Past or Present Tense on Resume: What Should I Use?

Past or Present Tense on Resume: What Should I Use?

Whether you are just starting your job searching, or you have some experience in the matter, there is one thing you always learn.

Writing a Resume may at first seem easy, but writing it correctly is always a greater challenge than expected.

Grammar and consistency on your resume are crucial.

You need to keep your resume in a uniform and make it error-free.

Not only because it would be easier for the hiring manager, but to gain some extra points by showing that you pay attention to details and really care about your job search.

One of the most difficult tasks in that matter is choosing the right tense to write your resume in.

In this article, we are going to explore the most important points of choosing the right tense for your resume, like:

  • When to Use Present Tense on a Resume
  • When to Use Past Tense on a Resume
  • When You Can Mix Tenses
  • When to Use Future Tense on a Resume

And, as always, we are going to leave you off with some important tips and tricks and great examples for everything we cover.

If you have some more general question you need to focus on first, you might want to learn How to make your Resume Stand Out.

But if you are hard on learning how to choose the right tense for your resume, stick around.

The Difference Between Present Tense and Past Tense

The first thing we need to look at closely is the difference between Present and Past Tense.

It may be a while since you’ve been in an English class, so we’ve got a little guide for recognizing the differences between the two tenses.

  • Present tense verbs describe events that are happening as we speak. They can also describe continuous events or actions. Typically, these words don’t have any endings, but sometimes they end with “-s”.
  • Past tense verbs describe events that have already taken place. Generally, these words end with “-ed”, but there are exceptions that have a unique past form.

When to Use Present Tense on a Resume

Just as the definition of the present tense states, it should be used for anything that is currently happening.

Mainly present tense is used in your Resume Summary and your Work Experience Section, when stating your current job position and accomplishments.

They show who you are and what you are doing right now.

But usage of the present tense is not necessarily limited to these two sections.

If your resume has other activities that are currently in motion and are outside your full-time job, you can also write them in present tense.

These activities may include:

Also, if your Skills Section has skills that you use all the time, you can use present tense there as well.

All in all, write in the present tense whenever the end date ends with “Present”.

When to Use Past Tense on a Resume

Simply put - almost all the time.

Resumes consist mostly of past work experience, past accomplishments and past responsibilities.

That’s why it makes sense most of the resume to be in past tense.

Past tense can be used in any section, as long as the activity listed is no longer in motion.

You can use it to describe your:

But don’t limit yourself to those five.

As we said - you can use it pretty much everywhere.

When You Can Mix Tenses

Whenever possible, you should avoid mixing present and past tense.

But sometimes it makes perfect sense to mix them.

Most commonly, you can spot past and present tense in the Work Experience Section.

If you have been in the same work position for quite a while, you probably have lots of accomplishments there.

You don’t want to leave them out just because of mixing tenses.

Just make sure to use a reverse chronological format for that.

What that means is that present tense should be on the top, and past should come after it.

You don’t want to go back and forth with your tenses, it would be perceived as very unprofessional.

If you feel unsure about mixing your tenses, you can always write everything in the past tense.

It is safer, and don’t worry, your potential employer won’t judge you for that.

When to Use Future Tense on a Resume

Let’s not forget that there is one more tense that we have not talked about.

It is used under really special circumstances, but it is still worth a mention.

You can easily recognize future tense verbs by the “will” that usually precedes it.

The only time you might want to use the future tense is when you are writing your goals, or if you are a student right before your graduation.

But in any other case, stick with present and past tense.

Tips and Tricks for choosing the Correct Tense on a Resume

As promised, we are not going to leave you off without any tips and tricks.

We have a short list for you, make sure you go through it carefully

Be consistent

First of all, if possible, stick with one tense only.

The only exceptions are when you are writing about your current job or current volunteer work.

If you find it difficult, you can make a note to check your verbs to make sure they match each other.

It should be a relatively easy task since most of them will be at the beginning of each bullet point.

If you feel unsure, stick with past tense

Whenever you’re in doubt about which tense to use, choose the past tense.

It is the safe way to go.

Furthermore, if you use too many present time verbs, the hiring manager might get confused and wonder why you’re talking about a few different jobs.

Make sure you use the present tense only if you are confident in your ability to use both tenses.

If you do it right, it is preferred to use both, as it is usually the clearest way to communicate.

Use strong verbs

You don’t want to use present particles - a verb with an -ing ending.

You might be tempted to use present particles, as it seems like an accurate description, but you should stay away from them.

They usually make your resume sound weaker.

Instead you need to use strong verbs.

They still describe accurately what you do, but they do so in a better way.

Make it ATS friendly

Last but not least, make sure you make it ATS friendly.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System and is a software used by many companies these days.

What it does is make a preselection of candidates, depending on pre-entered keywords by your potential employer.

In order to get past it and get your resume to the hiring manager, you need to keep in mind these keywords.

The best way to go is look through the job description and make sure your resume includes them.

Keep in mind that tense matters to the ATS, so be extra careful with your writing.

Example of Present Tense on a Resume

River East Elementary School

New York, NY

History Teacher (October 2014–Present)

  • Prepares lesson plans for the fourth, fifth and sixth grade
  • Teaches student World and USA History
  • Works with other faculty members to evaluate the entire curriculum
  • Collaborates with parents to ensure students understand the learning materials

Example of Past Tense on a Resume

River East Elementary School

New York, NY

History Teacher (October 2014 – December 2019)

  • Prepared lesson plans for the fourth, fifth and sixth grade
  • Taught student World and USA History
  • Worked with other faculty members to evaluate the entire curriculum
  • Collaborated with parents to ensure students understand the learning materials

Example of both Past and Present Tense on a Resume

River East Elementary School

New York, NY

Principal (December 2019 – Present)

  • Oversee daily operations within the school
  • Ensure the school environment is safe for all students and staff members
  • Works with faculty members to evaluate the entire curriculum
  • Promoted to Principal of River East Elementary School

Takeaways: Email to send resume

We are all done.

Now you know when to use present tense, and when to use past tense.

You are now ready to build every section in the best possible grammatical way.

Don’t forget our tips and tricks, and make the best out of them.

Check out our example once again and get you your next interview in no time.