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I'm looking at an example CV/Resume, and I see the following:

  • Develop business relationship
  • Apply for patent paperwork

This sounds incorrect to me. Either it already happened, in which case I think they should use past tense, e.g. "engineered a TPS reports framework" or it is happening now, in which case I would write:

  • Raising funds on kick-starter
  • Soliciting donors

I think present tense diminishes any accomplishments as it sounds like the person is involved in some activity that may or may not be fruitful.

In addition, the way my original example is written sounds like it is a command given to someone else - hey you, develop financial software, and you - get coffee, and you over there - clean bathrooms.

Is this example CV/Resume provide any benefit by using present tense? And if not, is there any benefit to be gained by using present tense on a CV/resume (written in English)?

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This is short for "It is my job to develop... " and "It is my job to apply..." and so on. Resume-speak, like recipe instructions and newspaper headlines, doesn't follow the regular rules of English. –  Kate Gregory Dec 1 '12 at 18:55
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Is this something you were taught or something you have observed? Because as a former teacher of such things, this isn't something in the Big Book of Resume Rules or anything. Present tense for what you're doing now, past for what you did. –  jcmeloni Dec 1 '12 at 18:56
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Maybe that applicant is describing stuff she's currently doing now at a current job. Also, you should consider editing your question to focus on the problem. I'm afraid you've answered your own question in the actual question, which makes it not very constructive... If you make it more objective by editing out your opinion, you'll get better answers. Good luck! :) –  jmort253 Dec 1 '12 at 19:13
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In my experienced people tend to use the past tense when refering to achievements, and the present when listing out the dimensions or repsonibilities of a role. –  GuyM Dec 2 '12 at 18:03
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Hi Job, I've edited your question a bit to try and get it reopened. If I've changed your question too much, feel free to roll back the edit :) –  Rachel Dec 4 '12 at 13:32
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5 Answers

Every CV I've produced since the '80s used present tense for jobs I still held when the resume was presented, and past tense for those I had left. I've employed that strategy for over 25 years, and I'm still employable. As a matter of fact, I was complimented on my resume at my latest employer. In addition, my resume is three-and-a-half pages long, and I didn't include the first ten years of activity. Not because I didn't think it was appropriate, but, since technology is so different today compared to then, I just didn't think it was relevant.

A resume or curriculum vitae is a marketing tool, plain and simple. It is your first point of contact to develop a potentially lucrative business relationship. What you learn in academia is great when you are just starting out, but the goal is to eventually make the document your own expression of who you are based on your past accomplishments. Keep what you feel is appropriate, expand what you feel is pertinent, and discard what you feel is hampering. Be absolutely honest, but don't be compelled to include that which could be subject to misinterpretation.

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I think you obviously should use past tense for positions you no longer hold, and probably either a past or a perfect tense for current positions. For example, on a past job, "Developed social media strategies that raised brand awareness in the Turkish market." With a current position, "I have implemented coding standards that have helped employees better communicate during software development."

Of course, sometimes this comes down to personal style. If a project at a current firm was done some time ago, the past tense is appropriate.

When looking at a CV, I want to see that the person can clearly communicate what they have done and how that has contributed to the team they work/worked with. So long as they can get that across, and the qualifications are relevant, I'll put them in the queue for phone screening.

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I review CVs (or resumes) pretty quickly. I have to, because at that stage and in the current economic climate I'm usually looking for a 75-90% "cull rate" to get down to a managable shortlist for interview.

I'm probably not alone in this, and that means it is wise to present yourself in the best possible (and least generic) light. You need to stand out to get to an interview.

In my experience, present tense lists of activities tend to be associated with "roles and responsibilities" of each position; in many cases they read like they have been cut-and-pasted from a job description.

By contrast, the past tense tends to be associated with the candidate's (key) achievements in a given role; these might be the things they are proud of, or the things they feel that highlight their suitability for the role.

In general -

  • many people have similar jobs, so the roles and responsibilities in the present tense simply do not stand out; minimise these if you have to include them

  • most people deliver different things within a role, and so key achievements in the past tense tend to be more personalised and less generic; maximise these at all costs

  • the same idea applies to education and certification; projects are more impressive than exam results, and showing how you employed your training is more impressive than certifications

To sum up - I am always more impressed by what someone has achieved, and how they have demonstrated what they have learned. Using the past tense tends to focus your thoughts on these areas, which arethe things that make you unique when compared to others with a similar employment/education history.

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For a current position, present tense would be reasonable. But using present tense for past positions will seem odd to most native speakers.

I would not look favorably on a native English speaker who described past work in the present tense. I'm more forgiving when English is not the candidate's mother tongue.

The best candidates will have their resume reviewed by someone fluent in English. At least I would, if I were writing a resume in a language other than English.

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I don't think there is a good idea to distinguish between past and present jobs. In the end, you want the reader to imagine the resume as something of the past and imagine you at the new assignment.

Present seems more like a description of what your responsibilities where. A neutral way is to do something like this:

Random Dude at Random Inc.   
   Responsibilities: 
    - Develop business relationships
    - Handle patent paperwork
   Achievements: 
    - Increased business relationship with Whatever Inc. by 20%
    - Applied for more than 100 patents

Or simply use past tense all over. I mean, even if you still are developing business relationships today, you certainly where doing that yesterday?

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Makes perfect sense, thanks. –  Job Dec 28 '12 at 15:41
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