When employers look at your resume, there are usually two main areas that they focus their attention on right from the start. The first is your skills section, as they try to determine whether you have the abilities that you’ll need to do the job.
After you craft a stand-out skills section, you should spend quite a bit of your time ensuring that your resume work experience section conveys compelling information that resonates with the employers you’re targeting.
In this post, we will examine the resume work experience section in more detail and explain why work experience is such a critical component of any successful resume. We’ll also offer some advice that can help you learn how to show your work experience on your resume and provide some great examples you can refer to as you create your own.
What is resume work experience?
Prospective employers will always be looking for information that can confirm your qualifications for their open position. One key area of interest will be your resume work experience section. That section should contain relevant information about your work history that showcases your ability to achieve positive benefits for your employer.
Of course, that information needs to be presented in a clear and cohesive manner and provide vital details about your career trajectory. For each job you list, you need to include the company name, your job title, the dates of employment, and several key achievements.
This work experience can encompass both full and part-time employment, relevant volunteer work, and internships. Resumes now often include freelance work, side hustles, entrepreneurial pursuits, and even passion projects. It all comes down to relevance.
What is relevant experience on a resume?
Relevant experience is what will help an employer decide whether you are worth interviewing. You need to identify what the employer wants to see. Relevant experience can be measured by the number of years you’ve worked in an industry, but it can also be related to the skills you have or what you have accomplished in similar roles.
If you don’t have much professional work experience, consider your academic, internship, volunteer, and other learning opportunities. Compare the skills you gained to the skills included in the job description. If there’s a significant overlap, you can include the experience you gained before joining the full-time workforce.
How can you know when experience is irrelevant?
Irrelevant experience is anything that won’t help you land the interview. It may be experience from 15 years ago, or job titles before you earned a certification or degree that set you on your current career path. When you’re well-established in your career, you can remove entry-level positions from your resume.
That’s right! If you’ve been in your field for many years, you can be selective about what job titles you include on your resume. Remember, your resume is a marketing document to sell your best qualities and qualifications. If necessary, older positions can be moved to a separate Additional Experience section.
In general, consider these three things to determine whether your experience is irrelevant:
The experience is from a vastly different field
The experience is from 10 to 15 years ago, or you’ve had more than 4 job titles since then
You gained no value from the experience
To add an Additional Experience section, match the formatting of your Work Experience section, but don't add as much detail. In fact, this could simply be a heading and two lines of text with additional jobs you've held as in the example below.
Why does resume work experience matter?
While your skill section is important, the reality is that most employers will pay more attention to your resume work experience section – and with good reason. Anyone can say that they have a certain set of skills, but demonstrating those skills is another thing entirely. That’s where the experience section comes into play.
If you can successfully detail your work history in a way that showcases your abilities and value as an employee, you can separate yourself from the competition. Many job seekers create resumes that simply list their job roles and responsibilities. Employers, however, are more interested in achievements than responsibilities.
Why? Because every worker has responsibilities. The real question is whether they’re able to achieve anything of value as they execute those responsibilities. If you can craft a resume work experience story that showcases achievements with real value, that will make the right kind of impression on any hiring manager.
Tips you can use to show work experience on your resume
Below are some simple and straightforward tips that can help you learn how to properly showcase your resume work experience. Follow these tips step-by-step, and you should be able to create a compelling narrative that will make hiring managers want to learn more about you – which means they’ll be more likely to offer you an interview opportunity.
Use an understandable label for your work history section
Begin this section by deciding how you want to label it. There are two primary considerations, of course. First, you want to make sure that the section label can be understood by applicant tracking systems (ATS), so don’t get too creative with the terminology. Second, you want to make sure that you use a label that hiring managers will instantly recognize as they are scanning the document.
Refer to our guide on the Top 10 Tips to Get Your Resume Past ATS Scans.
The following labels are all good options if you want to ensure that your resume can be easily read by automated screeners and human hiring managers:
Include the right details
Your resume work experience needs to provide the right type of information about each job. Most experts recommend listing every relevant job you’ve held over the last 10 or 15 years and trying to include at least three previous employers. Obviously, if the job posting indicates that the company is looking for even more experience than that, you may need to go back even further into your work history.
For each company that you include in this section, list the following details:
The full name of the company. This is important since your prospective employer may want to contact your previous bosses to confirm your resume details.
The company’s location. Again, this information is useful for both formal and informal background checks. Typically, listing the city and state in which the company is located is all you need to do.
The dates of employment. List both the start and end dates of your time with each company. If you have any significant employment gaps that can be glossed over by simply listing the years of employment, do that instead.
Your job title. Include your official job title. Spell out every word and try to avoid acronyms to avoid potential misunderstandings. Be as specific as possible.
Role description. It’s often helpful to include a brief, two or three-line description of your role that clearly defines the scope of your duties. This can help to set the tone for your list of achievements.
Quantifiable achievements. For each position you held, create three or more bullet point examples of measurable achievements. These can help show how you used your skills to provide quantifiable value to your employer. The key is to use real numbers to show that benefit. For example: Organized, developed, and implemented a new product tracking system that reduced inefficiencies by 17%.
Other information, including promotions that you earned, any notable awards, special projects, committee participation, and languages.
Use the right format
There are three basic formats you can choose for your resume: the functional, hybrid, and chronological format. Most job seekers should use the chronological option – and specifically, the reverse-chronological format. This format is preferred by most employers, can be easily reviewed by ATS screeners, and offers a straightforward way to organize your resume information.
To use the reverse-chronological format, simply list each job in reverse order – starting with your current or most recent position. This enables the prospective employer to quickly review your most recent achievements while also seeing your overall career trajectory over the past decade.
How to write about your work experience
Once you have your framework of relevant experience, you can start filling in the details of your professional experiences. As mentioned in the intro of this guide, you can do much better than listing out the obvious tasks you performed. Hiring managers will be able to guess most of that from your job title.
Instead, you want to elaborate. You want to delight and impress your audience. You want to balance keyword-optimized text with eye-catching results. To manage these goals, you need to provide context, results, numbers, and skills to each line of your experience section.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself as you start to write your work experience on your resume:
What is this job looking for in a candidate?
How does my experience fit in with this job?
What are my key professional accomplishments?
What did I achieve in this role?
What skills have I gained through education, experience, and professional development?
What did my work result in?
Use your answers to write bullet points organized under the corresponding job title. If you're drawing a blank, refer to the examples in this guide (below) and check out these resources.
Alternatively, if your resume's work experience section is already exceeding a page and a half, consider removing any irrelevant information in the resume. Hiring managers spend about six seconds on each resume, so you want to prioritize the information you include and how you organize it. Cap your resume document to two pages with your most impressive qualifications on the top of the first page.
Resume work experience examples
To get a better understanding of how these tips can help you create a truly professional looking resume work experience section, we’ve compiled some excellent examples you can use as inspiration.
Resume work experience listing for a Laboratory Assistant
This example only uses bullet points. Each bullet point is one line or less, and there are only six bullet points in total. These are important formatting tips because they help keep blocks of text to a minimum.
Notice that each bullet point of your resume starts with a strong action word. This trick makes the candidate appear active, engaged, and impressive.
This resume work experience example also incorporates a lot of skills common to the laboratory testing field: analyze, testing, measurement, and treatment. It also gives context to how this applicant displays soft skills like teamwork, communication, and collaboration. This is a great example of incorporating keywords through a resume.
Example of work experience for a Business Manager
This example uses both paragraphs and bullet points. The paragraph talks about overarching achievements, while the bullet points highlight specific accomplishments. It's a good balance of text and key points that is easy to visually scan for keywords and value.
The numbers in this example jump out and quantify how the candidate was able to provide value, promote sales growth, and earn recognition among a competitive talent pool.
View 200+ more professional resume samples for all industries, along with a guide to writing resumes from our career experts.
A stellar resume work experience section makes all the difference in the world!
Your work experience can be engaging and invite further conversation when written strategically. Given its important role in helping to convey your qualifications, you don't want it to be boring!
Fortunately, you can ensure that your professional history proves you're a great candidate by learning how to include resume work experience in a compelling way. Remember to focus on your results and accomplishments, provide numbers and context when possible, and use plenty of keywords.
Good luck with your job search!
Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer
Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.