Writing the Work Experience Resume

Writing a work experience resume isn’t always a straightforward process. There are several hidden pitfalls to writing this kind of resume! This is because most people don’t have straightforward work histories.

While employers prefer a straight line of uninterrupted work history across 2-3 key companies over a ten year period of time with progressively greater responsibilities, most people’s lives aren’t so neat and clean. It’s important to showcase your own life story to your own best advantage. This requires you to make several choices, sometimes between competing resume principles. It also requires you to develop and exercise some good writing and selling skills. You’ll need strategies for navigating common, tricky situations, as well. Stressful as all of this may sound, almost anyone can use some reasonably simple principles to create resumes that act as stellar career search tools.

Do Your Homework

Writing the work experience resume is far easier if you are willing to perform a few simple organizational tasks before you get started. Start by listing each of your previous positions by job title, company, location, and dates. Then, note the jobs where you have accomplished the most or have had the most responsibility. Finally, list out each of the jobs you will be applying for. Often, you will need a separate resume for each position. It may be helpful to categorize your job experience for each position, as well. Some jobs may be fully relevant, some may only have transferrable skills, some may fill gaps in your work history but be irrelevant, and some may serve no useful purpose at all. Having all of this information written out and sorted beforehand can be a great help in writing the actual resume.

What Counts as Work Experience?

“Work experience” covers a very broad category of activities. It covers all full-time work, part-time work, contact work, temporary work, internship work, and volunteer work. It also covers self-employment of any kind, even odd jobs. The gold is sometimes not so much in what you’ve done but how you are able to present what you’ve done. Keep this in mind.

Work Experience Resume Order of Presentation

Typically the order which you choose to present your work experience in is the subject of some debate among professional resume writers and career coaches. One school of thought says that your most relevant work experience should always come first. Others stress the need to present all relevant jobs in reverse chronological order, with the most recent job on top regardless of what that job happened to be.

Chronological order is the best choice, however, you should spend more time writing up the achievements from the more relevant jobs. This demonstrates that you don’t have any employment gaps while highlighting what you’re capable of, while putting more focus on achievements that will matter to your future employer rather than distracting the employer with achievements or skills that won’t matter to that organization or position.

You do not have to list every job, however. If you took a second job washing dishes to make money one Christmas that’s not something you have to list on your resume.

Language that Sells

Each of your most relevant jobs should get a short 1-2 sentence description of specific accomplishments. One good way to build these statements is by use of the “problem, solution, results” method. In this method, you explain a problem that your former company faced, then discuss the specific method you used to solve the problem. Finally, you address the result. For example:

Rescued 15 failing high-level accounts by using my negotiation and facilitation skills, saving the company $185,000 in annual revenue.

If this isn’t possible because your job didn’t seem to lend itself to such thinking (for example, you answered 105 phone lines and juggled 3-4 calls at a time all day long, a job that takes skill but which leaves very little room for much of anything else), you can use specific numbers or evocative statements to paint a picture of the value that you brought to the organization. If you answered 105 phone lines say so—that’s an impressive feat in its own right! What you want to stay away from are laundry lists of duties or responsibilities, because you want to avoid inciting boredom or making the employer think that you don’t take initiative. “C++ programming” is just a job duty or a skill. “Custom-designed 7 point-of-sale systems for company clients using C++” is the kind of descriptive language that is more likely to make a potential employer sit up and take notice of what you can do.

Specific Resume Problems

  • You have no experience in the field you want to work in. The best way to handle a lack of experience is to volunteer in the new field until you have some relevant experience to share. If you can’t do this for financial reasons then showcase the most relevant cross-over skills and focus on the job titles which are closest to the position you are hoping to obtain.
  • You have gaps in your employment history. Many people have this problem, especially since 2008. You can explain some gaps in a diplomatic, productive way: perhaps you took time off to continue your education, or to travel, to attend to health issues or to care for a family member. You can also choose to leave out the gaps entirely, focusing on a reverse chronological history of your most relevant experience and ignoring them altogether. If you treat them as irrelevant there’s a chance your employer will as well. If asked about this in an interview you can always say: “Of course I have stayed productive, but I wanted to be sure to respect your time by focusing on only those portions of my experience which were relevant to your organization.” It is possible meeting the objection in that way will simply put any questions to rest and allow you to continue your interview. Employment gaps are tricky, so this will take some judgment on your part.
  • You’ve only had one, long-term employer. You can handle this issue one of two ways. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all, so you can spend the time and space discussing your specific accomplishments. If you have held multiple positions in the organization you can also list each of those positions and focus on an accomplishment for each relevant position (or all of them, if you have the space).
  • You’ve been a “job-hopper.” In spite of the rise in temporary and contract work, there is still a stigma attached to having many short-term employers. In part, this is a subconscious, snap-decision based on the aesthetics of the resume, so combat it by lumping related jobs under one title and listing out the companies. You can write “2008-2012, Project Manager (Company A, Company B, Company C) instead of listing the Project Management job three times by company. The job title, and not the company name, is the more important part of your resume. Treat the title as a normal job title and list your accomplishments as normal.
  • Your self-employment consists primarily of odd jobs or looks as if it does. If you’re not careful, self-employment can look a lot like unemployment, and “failed business owner” never looked great on a resume. Create an appropriate job title for whatever it was you did, whether it was “Repair Technician,” “Marketing Consultant,” or “Child Care Provider.” Add the notation that you were self-employed, then make it clear that you have real clients or customers who can provide references. Be prepared to explain why you are seeking mainstream employment now.

Other Considerations

Make sure your resume is a clean, one-page presentation on standard paper. Avoid listing more than three positions or covering a period longer than ten years. You should also avoid irrelevant information like your hobbies, familial status or religious affiliations. Finally, use bolded headlines and clean formatting to create a striking presentation. Though it can take a great deal of work to make it perfect, your new work experience resume will soon be ready to help you land a great new job!