One of the most important pieces of a resume is the work history section. By showing recruiters you have worked, the type of work you’ve done and where you did it, the work history section, also known as the experience section, gives employers insight into what you can do for them and heavily factors into whether you get an on-site interview.
Why You Need a Work History Section
The purpose of a resume is to communicate to employers why you’re qualified for the job and the work experience section contains some of the most important evidence of that. That’s why all resumes, regardless of format, should include this section — even if you think you don’t have any experience.
What to Include in the Work Experience Section of A Resume
Your work history section should cover the last 10 to 15 years of employment, with a focus on your most relevant experience for the job, starting from your most recent position and working backward.
It’s crucial to customize your work history section for every job when writing your resume. When you take the time to tailor your work history to each job, experts tell us, you can gain employers’ interest:
It shows employers exactly how your past experiences will help you take on the specific needs of the job available.
It emphasizes your top job-related strengths that other candidates may not have, therefore, building your argument as to why you are the best person for the job.
It matches carefully selected keywords from your experience to those in the job description.
To tailor your job history section, start by pulling skills from the job requirements. Then think honestly about your own skills and write down all those that match those listed in the job description. After all, if you don’t have the required skills, employers will not be interested.
Career development expert Jeanna McGinnis says employers want to know what you have achieved through your daily responsibilities, so simply making a list of them isn’t enough. You’ll want to show what work you’ve done in a way that demonstrates to employers you are a cut above the rest. To do this, you need to note any “desired qualifications” and “responsibilities” listed in the job description.Think about your work experience and jot down notable, job-aligned achievements.
There are four basic elements to this section:
The companies you have worked for and their locations
The way you write your work history depends on its length and its relevance to the job.
If you’ve worked for more than 15 years or in multiple industries, you don’t have to list every place you’ve ever worked. Career experts advise listing only the last five years, as long as it’s relevant. You might consider using a combination resume format in this case, since it puts an equal emphasis on skills and work history.
If you are just starting out, then it is acceptable to list volunteer work, internships, summer jobs, school projects, part-time, freelance and temporary jobs — they all count as work! However, if the bulk of your work history comes from these sources, you might want to title this section “Experience” or “Relevant Experience” rather than “Work History” or “Work Experience.” It’s advisable for new workers to use a functional resume format, which emphasizes skills over work experience rather than a chronological resume format, which works better for those with three or more years of experience.
Dates of employment
For every job you list, add the dates you worked next to the company name, such as the following:
ACME Tutoring Company, February 2016 – July 2019
If you had more than one job at the same company, then list the dates you worked
in each job. And if you choose to use a functional resume format, then you can choose to omit months in your dates, since your skills will be emphasized.
Pro Tip for Writing Dates of Employment
Don’t fudge dates. If you were fired or laid off, had a temporary job to fill in an employment gap or quit for any reason, it may be tempting to change the dates you worked. You’re not the only one — it happens more than you might think. Eighty-five percent of job seekers lie on their resumes, according to J.T. O’Donnell, CEO and career expert. That’s amazing, especially considering candidates who lie are guaranteed to get caught eventually. That is exactly why you shouldn’t consider falsifying employment dates.
If you worked somewhere for less than six months, it’s OK to remove it if it doesn’t create a significant gap. One or two short-term jobs isn’t always a bad thing. As career coach Anish Majumdar explains, if you made significant contributions to the company or if it gives you experience you otherwise lack for the position, you should keep it and explain the dates in your cover letter or interview.
Job titles are one of the most underrated but critical aspects of a resume. They seem simple, but writing them is a bit more tricky than using the title you were given. With one glance at your previous job titles, employers get an idea of your employment path, whether or not you’ve been promoted or have advanced in your field, your probable salary level, and the amount of responsibility and expertise you’ve accrued. Job titles, it turns out, have become more important than ever, according to Ariel Schur, CEO of ABS Staffing Solutions. Some candidates, Schur says, are willing to give up thousands of dollars in exchange for what they feel is a better title.
Pro Tip for Writing Job Titles
Don’t embellish or change your title. This may seem obvious, but people lie about their job titles all the time. If you were a human resources coordinator in your last three jobs, but you’re trying to get a job as a human resources manager at another company, then you should be able to demonstrate achievements in at least one of your past jobs showing you’re capable of making the leap. A common background check will definitely reveal your actual titles, so it doesn’t pay to lie
Use standard titles. As noted on career website Dice, it’s best not to be creative with your job titles. You’re not a “human happiness evangelist,” you’re a human resources coordinator. And even if your last company called you something like project manager II, project specialist IV, scrum master or project objective facilitator, it’s best to use just project manager as your title, and present additional information about each role in your description.
Most applicant tracking systems (ATS) and artificial intelligence (AI) — software that parses resumes and filters candidates — won’t pick up unique or company-created titles. Such job titles will probably also confuse hiring managers who don’t know what they mean. It’s best to be specific and use standard titles, such as project manager, senior project manager or project coordinator, as long as it coincides with your duties and aligns with the job description.
Accomplishments and responsibilities
You have to dazzle employers with results to get a job. That means your resume work history must show you are a results-oriented person as opposed to a task-driven one. So rather than give employers a laundry list of your responsibilities for each job, point out what you did that helped the companies you worked for and you will stand out from the competition.
How to Identify Your Accomplishments
The best way to think about what you’ve accomplished at previous jobs is to focus on what you achieved with each task you performed. Even the simplest tasks can have big results.
Think about what you are most proud of from your past work experiences.
Note the challenges or problems you faced, how you tackled them, and describe exactly how your actions positively impacted your past employers.
Use numbers to quantify the results.
For example, if you are a nanny, one of your job experiences might read: Reduced family meal expenses by 30 percent through preparation of healthy, quick and appetizing homemade meals.
Accomplishment: “Prepared healthy, quick and appetizing homemade meals.”
Measurable result: “Reduced family meal expenses by 30 percent”
Pro Tips for Writing Job Accomplishments
Use “power” words to emphasize your top strengths. Such words bring your resume to life, helping you get past discerning ATS software and stand out in the eyes of employers. Power words include attention-grabbing verbs that describe work you’ve done, such as “executed,” “initiated” and “maximized;” and compelling keywords based on the job description that call out relevant skills and qualities, such as “troubleshoot,” motivated” or “innovative.”
Use three to five bullets Put the most relevant or impressive accomplishments first. When employers scan your resume, these bullet points will catch their attention.
Provide important context. A broader description of your responsibilities and role within the organization gives recruiters and hiring managers insight into the company you worked for and the scope of the project. For example, “Simplified start-up company’s employee onboarding procedures, improving operational efficiency by 40 percent and saving nearly 20K in revenue over three months, while boosting new hire retention by 65 percent.”
Align your achievements with your top skills. If your aim is to get a job in management, some of your bullet points should show specific ways you have led teams or managed budgets, projects or programs, and they should align with matching skills such as leadership, listening, agility and time management elsewhere on your resume.
5 Tips for Developing Your Work Experience Section
Customize every work history description to match the requirements of the job, where applicable.
Write to the future, not the past. In other words, emphasize the most essential information for your goals. Your current career goals should always determine which parts of your story to highlight. So if you are a coordinator and want to make the leap to manager, highlight your experiences leading a project, supervising a team or mentoring others, for example.
Format smartly. Where you place and how you structure your work experience section will be different depending on the format you choose.
Be selective. Determine the most relevant information by putting yourself in your potential employer’s position: Will this information help convince the employer that you are a worthwhile candidate to interview?
Draw parallels to past jobs. Find similarities that show your familiarity with the company’s culture, size or mission. For example, if you are applying to a brand-new start-up and have experience helping a small company expand, explain that in your description for that company.
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