking to a safe past tense throughout, but it’s sure to cast a poor light on your professionalism if you go back and forth with abandon. Pick a strategy, stick with it, and proofread carefully for an impressive resume.