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My dear friend is being too critical of me. I wrote the following in my resume:

Wrote a program in R to efficiently integrate and match student data from multiple sources.

Then he says "So did your program/code actually work?" He says that the infinitive form suggests only why I wrote the program and not if the program actually worked or not. He says that the infinitive version makes it seem like I'm probably hiding that fact that after hours of coding, the program didn't actually work. He suggests I that change the wording to indicate my code actually worked:

Wrote a program in R that efficiently integrated and matched student data from multiple sources.

Is there an actual difference between the two? If my friend is correct, I'd probably have to go change every sentence of that form "Verb-ed XYZ to verb ABC" to "Verb-ed XYZ that/and verb-ed ABC".

Developed a model to identify, analyze, and explain economic inefficiencies in the system.

The above would then become

Developed a model that/and identified, analyzed, and explained economic inefficiencies in the system.

Note: This comment perfectly summarizes what my friend is saying:

To be clear: to + infinitive indicates your intention. that + simple past indicates your accomplishment. – Jeffrey Carney 24 mins ago

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    To me, the chances that someone is going to read your resume this closely seem very very slim. Your friend is correct, strictly speaking. But the structure you've used is very common on resumes. When I encounter it, I never assume the applicant is trying to hide something. What would be the point? Why not just lie and say the program worked, even if it didn't?
    – Juhasz
    Oct 25 '21 at 19:44
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    On a resume`, you have one chance to impress the person reading it. My advice is to state what you did so clearly that there's no possible way they could wonder if your program worked or not. Yes, use the past tense, not the infinitive. Oct 25 '21 at 19:46
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    To be clear: to + infinitive indicates your intention. that + simple past indicates your accomplishment. Oct 25 '21 at 19:51
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    The difference in terms of English is slight and only expert nit-pickers like myself (and apparently your friend) are likely to notice it. As someone who has reviewed a lot of resumes, I would suggest a less task-oriented approach that discusses your skills instead of exactly what you did. That program you wrote obviously means you have some familiarity with R, but what other things did you need to know to accomplish the task? This helps people who might be less familiar with the technologies that are screening resumes by looking for key terms that the technical people have requested.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 25 '21 at 19:52
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    @ColleenV I would say that depends on the nature of the job applied for. if the job is similar in scope and skills to the previous one, so the hiring manager will likely know just what it took to write that program, task-oriented is best. If it is significantly different, skills-oriented may be better. And I am now far off-topic here Oct 25 '21 at 20:03
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Strictly speaking, the friend is correct here. I am reminded of a famous exchange from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I:

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come, when you do call for them?”

The distinction between purpose and result can be subtle but very important. The Sorcerer's apprentice cast a spell to animate one mop and bucket. But that wasn't the result.

In most contexts the difference will not be noted, as the intent will be obvious. But a resume is apt to be scrutinized closely, not just for what it says, but for how it says it, as a test of the applicant's communication skills. So I would write it to emphasize what you accomplished, not what you intended, and use "Developed a model that..." (not "and").

In response to a comment:

The reason I prefer "that" to "and" here is that "I did X and Y" indicates association, and possibly sequence, but not causation. It is a weak joining. "I went to the park and played basketball" probably means that the person played basketball in the park, but could mean he went to the park, swam there, then came home, then played basketball. "I went to school and texted Jo" was the texting done at school or after school? "Developed a model and identified..." does not make it clear that the model did the identifying, it may have been quite separate. The use of "that" makes the causative connection much more clear, which in a resume is important.

Where "that" does not work some other form must be found, it is not a bad idea to avoid excessive parallelism anyway. The other form might use "and" but if a stonger connection can be made it would be well to do so.

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  • David, thanks for the answer. But can you clarify why you don't prefer the "and" there? In some cases "that" doesn't work. For example, "I went to the park to play basketball". This tells us about the intention or the reason for going to the park, but not the actual activity done at the park. But "I went to the park and played basketball" conclusively states the action.
    – AIQ
    Oct 25 '21 at 21:07
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    @AIQ Because "I X and Y" indicates association, and possibly sequence, but not causation. It is a weak joining. "I went to the park and played basketball" probably means that the person played basketball in the park, but could mean he went to the park, swam there, came home, then played basketball. "I went to school and texted Jo" was texting at school or after? "Developed a model and identified..." does not make it clear that the model did the identifying, it may have been quite separate. The use of "that" makes the causative connection much more clear, which in a resume is important. Oct 25 '21 at 21:27
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    Everything David said, plus the way it was originally written contains elements of passive speaking. You want your résumé to project confidence and linguistic theory suggests active voice does this better.
    – mcalex
    Oct 26 '21 at 8:20
  • @mcalex So many of you have added important information here and there, but no one will write that in an answer. Comments get deleted, and that information can be lost. Please consider adding an answer!
    – AIQ
    Oct 26 '21 at 11:13

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