Back to basics: verb, verbs, verbs

Y’know, you’d think that, over time, there would be some evidence of evolutionary development in that species known as résumés. You’d think that lessons learned by one generation would be passed along to the next and that each generation of résumés – as an entire species – would be better developed than the ones before. If you follow what Charles Darwin said about natural selection, this is an easy conclusion at which to arrive.

But maybe Darwin was too focused on life and life forms in the Galapagos Islands. Or maybe those lessons that were there to learn were not learned, after all. Maybe natural selection just doesn’t apply here. Résumés haven’t gotten better.

With all the complexities and mutations in careers, the job market, job searching, and career management that have arisen and intertwined over the years and decades and generations, why am I discussing this basic issue? Don’t we have more complicated things to think about?

As an independent career coach, I’ve been writing résumés for 20-plus years. As a hiring manager, I started reading them 20-plus years before that. OK, so a lot of considerations go into putting together a top-notch résumé, and it’s something that should be done by a professional – make that, a thoughtful professional who knows what s/he is doing – yet here I am, about ready to get as basic as can be: Where are your verbs?

Just for context, what brought this up today was an interesting coincidence. Cleaning out some old files in the basement, I came across a couple of résumés I received 26 years ago (hard copies, of course) when I was recruiting a nationwide sales force. Honestly, I didn’t save them on purpose; I evidently never cleaned out the file cabinet thoroughly.

In any event, aside from all the fun flashbacks, I immediately noticed that almost none of the bullet points started with a verb. There were a whole lot of “Responsible for” and “Duties include” – not to mention other parts of speech (nouns and adverbs) from start to finish – but a paucity of verbs. What was the coincidence? A résumé I received just yesterday – more than a quarter of a century later – was almost identical. There I was, looking at specimens from the same species, nearly two generations apart, and nothing had changed. I don’t get it, but I don’t think Darwin would have either. This condition should have been history; instead, it persists.

Now, depending on which English language scholar you reference, there are no less than 25,000 verbs in our robust language – representing about one-seventh of our words – and it could be much more. And that’s not to mention the creative practice of  anthimeria: using a noun as a verb – Google it, Fedex it, or UPS it – but that’s a whole “nother” story. It’s a lot of verbs! So why aren’t some of them showing up on your résumé? There are plenty to pick from.

Instead of hand wringing, let’s get practical. Immediately below are 160 verbs. Every single bullet point on your résumé – no exceptions – should start with one of these – or one of the other 24,840 you can find in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary:

Accelerated, accomplished, achieved, acquired, acted, activated, administered, advised, appointed, arranged, assessed, attained, audited, augmented, bought, budgeted, built, captured, centralized, collaborated, combined, completed, composed, concluded, conceived, condensed, conducted, consolidated, contracted, contributed, controlled, created, cultivated, decentralized, decreased, delegated, delivered, demonstrated, designated, designed, determined, developed, diagnosed, directed, documented, doubled, edited, eliminated, employed, ended, enforced, engineered, ensured, established, exceeded, executed, expanded, expedited, extended, extracted, finalized, finished, forecast, formed, formulated, framed, generated, guarded, guided, headed, hired, implemented, improved, improvised, increased, initiated, inspected, installed, instructed, insured, introduced, invented, invested investigated, judged, launched, led, liquidated, located, maintained, managed, marketed, minimized, modernized, monitored, motivated, negotiated, obtained, operated, organized, originated, performed, persuaded, pioneered, planned, presented, prevented, processed, procured, produced, programmed, promoted, proved, provided, published, purchased, recognized, recommended, recruited, rectified, reconciled, redesigned, reduced, regulated, reorganized, renegotiated, renewed, reorganized, reported, researched, resolved, reviewed, revised, revitalized, saved, scheduled, selected, served, simplified, sold, solved, staffed, standardized, streamlined, studied, supervised, supplemented, supported, surpassed, taught, tested, trained, translated, tripled, uncovered, unified, utilized, won, worked, wrote.

Verbs are action words and, therefore, considered sui generis – the only way to start a bullet point in a résumé. There’s so much more that goes into a good bullet point, let alone an entire résumé, but the verbs issue is a good place to start.

So perhaps it’s time to go from evolution to revolution.

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