There is so much advice out there about various techniques to beef up a resume that it’s often easy to forget about the most important part of any resume-creation process: the inclusion of details about your work experience. The fact is that your work experience may be the single-most important information that any hiring manager considers – especially during that critical interview-selection process. With that in mind, how much experience should you include? And how exactly should you include that work experience on your resume?
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make involves how much work experience to include in your resume. Obviously, if you’ve only had one or two jobs in your life then the decision will be a simple one: list it all. However, if you’ve had several jobs throughout your career, then you should sift through them to determine which ones hold the most relevance for your current job search efforts. Chances are that your earlier jobs will be far less important for resume purposes.
If you’ve had four or five jobs during your current career arc, you can certainly justify excluding the first few entry-level jobs that you held – especially if those jobs involved something outside your current field or area of expertise.
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 fast food jobs you held during high school and college. That’s one of the first things you’ll notice when reviewing relevant work experience examples online.
As a rule, you should try to limit your work experience to four to six positions, and list them in bullet point format. That helps to ensure that they’re easy to read, easily distinguishable from one another, and organized in a way that helps the hiring manager better understand your career path. If you do decide to include any of those earlier jobs, it’s often best to do it in a single, all-inclusive paragraph at the end of the work experience section – usually beginning with the words, “Additional experience includes…”
If you’re struggling to decide just how much work experience to include, keep this rule in mind: most employers want to see information about the last ten or fifteen years of work.
Anything before that timeframe is less important to most hiring managers, since they assume that you’ve grown and progressed as an employee in that most recent decade. One exception to this rule would be if those earlier jobs were directly related to your more recent employment, or to the job you’re currently seeking. You can look at some of the better work experience resume template offerings online to get an idea about how this is handled.
You have several options when it comes to labeling the experience section.
Here are some acceptable title for your work experience section:
You may also want to consider the other areas of the resume when selecting this label, to ensure continuity and consistency. This is especially important if you are relying on experience such as volunteer activities to round out your work history. In that case, you might want to have two sections – one labeled Volunteer Experience, and the other labeled Employment Experience or Professional Experience.
Sometimes, it’s easier to understand how these things work when you can view an example. We’ve included a “How to add work experience in a resume” sample for your review, to show how proper formatting and word choice can make all the difference in the world. Here’s an example of a powerful work experiencing listing that can serve as a template for your own work history section:
It may also be effective to have a small introduction to your bullet points. It isn’t mandatory but if you have a lot of information or want to highlight an achievement, you should do so in a couple of sentences.
It’s vital that you place your work history details in one easily-identifiable section of your resume. That will help the hiring manager to quickly locate that information, evaluate your credentials, and determine whether your experience fulfills the baseline requirements that the company has established. While you should use some creativity when you’re trying to spruce up your resume and make it more inviting to potential employers, the basic organization of your work experience details is one area where tradition still holds sway.
Of course, it’s not enough to just label the section properly and provide a list of basic employment information. Competition in the job market is fiercer than ever before, and hiring managers scrutinize resumes in search of that “special something” that really makes a job candidate stand out from other applicants. To help your resume stand out, you need to set aside the traditional, boring job description that resumes have used for so many years.
Instead of that dry, dull recitation of your work history, try to present the information in a way that tells the hiring manager more about you as an employee. Use language and descriptions that help to quantify the results you achieved in those prior jobs, so that he or she can better evaluate your potential value to the company.
That hiring manager will learn little about your overall value potential from a statement like:
On the other hand, you could list that experience as follows:
Given those two choices, the second clearly presents your work history at XYZ Corp as experience that produced real results for your employer, while the first offers little incentive for hiring managers to consider you for an interview. Of the two, the results-focused listing is clearly the more intriguing option.
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. Most hiring managers don’t want to wade through unbroken mountains of text, however. Bullet points are great for highlighting key bits of information, but they’re not always best-suited for separating your responsibilities and actual achievements. It’s often better to use a combination of both paragraphs and bullet points.
As mentioned before, for each job listing, you can create a short paragraph that you use to explain your position and role in the company. You can then use bullet points to detail the actual results you achieved, and the value that you added to that company’s bottom line. You can even add a subheading for those achievements, to ensure that hiring managers can quickly find those accomplishments when reviewing your resume.
The fact is that your work experience doesn’t have to be the most boring section of your resume. Given its important role in helping to convey information about your qualifications, that’s the last thing that you should accept. Fortunately, you can ensure that your work history drives your message by learning how to include work experience on a resume, and focusing your experience descriptions on the positive results you achieved for those past employers.