When writing your resume, you should spend the most time on your work experience section. The work experience section takes up the bulk of your resume. Although it seems self-explanatory, this section requires more effort than you might think!
By work experience, we mean the job titles and details of your career so far. This is the section that most people think of when they imagine a resume. Since it’s such a basic element of a resume, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to stand out. Our team of career experts, Fortune 500 recruiters, and hiring managers developed a proven system for maximizing this resume section.
One of the most common mistakes we see in the resume industry is a resume experience section that only lists job duties and responsibilities. In fact, there is so much more you can do with this section to prove your value!
This comprehensive guide will help you include all the right work experience on your resume to help you impress hiring managers and land more interviews. However, if you’re looking for an answer for one of the most frequently asked questions, you can navigate this menu instead of reading the full article.
How do I start my work experience section?
Your work experience has the most content of any resume section, so you want to start with a clear strategy.
Hiring managers will be able to know a lot about your work history just by reading your job title. Your goal, then, is to make write impactful bullet points that describe how you did something or what you accomplished. Before you get to that, though, you need two things: a title for this section of your resume and a list of your relevant jobs.
To start, you should open a blank document on your computer so you can easily add, remove, and rearrange your work history as you build your resume’s experience section. Then, add a title. This crucial element will let both an ATS and a hiring manager what the section contains.
What should I title my resume’s experience section?
“The section headings should be very straightforward,” warns Jennifer Johnson, a career expert and former hiring manager.
“Most ATS systems are programmed to understand basic section headings i.e. ‘Work Experience, Education, etc.’ If you get too creative with the headings it can confuse the ATS scans and skew your results.
You don’t want to get creative when titling your resume sections. ATS scans are looking for certain headings, so you want to use a title that is both descriptive and basic. Here are some examples:
- Work Experience: the most common option!
- Work History
- Experience: this has been gaining popularity as people match their resume to their LinkedIn profiles
- Employment History
- Employment Experience
- Professional Experience: a good choice for someone with a variety of professional experience outside of a traditional office setting, such as internships or freelancing
Next, you need to identify what experience you have will help you land this job. Start with a list of your job titles and the date ranges. Depending on where you are on your career path, you probably want to include or exclude certain experiences.
How much experience should I include on my resume?
Ideally, you want to include all of your relevant experience–with no irrelevant experience–and plenty of keywords throughout. Your most relevant experience will be recent, related to your career goals, and prove you are capable of adding value to the company.
You’ll almost certainly want to include your most current or most recent experience. For your older positions, start listing what you did, what you learned, and what you accomplished. This is going to be the framework for your experience section.
What counts as experience on a resume?
Your professional experience can include any and all exposure you’ve had to skills, training, or practical applications that qualify you for a job. Most often, this section consists of full-time office work, but times are changing. Resumes now often include freelance work, side hustles, internships, entrepreneurial pursuits, volunteer work, and passion projects. It all comes down to relevance.
Relevant experience will differ by employers, so here’s a tip: always refer to the job description.
While reviewing the job description, identify your job titles, skills, and education that would satisfy the basic qualifications. Sometimes, this means adding in a volunteer project you wouldn’t usually consider professional work experience. On the other hand, if you have a former position that doesn’t support your current career goals, you do not have to include it on your resume.
We’ll talk more about determining what is relevant experience in a minute.
💡ZipTip: our experts recommend that your resume should be two pages long. Find out why (and what to include).
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.
For career changers, your relevant experience must be strategic in a different way. You have experience to draw on, but it’s in a different field or under a different job title. When you’re writing a resume for a new job target, you must translate the experience you already have into experience that an employer will see as beneficial. If you fail to translate your skills and value effectively, your experience becomes irrelevant to the employer.
While you can be selective in what jobs you include on your resume, you shouldn’t make up work or lie about your title for 2 reasons:
- Employers can check your employment background (to an extent).
- If you’re caught lying, most employers will immediately reject you as a candidate–among other possible consequences.
As we’ve all heard, honesty is the best policy. Your resume is no different.
What is irrelevant experience on a resume?
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. Unlike a CV, a resume does not have to be an exhaustive list of your work history. Your resume is a marketing document to sell your best qualities and qualifications.
For example, if your last four jobs have been technical in nature–data management, computer programming, or something similar–then you certainly don’t need to include details about the two part-time food service jobs you held during high school. That’s one of the first things you’ll notice when reviewing relevant work experience examples online: older jobs are either omitted or delegated to an “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.
How do I write about my 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.
- How to Use The STAR Method On Your Resume
- Resume Bullet Points vs Paragraphs
- 10 Vital Skills To Put On Your Resume To Stand Out
Alternatively, if your resume’s work experience section is already exceeding a page an a half, go back to the irrelvant experience section in this guide. Hiring managers spend about six seconds on each resume, so you want to prioritize what 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.
How do I format my work experience section?
Where format is concerned, you have three options: paragraphs, bullet points, or a combination of the two. Paragraphs allow you to present your narrative, and give you greater creativity in describing your jobs and the results you achieved. However, your details will start to blur together after two lines of text.
Bullet points are great for highlighting key bits of information. But, bullet points work best if you limit them to your most impressive work. Generally, you should use six or fewer per section to avoid the “block of text” effect.
The key is balance. That’s why it’s often better to use a combination of both paragraphs and bullet points.
To demonstrate this, let’s look at some real examples and dissect why they’re effective.
How do I put it all together?
Now it’s time to combine your job titles, relevant experience, accomplishments, and skills into a complete, effective resume section. Here are some examples that do this well.
Work experience for a Laboratory Assistant example
This example only uses bullet points. Each bullet point is one line or less, and there are only six bullet points total. These are important formatting tips, because it helps keep blocks of text to a minimum.
Notice that each bullet point 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.
💡ZipTip: read our complete guide on exactly how to use keywords on your resume.
Example of work experience for a Business Manager
This example uses both paragraphs and bullet points. The paragraph talks about over-arching 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.
💡ZipTip: view 200+ more professional resume samples for all industries, along with a 2020 guide to writing resumes from our experts.
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 work experience on a resume. 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!