Helpful Action Phrases

In the hundreds of resumes I have critiqued and rewrote over the past 20+ years, a major short coming I encounter is an ineffective past or present tense action verb starting the accomplishment: such as help, assist or worked with. Each of your accomplishment based statements/ bullet points, must have a definitive, descriptive, strong action verb describing your skill. Where possible, use skills that are out of the norm, that stand out, that are very visual.

  • Use design, develop and deliver or execute, all in one statement. It is perfectly acceptable to use two or three skills to describe the action taken.
  • Conducted needs analysis….., or an orchestra, lol
  • Pioneered the first….. When you initiated it
  • Spearheaded a team of…. Sure beats ‘Led’
  • Trail blazed our company into social media… when breaking new ground, similar to pioneering
  • Facilitated strategic meetings… instead of ‘held’
  • Utilized a full range of services… instead of used
  • Developed and implemented…if you did more than manage something tell what you got your hands dirty doing
  • Revamped outdated training materials…
  • Orchestrated the United Way campaign…think of yourself as a maestro, coordinating various departments then use orchestrate
  • Negotiated 15 labor contracts… use numbers where you can
  • Divested five subsidiary companies from…use your thesaurus

Though most resumes are written from an Action + Result perspective, it is also acceptable to start a bullet point with the verb that defines the RESULT.

  • Reduced/Increased
  • Reversed
  • Divested
  • Strengthened
  • Recovered, etc

Stay away from these weak, say nothing verbs:

  • Handled – too vague, use a more definitive verb. You don’t handle people which is where one usually sees this and if you handled money what did you do with the money?
  • Worked – is too generic and doesn’t evoke any vision of the action you actually did to accomplish the task. Eg) Worked with the team…doing what?
  • Assisted – isn’t the accomplishment or action verb, it belongs at the end of the sentence Eg) Did ABC and D, as part of a team or assisting the VP of HR.
  • Helped – what did you actually help do? what more specific action verb would be more definitive? Managed? Directed? Collated? Fine tuned?

After determining what powerful action verb to use you need to add in a strong result. After the action ask the questions HOW? or SO WHAT? to get the result.

Eg) ‘Managed a team of eight sales reps…..’

HOW? doesn’t work here so use SO WHAT.

“Coached and managed a team of eight sales reps SO WHAT? who trail blazed 10 new territories in eight months, acquiring 150 new clients and increasing revenues 80%.”

None knows better than you what you really did from day to day, so help the reader out and blow your own horn.

Colleen Clarke

Downplaying Your Experience on a Resumé

When the job market is really tight and there is plenty of competition for advertised positions, job seekers may start thinking of down grading their education, experience and knowledge. Sometimes that is a prudent decision. Leaving data off your resume is not lying, whereas adding untruths is.

Applying for positions of a lower level than you have achieved in your career is not something anyone takes pleasure in having to do. You worked hard to acquire your education and experience and now to get the job to feed the family and to survive, you have decided to down play your accomplishments.

How you present yourself is as important as what you decide to hold back.


  • The most common omission is to leave out post graduate education, especially a Masters or PhD.
  • If you were an honor student in high school or university and you are in your early 20’s, keep your Honor
  • Keep in courses you have taken within the last two years. Courses show you are up to date with training though not over educated and therefore an affordable and bright candidate.


  • If the role is not one of leadership and you have been a leader or manager, downplay words like Manage, Supervise, Oversee, Direct, Lead. (and these words in the past tense)
  • Normally I would not condone starting a sentence with “Assisting someone…” and then stating the action verb, but to down play your involvement and ability start with those words and then state what you did, rather than the other way around.
  • When 5 years is required and you have over 10, use Honed or Developed to describe your experience, rather than the number of years.
  • With more than 15-20 years of experience, say: Extensive experience with……to mask your superiority.
  • If you speak more languages than are required, omit the ones you know you won’t need to use.
  • If global experience isn’t a benefit and you have worked internationally, take all the cities off your resume that would normally go next to the company name, even the local city you live in now.
  • Quantitative information is essential in a resume and you don’t want to lie. Use about or approximately, under or over in front of an amount to lower the number of dollars or people from your responsibility.


  • There is a difference between knowledge of, ability to and Doing It. If you are too advanced for a skill or aptitude, say you have knowledge of… or the ability to…. rather than Do it everyday and am a wiz bang at it.
  • Don’t down play what you do know or what you need to know to get the job done. How well you can do something with the knowledge is a tad different.

When you hold back information on a resume you may have to alter the interview as well. Stay focused on what the job requires in the first interview at least, not what you could do over and above. Certainly you can use intuition and speculation of what you would do if… to describe desired outcomes.

You get the interview. Now you have to convince the interviewer that you are not going to run out on them when a more lucrative job comes along, which is one of the biggest concerns a hiring manager has, ergo, altering your resume.

Colleen Clarke