Job seekers are constantly being told to focus on relevant experience when they’re creating a resume. However, relevant experience can be relative, and thus difficult for many candidates to properly define. Sadly, that can make it hard for some job seekers to properly identify which previous employment experiences are most likely to be relevant in a new position.
Far too often, candidates assume that a past job is relevant, simply because they view it as such. In this post, we’ll examine the idea of relevant experience, offering some tips to help you better craft your resume narrative.
What is relevant experience?
Before you can even begin to include your relevant experience, you need to be able to identify relevancy. And when it comes to resumes, that means thinking like the employer. So, while you may have held jobs that seem very relevant to you, your opinion means less than the employer’s needs. Every open job position has certain requirements that need to be met. Different duties require specific skill sets. Ultimately, your job is to figure out which experiences and skills an employer is looking for from job candidates.
Obviously, you cannot read that employer’s mind, and it’s probably unwise to just blindly guess. The good news, though, is that you don’t need to read minds or guess and hope for the best. The reality is that there are a number of ways to identify the employer’s needs and your own relevant experience.
The following tips can help:
Tips to Identify Relevant Experience
1. Start with the job description
The job description is your best source for defining which experience will prove most relevant. To maximize its usefulness, you need to break it down into its central features:
Use a notepad or Word document to document your findings.
On that document, make two columns, with one labeled skills and the other labeled duties or responsibilities.
Now go through the job description, line by line, and highlight each job duty and named skill required.
Insert those skills and responsibilities into your document.
You now have a list of all the core skills you need for the job, and the responsibilities with which you will be tasked.
Go through your resume and identify previous jobs where you’ve had similar responsibilities or been required to use similar skills.
Make a list of those jobs, the duties you performed, and the skills you used.
Be sure to use the exact keywords from the job description in your job list.
2. Omit irrelevant experience
As you go through that list process, you should eliminate any previous job experience that lacks relevancy. That will include many of your early jobs, as well as any that use completely different skill sets.
However, if you had soft skills or some technical skills that could be transferred over to your desired position, note them under a separate list. They can be included in a separate resume header section labeled “Other Skills” or “Special Skills.”
3. Quality over quantity
Avoid the temptation to stretch the definition of relevancy just to pad your resume. Employers care more about the quality of your relevant experience than the quantity.
Remember, their goal is to ensure that you have the knowledge and skills needed to fill the position. For most employers, it won’t matter whether that relevant experience was all gained at one job or ten.
4. Ignore past job titles; focus on problems and solutions
As you go through your prior work history, ignore your job titles. Those titles don’t always tell the story when it comes to relevant experience. Instead, focus on the tasks and challenges you faced, and the solutions and results you achieved. In most instances, those results will prove the true relevancy of your experience.
5. Achievements matter more than duties
Don’t fall into the trap of highlighting the tasks you performed in past jobs. Instead, focus on what you achieved. Try to use real numbers to highlight the value of any relevant experience. That’s the best way to ensure that a potential employer sees just how relevant your prior work history truly is.
For example, don’t simply say that you led the company’s advertising team. Instead, describe that experience using quantifiable numbers that showcase value:
Led ABC Corp’s 12-person ad team, revolutionized client ad campaigns, increased client retention by 23%, and profits by 31% yearly.
View 200+ more professional resume samples for all industries, along with a guide to writing resumes from our career experts.
6. Don’t forget to highlight your skills
Finally, emphasize those skills. Always describe how you used relevant skills, to showcase their importance. That will help to ensure that you create a resume filled with relevant experience that speaks to an employer’s needs. And that’s the best way to showcase yourself as the top candidate for the job and land that crucial interview.
having the right combination of skills is key to passing the ATS scans. Learn how in our guide: 10 Vital Skills to Put on Your Resume & Stand Out
7. Hire a professional resume writer
It can be next to impossible to tell what is important and what is not important when it comes to information on your resume. If you're spending an hour or more debating if your experience is relevant, consider hiring a professional resume writer.
While we can't speak for all resume writers, ZipJob's team of 100+ professional writers have experience working with people in all industries. We're used to working one-on-one to answer all your questions and deliver an effective resume. Our writers are trained to identify what employers and Applicant Tracking Systems look for. When in doubt, hire a resume writing professional!
Deciding which of your skills and accomplishments is an important part of an effective resume. You don't want to fall into the trap of providing too much information and forcing the employer to decide what is relevant. Instead, you need to tailor your resume to answer "why am I the right person for this job?"
Robert Campbell, Editor & Content Writer
Robert Campbell is a writer and editor based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Having been immersed in the resume / CV writing world for almost a decade, he currently coaches new and experienced writers in the nuance of crafting employment documents for a global clientele. With a diverse professional background in marketing, teaching, and the hospitality industry, Robert currently enjoys working for ZipJob, serving clients who need help navigating their next career move.