Should a resume be in the past or present tense?

How sick are you of hearing that you must proofread your resume? The reason that proofreading is brought up so much is that it is of the utmost importance. If you take hours or even days crafting the perfect document and never discover grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, your time has been wasted. 

There's more to proofreading than just using spell check, though. Your verb tense is also important for your overall resume writing style. Of course, that raises an important question: should your resume be in past tense or present tense?

The short answer is, “It depends.” 

In this post, we'll explore each of these tenses, examine the best practices for using each type, and offer some helpful tips you can use to ensure that your resume narrative is delivering the right message to employers.

What is past tense? What is present tense? 

First, let's have a review of what past and present tense means. Is your sentence describing something that's happening now, or did it already occur? 

  • Past tense is anything that's already happened. The verbs that describe past tense often end with -ed. Of course, there are some exceptions like “oversaw.” Reminder: every sentence of your resume should start with a verb.

  • Present tense is anything that's happening now. You'd use present tense in the summary paragraph at the top and in the bullets that you use to describe your current job. 

Pro tip: The gerund form of present tense verbs often adds an -ing at the end. There is some debate as to whether the use of the gerund is appropriate for a resume. With that said, you should avoid using it.

Related post: 11 Key Things to Put on Your Resume

Should I use past tense or present tense on my resume? 

You will likely use both the past and the present tense in your resume. However, it can get tricky because you don't want to mix both in the same section. If you have one-off achievements like successfully completing a project in your current role, you shouldn't talk about that in the present tense because it already happened. 

In the spirit of being consistent, here are some rules to help you recognize when to use past or present tense:

When to use past tense on your resume

Describe your education, past jobs, awards, and accomplishments using the past tense. You aren't in school anymore, and you no longer work at your previous jobs. Therefore, they belong in the past. For example:

Championed a 20% increase in sales by onboarding 30 new customers each month.

Architected complex algorithms that improved the efficiency of gathering, scrubbing, and merging data from more than 20 disparate sources.

Engaged in real-time troubleshooting with approximately 40 customers per day and achieved an 85% first-call resolution rate.

When to use present tense on your resume

While much of your resume will be in the past tense, there are certain sections that should focus on the present. These include the resume headline, resume summary, and the first entry in your work experience section if you're describing your current position. Let's look at each one of these critical sections and examine why it's important to use the present tense to describe your skills and ongoing achievements.

Related post: Seven Key Resume Sections and How to Organize Them

1. Resume headline

Your resume headline should always be written in the present tense since you want to ensure that the employer understands that you're actively engaged in your role. Remember, the headline is a brief description of your job title and key specialties, so make it as compelling as you can. For example:

  • Creative Marketing Manager Focused on Data-Driven Results in Branding and Client Engagement

  • Solutions-Oriented Project Manager with 10+ Years of Team Building and Client Management Success

  • Innovative Software Engineer with 5 Years of Experience Developing Industry-Leading Gaming Apps

Related post: 27 Great Resume Headline Examples to Stand Out

2. Resume summary

Your summary goes right below your resume headline and should provide employers with a brief elevator pitch to sell your qualifications. Include three or four sentences that highlight your experience, skills, and notable achievements. The goal here is to emphasize your qualifications in a way that shows you're prepared to provide real value to any employer who hires you. Here's an example:

Ambitious IT specialist with more than seven years of experience in network management and systems analysis. Expert troubleshooter and project lead with expertise in cloud platform, data migration, and client support. Proven track record of success in reducing network delays by 80+%, with 95+5 reported satisfaction rating on troubleshooting calls. Resilient problem-solver, capable of working both independently and in collaboration with colleagues and clients.

Related post: Resume Profile Explained (with Examples)

3. Work Experience

When you list your current job in your work experience section, it should always be in the present tense. The skills you list in this prominent section of your resume are skills you use all the time. This is the it-can-get-tricky part because you can also talk about your current position in the past tense – more on this in just a bit. Here are a couple of examples:

Direct full-cycle hiring processes, including telephone interviews, to ramp up department operations.

Source, interview, hire, and onboard a new team of 7 developers. 

Train 6 associates and 2 clerks to ascertain the needs of clients and improve customer satisfaction.

Of course, when you're listing achievements in your work experience section, you're primarily going to focus on things that you've already done. After all, if one of those achievements involved designing a new sales program that boosted revenues by 30% over two quarters, that's a one-time achievement, right? Obviously, that accomplishment needs to be presented using the past tense.

Confused? Don't be. We'll explain how to handle that situation in our next section.

When to use both past and present tense

Your resume is supposed to be a customized career marketing document that demonstrates you're the best candidate for a specific position. You sell yourself to new companies by highlighting career accomplishments. 

So, how do you handle talking about past and present items in the description of your current role if you shouldn't mix past and present tense within the same section of your resume? 

Take that example that we cited above. How would you include that type of achievement in the work experience listing for your current job? It's easier than you might imagine.

The best way to deal with that situation is to separate the bullet points under your current role into things you do every day first and achievements last. Write your daily responsibilities in the present tense and your achievements in the past tense. This is what that would look like:

Document, report, and present project milestones, performance KPIs, and status updates in weekly executive meetings attended by as many as 12 board members.

Implement and execute all standard operating procedures to ensure adherence to protocols, mitigate risk, and improve overall safety rating to 0 incidents per month. 


Saved more than $300K by tracking spending, identifying waste, and authoring/implementing new project metrics that reduced costs.

Nominated by leaders for the I'm-The-Greatest-Employee award, 2021. 

Another great way to manage this concern is to include a brief paragraph that highlights your ongoing achievements using the present tense while making sure that all your bullet point accomplishments are listed in the past tense. Below, we've provided an example of what that might look like:

Marketing Director, ABC Marketing, Anytown Anystate, 2014 to Present

Manage daily marketing operations, including strategic campaign development, overseeing multiple project teams, evaluating and monitoring staff, and managing client expectations. Collaborate directly with senior management, finance department, and sales team to facilitate operations and ensure that the company always remains on mission.

  • Designed and implemented training program credited with 42% reduction in staff onboarding times.

  • Developed multiple marketing and advertising campaigns that brought in $100+ million over a six-year period.

  • Redesigned more than 20 failing client projects, leading to results that exceeded expectations by an average of 20%.

  • Created company's innovative “Green Marketing” campaign that drew national exposure and led to 15% spike in new client acquisition.

Tips to get the most out of your use of past and present tense

The following tips can help you maintain your focus when you're creating achievement statements and highlighting your current qualifications.

  • Resumes are not like standard prose documents. You don't need to stick to just one tense since you'll likely be highlighting both present skills and past achievements. Just remember to make sure that your reader can easily follow any tense changes that occur throughout your resume narrative.

  • If you find yourself asking, “Should this part of my resume be in past tense or present tense” just take a moment and consider the message you're trying to deliver with that statement. If you're attempting to focus attention on specific skills and qualifications, then you'll probably want to use the present tense. If you're demonstrating value by highlighting an accomplishment from a previous job, use the past tense.

  • Try to avoid mixing your tenses within any given bullet point section. Again, be consistent in different areas of your resume to avoid reader confusion.

  • If you're struggling to decide how to use the different tenses within the same resume, try a different and simpler approach. Instead of using the present tense, simply present all your information using the past tense. Most employers are used to seeing past tense used in resumes and won't be put off by that approach.

Related post: 17 Resume Tips to Get Seen and Hired Faster

Knowing if your resume should be in past tense is easy

The next time you're wondering whether your resume should be in past tense or present tense, take a deep breath and focus on your narrative. Sometimes, reading your own resume a few times can help you gain insight into the message that you're delivering. Just keep things simple and remember what each tense is designed to convey to the reader. If you can successfully do that, you'll have a better chance of choosing the right tense and making the best possible impression on employers.

Are you still confused about which resume tense you need to use? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today! 

“This article was originally written by Marsha Hebert and has been updated by Ken Chase.”

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