The work experience section is the meat and potatoes of your resume. It can make or break your application. A well-written, informative and expertly organized summary of your work history will generate interest and compel the Hiring Manager to get you that all-important job interview.
But writing a solid resume work experience can be a problem for both entry-level employees and those with more than 10 years under their belt.
The best way to figure out your approach in writing this section is to ask yourself two questions:
- “What does the Hiring Manager want to see in my resume?”
- “What information would convince the company to hire me?”
The answer to the first question can be summed up in one word: Growth.
Certainly, you have acquired skills, gained experience and matured in the course of managing different sets of responsibilities throughout your career. Recruiters and those who work in Human Resources want to see how far you have developed as a paid professional as well as get a sense of your level of drive and ambition.
For example, if you are applying for the position of Client Relations Manager in a company that provides customer support services, Human Resources would want to gauge the following skills from your work experience section:
- Have you done Supervisory work?
- How many years did you work as Supervisor?
- How long did it take you to get promoted to Supervisor?
- How many people did you manage as a Supervisor?
- What benchmarks were used by the company to grade your performance and what were your scores?
For the second question, you will have to do some research and it should start with the job post itself.
In addition to the designation, job posts will also contain information on the following:
- The purpose of the job;
- Skills and qualifications needed for the job;
- Minimum work experience.
Take note of these details which are normally phrased with popular keywords. Conduct an accounting of your overall work history and identify those experiences which fit the job description in the post.
If you will transmit a copy of your resume via email, make sure these keywords are included in the work description. Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which uses keyword recognition to prequalify applications.
You should also visit the company’s website and social media pages. Find out their core values, mission vision, corporate history, the people behind the company, their achievements, latest developments and involvement in socio-civic activities.
Try to gain an understanding of who the company is in the same that the company will try to get an idea of you who are from your resume. By getting a firm understanding of the potential employer’s culture, you will be able to structure a resume which can read like a perfect fit for the company.
Once you have an idea of how to approach the composition of your resume, attention should now shift to what to put in it.
What Should You Include in Your Work Experience?
Recruiters go through volumes of applications every day. It will not be possible to get the stack of resumes moving if they were to scrutinize every one of them with a fine tooth comb. The most experienced people in Human Resources only scan resumes.
But whether the study that recruiters spend only six seconds scanning a resume is accurate or not, one thing is for certain. Most of their time will be spent zeroing in on the details of your work experience.
It may seem like a dichotomous situation, but you have to keep your work experience concise without sparing the important details.
What details are these?
- Name of Company
- City and State
- Inclusive dates of employment
- Scope of Work/ Responsibilities
- Achievements/ Accomplishments
As we mentioned earlier, identifying which experiences to include could present a problem for both entry level and seasoned employee.
Let’s break down the process of writing the work experience for both these types of applicants:
1. Entry Level Employee
If you have very little to zero work experience; even for on-the-job training, include every single type of activity that would be considered proof of practical application of desired skills.
It may seem like a tall order but given time, effort and introspection you might be surprised how closely related seemingly distinct jobs are.
In the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness”, Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner sold bone density scanners. But his drive, persistence and ability to quickly solve a Rubik’s Cube were enough to convince the manager of one of the city’s biggest brokerage firms to give him an internship as a stockbroker.
You should have a good balance of hard and soft skills in your resume. Hard skills are quantifiable abilities that include technical and fundamental competencies you acquired through formal instruction. Soft skills are the behavioral or personality attributes you developed from various life experiences.
The cultural or organizational fit is a big thing for companies these days. More corporate headhunters are shifting their focus on candidates with the ideal behavioral profile than just having the required competencies.
As business conditions become more volatile and unpredictable, companies are looking for potential leaders who can foresee change, develop flexible business strategies and make quick decisions.
Again, go back to the job post and take note of the skills required for the job. Review your skill set and identify which ones are relevant or transferable to the position. When composing your work experience, use the keywords that were in the job post.
2. Highly Experienced Employee
For the highly experienced employee, the problem is the opposite. When your work history is vast, you have to be strategic in selecting which experience should go on your resume.
This can be quite a challenge for those who have worked for more than 10 years. The job post and your research on the company should be your main reference points in identifying the most relevant experiences.
You may have heard or come across the advice that resume length should only be limited to one page. If your experience exceeds 10 years, it will be difficult to stick to one page without the risk of foregoing key information.
As a general guideline, the ratio is one page for every 10 years experience. But that is not a strict rule. Content should remain your number one priority. Make sure you have all the important details included in your work experience even if it takes multiple pages to get it done.
If removing some experiences creates gaps, you can still include them by presenting these in a truncated format.
- Other work experiences include telemarketing work at High Touch Business Solutions (2017 to 2016) and bartending work at Chili’s Bar and Grill (1997 to 1998).
How to Write the Best Job Descriptions
Even when it comes to resume writing, content is king. The rules of effective content writing apply to composing job descriptions which means what you share must be
People enjoy reading great content and recruiters are no exception. Having lengthy work experience does not give you the license to ramble or rant when describing your various job responsibilities.
As mentioned in the previous section the challenge is to keep your job description concise and to the point without compromising important details.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts on how to write the best job description:
1. Don’t Write a Lengthy Description of Every Position You Handled – A day in the life of a Hiring Manager can be very tedious. The last thing they would want is to go through a lengthy description of the job position before going through the scope of responsibilities.
Hiring managers are experienced enough to know what your previous employment entailed. They just want to see what you did and how you contributed to the success of your employer. Forget all the fluff and go straight to the good stuff.
2. Do Integrate the Right Keywords – Recruiters rely heavily on keywords to accurately scan a resume. Make their job easier by integrating the keywords that were used in the job post. It will also improve your chances of being considered for the interview because it gives the resume a more customized feel which is always a plus for recruiters.
3. Do Utilize PAR – The best way to compose your accomplishments is to view them from the Problem Results Action or PAR standpoint.
This means to structure the accomplishment by stating first the problem you had to resolve, followed by the course of action you took then finally the outcome or how your decision benefited the company.
4. Do Substantiate Your Accomplishments – It is never enough to just state your accomplishments. You should substantiate it with facts, figures and other relevant statistics. Otherwise, hiring managers will just take it with face value.
5. Don’t Lie! – When it comes to your resume, there is no benefit to lying. “White lies”, “sugar coating the truth” or “bending the truth a bit” all mean the same thing: Lying!
Don’t take the chance that the person reviewing your resume will not bother to validate your figures or accomplishments. In the age of digital and the Internet, it is very easy to uncover the truth.
6. Do Place the Outcome Front and Center – Going back to #3 “Utilize PAR”, you could present your accomplishments by framing the outcome as the solution to the problem.
Improved profitability by 32% despite sluggish sales by outsourcing non-core functions to third party service providers which streamlined operating costs by 88% within 6 months.
7. Do Organize with Bullet Points – In order to keep details concise and to the point, keep your sentences short. And the best way to present them in an organized manner is with the use of bullet points.
You don’t have to write down a litany of responsibilities and achievements. Select 5 to 6 key tasks and add 1 to 2 significant accomplishments.
8. Do Use the Appropriate Verbs – Used properly in a resume, verbs can become “power words” and have an influence on how the reader views or reacts to its contents.
Choose the right verbs and they will highlight your abilities and potential contributions to the employer. Choose the wrong verbs and they can make you the same as everyone else.
Last but certainly not the least, don’t forget to run a grammar and spelling check on your work experience and the entire resume. Wrong grammar and misspelled words are unacceptable and are indicative of an irresponsible attitude.
Two Common Problems Faced When Writing Work Experience
Human Resource personnel will tell you the two most common problems applicant face when writing their work experience are:
- Unemployment Gaps
- Age Discrimination
Unemployment gaps are common especially when job markets have been tight. Life can also throw you a curveball. Your career could be coming along splendidly until something unexpected happens such as:
- Personal Illness
- Illness in the Family
- Death in the Family
- Parenting Responsibilities
Hiring managers are more understanding than you think. Some of them may have been in the same situation and thus are more sympathetic. If the unemployment gap exceeds six months, you should preempt the issue by disclosing it in the resume objective.
The resume objective functions as your formal introduction to the recruiter. This is the ideal section to share your story. There is no use trying to hide an unemployment gap especially if it opens up a glaring void in your work history.
Use the resume objective to inform the Hiring Manager why you went through a long period of unemployment.
The problem of age discrimination affects those with long and extensive work experience. Some companies may think your values will not fit the organization especially if most of the founders and top managers are quite young. Your age may lead the company to think you could have pending health and fitness issues.
As we advised in the section “How to Write the Best Job Descriptions” focus on including relevant work experiences. Those that are not related to the position you are applying for may be discarded or if you wish present in a truncated format as we showed you in “What Should You Include in Your Work Experience?”.
As you have just read, writing a solid work experience for your resume is not that difficult.
The most important thing to remember is to write it specifically for the company you are applying to. Each employer has different demands, needs, history, and culture. It is not just the content of your resume that will make a difference but also its tone.
We go back to our advice that you should always customize your resume. No one in Human Resources will appreciate a generic looking and sounding resume especially when it comes to your work experience.
If you are planning to apply for the job of Restaurant Manager that needs someone with marketing and customer service skills, do not present your work experience in this manner:
Restaurant Manager; Big Belly Burgers and Shakes
June 2015 to present
- Responsible for store marketing.
- Handled customer service for the restaurant.
- Distributed flyers.
- Upsold value meals.
- Responded to customer complaints.
These job descriptions do not say much if anything at all. You should present a more substantive description of your duties that will qualify you as a candidate for serious marketing and customer service skills:
Restaurant Manager; Big Belly Burgers and Shakes
June 2015 to present
- Collaborated with head office marketing department to conceptualize traditional strategies such as flyer distribution, streamer and poster installation, press releases in combination with digitized strategies including social media marketing, content creation, video production and online promotions.
- Campaign strategy to combine traditional with Internet-based strategies increased system-wide sales by 47%.
- Tasked to manage customer support services which include in-store channels, social media moderation, website chat support and email support.
- Within the first 3 months of the revamped customer support program, turnaround time (TAT) improved to 24 hours, conflict resolution was addressed 99% and “Excellent” customer approval ratings increased by 84%.
You can see right away the difference in substance and content. The Hiring Manager will always appreciate the candidate who puts in more thought and effort in his or her resume than someone who thinks all job applications are the same.
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