If the professional summary is the appetizer, your work
experience is the main course of your resume.
Recruiters and HR managers read the work history on your resume to check if you have the experience required for the vacant position. They also use this record to compare you with other candidates, and see who is best fitted for their company.
Your work history shows potential employers what kind of employee you’ll be. It shows them whether you’ll be an asset to their team, a job hopper, or simply a wrong fit.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to write your work experience in a resume without exaggerating, and repeating your job description. You'll learn how to best format your resume and the strategic advice you need to stand out as a great candidate at each stage of your career.
What to Include in Your Resume Work Experience Section
How to approach your work experience in your resume varies according to how long you've been in the workforce. We'll address advice for fresh graduates first, then young professionals, and touch on executives work experience sections as well.
1. Fresh Graduates - Resume Work Experience
Figuring out how to write the experience section of their resume is the second-biggest hurdle new graduates face, next only to finding a new job. Entry-level candidates don’t want to appear inexperienced, that’s why it’s so tempting to stretch the truth about summer jobs.
Focus on Transferable Skills
The most recommended approach for new graduates is to focus on your transferable skills. Another is to leverage your internship experience. Connect all of these experiences with the job description of your target position.
For example, if you met weekly deadlines as the Sports Editor for your community newspaper, your time management skills are invaluable for many entry-level jobs. You should also emphasize your attention to detail, research, and communication skills.
Use Better Job Titles
Another thing you can do is play up your job titles—within reason. Frame previous babysitting jobs where you took care of kids from different families in your neighborhood as a child care management business. You can write Child Care Manager as your job title, and then write about your achievements in providing educational and recreational activities.
Include Relevant Experience
You might be tempted to write about your coursework and class projects in your employment history. Don’t waste this space. Employers look for well-rounded candidates who can do well outside of the classroom, not just test-takers.
Internship experience, volunteer experience, and temporary positions, however, wouldn’t be out of place in your work history, as long as you can link the experience with your career goal.
2. Young Professionals - Experience Section of Resume
Delete information about your coursework, GPA and Internship, now that you’ve had at least one paid full-time job related to your undergraduate course. Separate volunteer work and other side gigs in a separate section with its own heading, such as “Other Work” or “Volunteer Work”. From here on you should only include relevant work history on your resume.
Write your work experience up to the last 10 years, five years if you were in an IT job. If you were promoted in the same company, write your last position as the job title, then list the previous position you’ve held in the bullet points.
3. Managers and Executives - Resume Work History
Donna Svei, Executive Resume Writer and Recruiter, says:
“Recruiters want to see more experience for executive candidates, three to seven years—sometimes more—depending on the job level.”
At the management level, employers look for candidates who can add value to the organization with little training. What matters to them isn’t the time you spent on your previous jobs, but the contributions you made while in office.
How Far Back in Your Work History Should You Go?
There’s no right and wrong answer here. You can base it on how much job experience is required on the job ad. But what if there’s no work tenure requirement listed?
I talked to some recruitment experts to hear what they have to say.
Advice From Recruiting Experts
Matthew Burr, HR expert and Founder of Burr Consulting says:
“Generally, your employment history should have your last three positions. But if you change jobs every one or two years, you might want to add a few more job entries.”
Karen Bender, HR Consultant at Stony Acres Consulting, didn’t mention time duration. She says:
“Employers want to see enough history to understand the depth of a candidate’s experience. For experienced candidates, this doesn’t mean you need to detail the early parts of your career, unless they are relevant and unique for some reason.”
Some recruiters think removing the oldest five to ten years of your employment history might raise a red flag. To avoid this, you can include earlier positions in a separate heading titled “Earlier Career,” and fill it out with the job titles, company name, and employment duration. No need to elaborate about your achievements and duties.
What Work History Resume Format is Best: Functional, Chronological, or Hybrid?
Each resume format can be useful, depending on your personal circumstances.
1. Chronological Resume
A chronological resume lists your employment history with the most recent position at the top. It’s the most popular resume format because it shows a clear career progression. Use this format only if you’ve had a few years professional experience and a solid work history.
2. Functional Resume
Your achievements and employment details are separated. All achievements and skills are categorized according to the main requirements of your target job, while your employment history only shows the company name and duration.
Because this format focuses on your skills instead of your previous job titles, it works well for fresh graduates with limited experience or anyone with significant employment gaps.
- ResumesHow to Write a Functional or Skills-Based Resume (With Examples + Templates)Charley Mendoza
3. Hybrid or Combination Resume
The combination resume format is flexible, so you can re-arrange it in a way that suits your strengths. In this layout, your professional summary is followed by your list of skills and achievements, instead of your work history. It's often used for management and executive-level resumes.
- ResumesHow to Write the Perfect Executive Resume for Managers and Senior-Level PositionsCharley Mendoza
What’s to Include in Your Work History Section
Here are the different components you should include in each job history entry:
- Job Title: Use the industry-accepted and un-abbreviated version of your job title to avoid confusion. Write “American Sign Language Interpreter” instead of “ASL interpreter” and “Assistant District Attorney” instead of “ADA”
- Location: Include the city and state where you worked, especially for jobs where licensure information and state laws affect your occupation.
- Company Name: Like the job title, you should write your employer’s complete company name, and not an abbreviated version.
- Employment Duration: Month and year.
- Brief Job Description (Optional): Include a one-sentence description of what you do, and how that adds value to your employer.
How to Write Resume Work Experience Bullet Points (With Examples)
Choose Accomplishments to Include
Write achievements you can tie up with the skills listed on the job description. Jill Gugino Pante M.Ed, Director of Alfred Lerner College Career Center at the University of Delaware also suggests:
“Look at the company website and social media sites to get a feel of their values, mission, and goals. For example, if a company values impeccable customer service, some of your bullet points should include examples of when you exceeded customer expectations.”
Show on the Job Initiative
Susan Ranford of New York Jobs thinks accomplishments that show your enterprise and initiative work best. She adds:
“Include bullet accomplishments that show you developed a new stream of income for your company, or found a way to streamline a process. Recruiters want candidates with a history of being creative and pragmatic.”
“Chaired a committee in the Human Resources department that centralized job functions and eliminated unnecessary tasks, yielding over 7,000 saved man hours per year.”
Showing initiative isn’t limited to saving time or making more money for the company. Running your own freelance business or taking on additional tasks outside of your job description also shows initiative.
Use Objective and Clear Descriptions
Imagine a bullet point that reads:
“Several years of creative and resourceful Art teaching at Calaveras Hills School.”
While the bullet point includes the employer’s name, it’s sorely lacking in details. “Creative” and “resourceful” are subjective and tells nothing about the applicant’s teaching methods or classroom achievements.
Here’s a Better Example
“Supplemented subject matter textbooks with age appropriate art examples, and gained students’ attention using various teaching techniques, such as music, movies, and hands-on learning.”
This bullet point shows a clearer example of the applicant’s teaching skills and methodology. It also includes an accomplishment, “gained students’ attention.”
Write About What You Did, Not Just Your Years of Experience
The years you worked for a particular company are already listed at the top of each job entry, so there’s no need to reiterate it in a bullet point. Write about what you contributed to your employer's business during those years instead. That's what employers want to know. For Example:
“Four years of experience selling various computer chips and hardware parts, with proven ability to increase sales in my territory”
Writing about your ability to improve the sales in the town you work is useless, because every sales person is expected to do that. You should instead write about other specifics of your job, such as the products you sold, or the quote you exceeded. For example:
“Spearheaded a guerrilla marketing strategy that increased SaaS subscription sales by $357,000 in one year”
The example above shows the candidate’s creativity, initiative, sales specialty, and a verifiable achievement.
Always Include Skills Used, Action Taken, and the Results
Murtaza Bambot, Co-Founder of internship search site InternBlitz, says,
“I always tell candidates to emphasize what they did, why it was important, and the skills they used. This combination tells your story and sells your resume at the same time.”
Here’s a Standout Example From Bambot
“Generated $600,000+ in pipeline over two months through 350+ cold calls a week and 15+ email campaigns to about 2500 prospects”
You can also use any of the two combinations:
1. Results – Challenge – Action
An example from Bambot:
“Managed governance document to log status updates of 25+ projects spanning 5 departments by collaborating with 13 project leaders”
2. Action Verb – Skill – Results
From Alissa Carpenter, Owner of Everything’s Not OK and That’s OK:
“Designed and implemented key account strategies with retailers that resulted in an average 6% incremental year-over-year sales increase, and reduced the marketing budget by 13%”
Tips on Writing a Better Resume Experience Section
Know the Difference Between Good Bullets and Bad Bullets
Would you be impressed if you read the following bullet points?
“Juggled multiple deadlines for three different design projects”
“Encouraged collaboration between account executives and designers”
I know I wouldn’t be.
Multitasking and teamwork are soft skills expected in almost every job, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with including bullet points that emphasize those skills. Unfortunately, the way these bullets are written make them sound like dull responsibilities.
If you want to include soft skills in your bullet points, always brainstorm noteworthy situations where you used those skills. Here are a couple better examples:
1. For Collaboration
“Motivated an eight man team of executives and designers to create a winning proposal for a major telecommunications company”
2. For Multitasking
“Oversaw the successful launch of three email campaigns for one premiere online course worth $3500”
Use a Descriptive Job Title
Never exaggerate a past job title, but you can always use an improved or clearer version that better illustrates your role. For example:
“Customer Service Specialist” is better written as “Credit Card Billing and Customer Service Specialist”
Use the Right Power Words
I wrote a detailed guide about power words to use in effective resumes. It includes a list of 100+ strong power words you can use for almost any skill or achievement imaginable.
Check out the guide here:
Quantify Your Accomplishments
“Revamped Sykes Customer Service quality assurance checklist to improve customer satisfaction”
What’s missing in this bullet point? The bullet point mentions an improvement but it doesn’t specify by how much customer satisfaction went up.
Here’s a better version:
“Revamped the quality assurance checklist of Sykes Customer Service team to improve customer satisfaction ratings by 15%”
Add Job Specific Information
Your job title may have specific industry keywords, such as licensure information, software, or tasks. Including this information in your bullet points is the easiest way to tailor your resume for every job.
Here are specific examples:
“Top 10% in the Dental Hygienists Licensure Exam in Texas”
“Improved cost-per-click of Facebook Ads for online gaming client”
More Helpful Resume Resources
Grab a professional resume template from GraphicRiver or browse through our curated list below:
We also have plenty of tutorial resources to help you make a great resume:
- ResumesHow to Make a Great Professional Resume (For Top Jobs in 2019)Laura Spencer
- Resumes30+ Best Resume Tips: That Will Get You Noticed and HiredCharley Mendoza
- CareersHow to Make Your Resume the Perfect Length (+To the Point)Charley Mendoza
Remember: With the Right Words, There’s No Need to Lie on Your Resume
Do you sometimes feel like your resume work experience is inadequate compared to others? Could that be the reason you’re not getting called back?
There’s a huge chance your resume is just lacking the right details. Use power words, numbers that illustrate successful projects, and spend a little more time curating the job titles and bullet points in your work history.
Do frame your work experience in a way that highlights your accomplishments and best qualities as a candidate. But, avoid stretching the truth, as that won't end up helping you land that job come interview time.