I’ve read thousands of résumés and CVs over the years, both as a hiring manager and as a résumé writer. Most of them incorporated generic language — think phrases like “responsible for” and “in charge of” and buzzwords like “go-getter” and “self-motivated”. Needless to say, they never made it past the initial screening stage.
Why? Because, quite simply, they had no impact whatsoever. They were forgettable. Although some of the candidates were certainly qualified for the positions they were applying for, they failed to communicate their value clearly and distinctly and, ultimately, grab the reader’s attention.
Sure, your skills, qualifications and achievements are what really matter in your résumé, but how you present that information is what gets you through the door. And that’s where action verbs come in.
In this article, you’ll learn what action verbs are, why you should use them and how to incorporate them, and find a list of 200 action words to help you write a job-winning résumé.
Action words (or action verbs, active verbs, dynamic verbs or power verbs) are verbs that describe an action that a subject is performing. Take this example: “Zombies ate Karen in the kitchen”. Here, zombies are the subject and the action performed is eating poor Karen.
They differ from non-action words (or non-action verbs or passive verbs), which are verbs that describe an action that a subject is receiving, for example: “Karen was eaten by zombies in the kitchen”. Although zombies are performing the action here, Karen is the subject (and, apparently, susceptible to zombie attacks).
Unlike their non-action counterparts, action words help you clearly communicate your skills and experience to employers and, ultimately, maximize the overall impact of your résumé. This, in turn, helps you set yourself apart from the competition — an estimated 250 other applicants, according to data compiled by Glassdoor.
Consider these two statements:
- Responsible for the company’s social media marketing campaigns
- Oversaw the company’s social media marketing campaigns
Now, they both say exactly the same thing. But the first one elicits a “meh” response. The second one, on the other hand, is so much more powerful — and that’s because it’s kicked off with an action word. It’s also (slightly) shorter, meaning you can use the newly freed-up space to talk about other important achievements that you might have otherwise needed to remove to keep your résumé to two pages.
Plus, action words make for easy skimming, as they provide recruiters with instant information and prompt them to continue reading your résumé — which is exactly what you want, considering that you only have 7.4 seconds to make an impression.
When describing your professional experiences, you want to start off each statement with an action word. These become what are known as action statements, which emphasize the results that benefited your past and current employers — and showcase the value you bring to new employers.
You can create action statements by following this simple formula:
Action word [AW] + Duty [D] + Result [R]
Here’s what it looks like in action:
Negotiated [AW] advertising deals with global clients [D], culminating in annual revenues of $5 million [R].
Of course, you can mix up the structure of action statements by listing the result before the details of what you did (if it makes grammatical sense), but the action word must always start the sentence.
Speaking of grammar, make sure that action words are used in the correct verb tense: past tense when you’re writing about something that happened in the past (“managed”, “oversaw”, etc.), and present tense when describing something that is currently happening (“managing”, “overseeing”, etc.).
On that note, get rid of personal pronouns like “I” that would normally precede verbs. For example, “I managed” would become “Managed”.
Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to include industry keywords in each statement, which you can gather by reading the job description — this effectively helps you write a résumé that’s tailored to the job you’re applying for and that’s optimized for applicant tracking systems.
You should use action words whenever you’re describing your skills, achievements and responsibilities in your résumé, particularly within the employment history and summary sections. Ideally, you should limit action words to one or two per sentence.
There’s no rule against using the same action word multiple times, but overuse jeopardizes its overall impact. Consider this list of achievements for a single job description:
- Managed the company’s social media marketing campaigns
- Managed a team of 10 content producers
- Managed a budget of $2 million
Although these achievements are certainly impressive in their own right, the repetition of the verb “managed” completely eradicates their noteworthiness, while the lack of creativity is bound to make hiring managers yawn and potentially toss out the candidate’s résumé.
As a general rule of thumb, use each action word once — it’s okay to use a word more than once, but only if there’s ample distance between each instance. Your best bet would be to mix things up a little bit by using synonyms.
Need some inspiration? Below you’ll find a list of 200 résumé and CV action words you can use to market your top skills, achievements and contributions to potential employers.
You led a team
You wrote or communicated
You accomplished something
You created something
You increased something
You saved the company time or money
You led a project
You improved something
You supported someone
You researched, analyzed or planned something
As some parting advice, don’t restrict action words to your résumé. Use them in your cover letter and LinkedIn profile, too. After all, the more impactful and memorable your overall brand is, the better are your chances at landing an interview — and your dream job.
Got any suggestions for action words to use in your résumé, or any questions on how to best implement them? Let us know in the comments section below!