For new college graduates, the first step toward getting started in a career is the most basic — writing a solid resume. Entry-level jobs may seem plentiful, but so is the competition: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, colleges and universities are expected to award one million associate's degrees, 1.9 million bachelor's degrees and 780,000 master's degrees during the 2018-2019 school year alone.
With so many potential applicants entering the job market, your resume needs to reach out and grab the hiring manager's attention. One of the best ways to market yourself as motivated and interesting is to pack your resume with action words.
Understanding resume action words
New graduates should aim to keep their resumes under one page. That means that space is at a premium. The best way to make the most of the space you have and differentiate yourself from the crowd is to use effective words in your resume — strong, powerful action verbs. We differentiate "action"verbs from "being" verbs like this:
- Being verbs. These verbs describe a state of being. Examples include "am," "was," "being" and "are." These verbs usually don't add information to your resume.
- Action verbs. As opposed to being verbs, action verbs add power. These words are descriptive and draw in the reader.
Some action verbs carry more weight than others. For example, consider the difference between "led a committee," and "spearheaded a committee." The words have similar meanings, but "spearheaded" suggests that your role in the committee included much more than running the weekly meetings.
Action words belong in the work history section of your resume, where you explain your duties and accomplishments from your past positions. Of course, many new graduates don't have much work experience to list. Action verbs are even more important in these cases to describe coursework, internships and organizations where you had transferable experience.
Combining action with evidence
"Applicant resumes tend to all sound alike," says Jennifer Way, president of Way Solutions. "Set yourself apart by presenting yourself confidently and persuasively. The best way to do that is to use strong action verbs on your resume that demonstrate your specific skill set. For example, don't tell me you have 'good communication skills.' Share that you presented to groups of up to 50 people or that you led a team of 20 volunteers to raise $10,000."
A passive resume is simply a list of activities you participated in, organizations you were a member of and grades you earned. Many job seekers — not just recent college grads — fall into the passive resume trap. Use these action words as a dynamic way to stand out to employers. In an action-oriented resume, the candidate:
- Initiates a new program
- Engineers a solution
- Formulates a response
- Diagnoses a problem
- Outpaces peers
- Standardizes a process
- Guides a team
- Quantifies an outcome
"Don't say you 'helped on a marketing plan' if you're a business major," Way recommends. "Say that you were a 'key contributor to developing the strategy to launch a digital product' or that you 'authored the copy for a social media campaign that reached 6,000 people.'"
Way also counsels job seekers to include numbers, wherever possible.
"Use bullets if you saved/made money, time or resources," she explains. "Include facts that demonstrate how you brought value or outperformed your peers."
Beating the bots
Another reason to use action verbs related to your major is to get through the resume-scanning software that employers use to weed out unqualified candidates. Also called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), these bots search for keywords specifically related to the job and the skills required to succeed.
If the job in question is relevant to your education and work experience, the wording in your entry-level resume may help you get past the scanning software. Of course, always read the job description carefully to find the skills that are most important to the hiring manager. Here’s a list of resume action words for a computer science major:
- Administered the lab email server
- Delivered a project written in C++
- Engineered an online payment system
Communications majors could say that they:
- Analyzed a challenge
- Brainstormed a strategy
- Conceptualized a message
- Communicated an initiative
Use your space wisely
You have a limited amount of space on your resume, so you need to get as much out of it as possible. Parse every word on it, especially every verb. Think about how you can list your accomplishments positively and descriptively. Action verbs are effective and powerful, so be sure your resume has as many of them as possible.
If you're wondering which type of resume is right for you, check out LiveCareer's collection of Resume Templates to decide on a layout and format. You can choose from several professionally designed layouts, or you can use the LiveCareer Resume Builder, which lets you personalize your resume without having to design it from scratch.