Is Your Resume Active or Passive?

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Some people are active, and some are passive. In general, the former are enthused and display leadership qualities, while the latter tend to be laid-back and easy-going. People are different, which is okay, but only one type of resume is effective—the active one. That doesn’t mean you need to be aggressive, and you don’t even have to lead a team, but you do need to take action within your role, and your resume shows a prospective employer you can do just that. 

Before looking at how you can make your resume active, we need to examine the difference between the two types. Regardless of what your resume looks like, take action and hire a professional resume writer to assist you in creating an active resume! 

Active vs. passive 

An effective way to make your resume more active is to use the active voice. The passive voice almost never has a place in a resume. Voice is a woefully misunderstood aspect of grammar, with many people thinking there are arbitrary categories that define how “exciting” a verb is. However, voice is a grammatical category unconcerned with the “excitement” factor. There’s an easy way to tell whether a sentence is passive or active. 


 If a sentence is passive, the subject (typically the first noun in a sentence) receives the action. The agent (the performer of the action) is different from the subject, which is simply a recipient of the action.

An easy test to determine whether a sentence is in the passive voice is to insert “by (you/me/us/them, etc.)” after the verb. If it fits logically, the structure is passive. 


Unlike a passive verb, where the subject receives the action, an active verb indicates that the subject performs the action. The active voice represents the “default” for a sentence. The subject (doer of the action) performs the action (verb), and something or someone else receives the action if the verb is transitive. Intransitive verbs (i.e., verbs that don’t take an object, like “go”) are always active (you can’t say “I was went”). Just be careful because some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive—“jump” is intransitive when you mean leaping into the air, but “I was jumped” is perfectly acceptable because it’s a transitive verb here referring to a mugging.

The best test to determine whether a verb is active is the same as above—just check whether you can add “by (you/me/us/them, etc.)” If that’s not grammatically possible, your verb is active. 

Active vs. passive examples

How do you make sure your resume is active? Let’s take a look at some examples of passive sentences and learn how to make them active. 

A promotion was given to me after I increased sales over a span of six months.

Now, apply the test to see what kind of verb you have. You can insert “by (someone)” after the verb, and it makes sense, so it is passive. 

Here’s a trickier one:

Promoted after increasing sales over a span of six months.

Still passive? Yes! The subject is omitted, but we know it’s “I,” and you’re the recipient of the action. More importantly, you can add “by (someone)” after “promoted.” To turn this passive verb into an active one, think about who performed the action. Since the resume is about you, the subject should also be you. So, to make this sentence active, you would say:

I earned a promotion for increasing sales over a span of six months.

The sentence now focuses on you earning a promotion. In your resume, you want to keep the spotlight on yourself, so make sure you’re the one behind the action. Let’s look at a few more examples:

An award was given to me for my outstanding work. [passive] 

I received an award for my outstanding work in engineering. [active]

A team was assigned to me to supervise during projects. [passive]

I supervised a team during company projects. [active]

Turning passive verbs into active ones is crucial in a resume. Scan yours for any passive verbs and change them. You want your accomplishments to shine!

Choosing the most effective action verbs

Now it’s time to focus on choosing the best action verbs to convey your message. Unlike the active voice, which is a grammatical category concerned with who is performing an action and not the action itself, “action verbs” refer to “exciting” or “powerful” verbs that pack a punch. The best verbs depend on your specific industry. Here are some examples of strong action verbs that can demonstrate your skills and experience:

  • Improved
  • Evaluated
  • Solved
  • Generated
  • Prepared
  • Supervised
  • Utilized
  • Invented
  • Established
  • Coached

Verbs like these help you stand out and demonstrate your drive and initiative. Aim to use verbs like these in your resume. 

Using action verbs to present your achievements 

It’s not only about the verbs you use—it’s also about what you’re saying with them. You want to highlight your achievements, not just your actions. Reflect on your previous jobs and the responsibilities you had. What did you do that was unique? Could anyone else have done that job as well as you did? What concrete results did your efforts produce? These are the types of things you want to include in your resume. Don’t settle for merely listing your actions—highlight your achievements. Not only is this infinitely more valuable, but it also proves that you’re not lying about your skills. Here’s an example: 

Responsible for creating strategies to increase seasonal sales [action]

Created advertising strategies to increase seasonal sales by 30% in one year [achievement]

As you can see, using the most effective action verbs to highlight your achievements results in a resume that stands out.

Regardless of whether you’re a passive or an active person, your resume should always revolve around action. Mastering the skill of turning the passive voice into the active voice and choosing the best action verbs will help highlight your achievements. Don’t settle for a passive resume—get a resume expert to turn it into an active one!

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