How to Effectively Use Action Words in Your Resume

Written by
M.A. Smith

Apr 27, 2018

Apr 27, 2018 • by M.A. Smith

These days, employers want to know what you can achieve for their company and simply utilizing job descriptions on your resume isn’t enough.

After all, there are hundreds of applicants lined up who can do the job. You have to stand out. Set yourself apart with action verbs, achieving language, and resume writing that lists what you have contributed rather than what you have done on a daily basis.

What are action verbs?

Think of Yoda and his notorious phrases. Sentences like “The Dark Side I sense in you” is not what you should place in your resume. Passive voice is where the object comes before the verb in a sentence. For example, “The ball was thrown by John” is passive voice. These sentences are longer, more difficult to read, and appear unprofessional. You can achieve more action by placing the object after the verb. For example, “John threw the ball” uses a more active voice.

How can I use action verbs in my resume?

Using action verbs in resume writing is as easy as any other form of writing if you know what to include and what to look for. Here are two tests to determine if you are using passive voice in your resume writing:

  1. Verb Test: Look for helping verbs, especially forms of the verb “to be” in the sentence.

  2. “By You” Test: Can you insert the phrase "by you" after the verb? Does the sentence still make grammatical sense? This signifies passive voice.

Scan the resume for these warning signs and replace passive resume writing with more active verbs and sentences. Here are a few examples of passive resume sentences:

  1. A 20 percent revenue growth was realized in our department over two years.

  2. A promotion to Supervisor was awarded to me after only one year of service.

  3. Responsibility was recognized as one of my strengths.

He are the same examples rewritten using active voice:

  1. My team realized 20 percent revenue growth over two years.

  2. After only one year, I earned a promotion to Supervisor.

  3. Recognized for responsibility and proactive decisions.

The only time when passive voice is appropriate is when you want to draw more attention to results instead of yourself. This is very rare, and you should focus on your achievements rather than your company’s results. However, some results are so important they represent the entire career picture.

What action verbs are most effective?

Not only do you need to use action verbs in your resume, but you must select those that fit your industry and have more meaning. Here are a few general action verbs to include in your resume writing:

  • Advised

  • Compiled

  • Critiqued

  • Coached

  • Designed

  • Directed

  • Established

  • Examined

  • Generated

  • Guided

  • Hypothesized

  • Illustrated

  • Improved

  • Influenced

  • Invented

  • Motivated

  • Negotiated

  • Ordered

  • Oversaw

  • Prepared

  • Recruited

  • Resolved

  • Trained

  • Upgraded

Make your resume shine with achievements

Okay, it is difficult not to write job description in a monotonous, passive voice. Company’s drill these definitions into their team members all the time. But this is not the language to use on your resume. Instead of copy-pasting job descriptions straight from your employer’s web page, look at the job you are applying for and use some of their language to build your sentences.

Also use achieving language rather than doing language. How do you determine if the sentence is doing or achieving? Ask yourself three simple questions:

  1. Can anyone perform this function?

  2. Is this the standard, run-of-the mill description?

  3. Did any results come from this action?

If your answers are yes, yes, and no, you are listing descriptions that show what you can do.

Here are a few examples of doing sentences and how to convert them into achieving sentences:

Doing: Responsible for inventory control and ordering products.

Achieving: Optimize inventory by monitoring for product shortages and ensuring efficient service usage.

Doing: Help company sell more products and gain revenue.

Achieving: Increase profit margins by creating effective sales plans and implementing strategies to solidify client retention.


Resume writing is often is a daunting project, but using action verbs and active voice makes all the difference. Showing the employer what you can bring to the table by listing past achievements and notable contributions helps solidify your chance for an interview. Keep these questions in mind, and your resume writing experience will go smoother.

  • Does the sentence leave the option for results, or is it just a description?

  • Are there any helping verbs in the sentence? (Hint: Look for “to be” verb forms.)

  • Is this an exceptional description, or can anyone do this?

Need help with your resume? Our TopResume writers can help!