Should I write my CV in the past or the present tense? – CV Plaza

Should I write my CV in the past or the present tense?

By: Sobhan Mohmand, Editorial manager       Last updated: 5 Nov 2018

past-tense-present-cv

What on earth can the movie Back to the Future have anything to do with your CV?

It seems that like Marty McFly, many applicants are also confused about the past and present.

I’m going to share with you a quick hack that can immediately improve the impact of your CV and it is related to the correct use of verb tenses.

Don’t worry; this is not going to be a remake of those horrible language classes that you had to endure when you were younger!

Overview

Let’s get to the basics and refresh our memories.

Verbs come in three tenses; past, present and future.

  • The past is used to describe things that have already happened
  • The present is used to describe things that are currently happening
  • The future tense is used to describe things that will happen in the future

For the purposes of writing your CV, we are only interested in the past and present tenses while ignoring the future tense.

Tips

Below are some quick tips to enhance your CV by using the verb tenses correctly:

  • Anything related to your previous positions/jobs should be in the past tense
  • Anything related to your current position should be in the present tense
  • Anything achieved/finished in your current job should be in the past tense
Examples of using the past tense for previous job entries

The majority of applications use verbs (for example “work”) in their present participle (ending with -ing: “working“) rather than in its past participle (e.g. ending with -ed: “worked“) when referring to their previous job responsibilities.

Here are some typical examples of what applicants write on their CVs:

  • “Responsible for analysing the finance books of a multinational organisation.”
  • “Duties included managing a group of young students.”
  • “Having experience in working with a group of 20 sales professionals.”

That doesn’t look too bad, right?

Now, let’s rephrase these verbs into the past tense and behold the magic:

  • Analysed the finance books of a multinational organisation.”
  • Managed a group of young students.”
  • Worked with a group of 20 sales professionals.”

The past tense is incredibly powerful because it actually gives the impression that you have really achieved something. It tells the recruiter: I have taken care of it. It’s finished. It’s done and dusted!

A weaker form of writing on your CV is to use the present tense such as “directing”, “designing”, and “investigating.”

These phrases can make the recruiter wonder; “have they actually achieved it?”, “Did they complete the task?” or “Was it a half-baked job?”

Instead, replace them with the past tense; “directed”, “designed”, and “investigated.” – Doing this gives your CV that authoritative-punch which it so dearly needs.

Alternative

If you do not wish to write your previous job’s entries in the past tense, you can write “Main duties performed” at the top of your entries:

use-past-or-present-tense-on-cv

This format is not as strong as using the past tense for all job entries.

Whichever approach you take, these little things matter and can indeed enhance and strengthen your CV subconsciously without realising it.

Good luck!