Is Your Resume on Fire? Use These Verbs to Ignite it


Please follow me at @pglove33.

Anyone who has participated in a resume-writing workshop has heard something like, “You must use active verbs to describe what you do.” So that means you “managed a budget” not “was responsible for a budget.” The latter is too passive. Seems straightforward enough, right? Words like manage, lead, advise, administer, organize, and serve are powerful words to lead off the sentences in our resume that describe what we do. I certainly agree, but about 15 years ago I learned that not all active verbs are created equal or have equal impact.

I was on a search committee for a Vice President for Student Affairs and one resume JUMPED out of the pile for everyone on the committee. This individual was one of the four finalists invited to campus. She did not get the offer (Reminder: the job of the resume is to get you the interview, your interview gets you the job!).  In fact, she didn’t do very well in the interview, which prompted me to go back to her resume to try to figure out why everyone loved her (based on her resume). That analysis led me to recognize and label two types of active verbs: Passive active and Active active.

Passive active are necessary verbs that communicate the basics of your position. These represent the kind of activities that virtually anyone with a job in student affairs will have done, including participated, supervised, consulted, managed, trained, evaluated, conducted, assisted, and provided. These verbs are on everyone’s resume.

Active active verbs, on the other hand, indicate creativity, drive, initiative, leadership, and autonomy. These tend to set people apart from those who just do their job. These verbs include created, established, initiated, conceived, started, devised, led, instituted, spearheaded, designed, increased, founded, originated, developed, and implemented. The VP candidate’s resume I analyzed was chock full of these verbs.

There are two questions to consider regarding these verbs. The first question is: How many Active active verbs can you put on your resume right now? Whatever ones you have now, they should lead off the section, since they are the most powerful verbs you can use.

The second, more long-term, question is: What will you do starting now or in the very near future to allow you to add lots of Active active resume verbs for your next job search? So often we can get caught up in doing the day-to-day tasks that we do not carve out the time for innovation and initiative. It is in our best interest and in the best interest of our students to not settle for merely doing the basics of our job. For grad student and new professionals even small initiatives allow you to use Active active verbs and show your leadership and your drive to make a difference in the lives of students.

For the whole job search story, get my book Job Searching in Student Affairs: Strategies to Land the Position YOU WantSeriously, it will be the best $9.99 you spend this week!



  1. Patrick- thanks for sharing. This is very interesting and as I am currently updating my own resume, I will give this much thought. However, I wonder if the fact that she didn’t interview well meant (in some part) that her written credentials were overblown? Perhaps her interview was a more accurate descriptor of her and that is why she was not offered the position? Do you have any thoughts about that? As we all know, the resume and interview reveal very little. The true test of fit comes when that person arrives and then starts to perform.

    • Monica – I certainly agree that the job search is a crap shoot, no matter how careful we are or how thorough. As I tell people, it is like asking someone to marry you on the first date when everyone looks their best and is on their best behavior. As far as that individual, I suppose part of it was overblowing her credentials in that as a sitting VP at another institution she took credit for the initiatives that were developed within her division. Yet, in person she did not come off as the innovative and entrepreneurial person her resume made her out to be. Plus she was a bit full of herself.

      • As informative and helpful as your blog post was, I found this statement, “it is like asking someone to marry you on the first date when everyone looks their best and is on their best behavior” to be even more impacting. It caused me to think about how much our reputations and the overall view of one’s work ethic may influence our search. It has also breathed much needed motivation into some work I need to do. First impressions and interviews and resumes are so important – but it is the day-to-day work that we do that holds up to the scrutiny of reference checks and word of mouth.
        I have not known of or followed you before – but I will now!

      • Miranda,
        Thanks for your comment. I agree that what we do and have done will influence both if we get hired and our possibility of success, but the search process is such a different animal. Thanks for the follow.

  2. This all goes back to making sure what you put out there as “yourself” is authentic so that when the in-person meeting comes you don’t have to “put on” any sort of act, just be yourself.

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