Most job seekers use a reverse chronological format for their resume, listing their most recent employment first. But that format may not be the best way to showcase your relevant skills and experience.
How you format your resume, your work history, and the information you highlight dramatically impact if potential employers will recognize what you can offer to their company. The tips and tricks covered in this post will help you create an amazing resume that gets noticed.
Why Is Work Experience on a Resume Important?
Work experience is important because employers want to know that you can actually do the job they need. When they read your resume, they want to see that you have some relevant experience in the field.
The hiring manager will likely glance through the work experience section of your resume first. If they see what they want, they will take a deeper look at your application. For this reason, your work history section and the resume style you use are critical to getting interviews.
What Do You Use if You Don't Have a Work History Yet?
If you don't have any paid work experience, focus on the skills you've gained from volunteer positions, internships, or extracurricular activities. Here are a few questions to help highlight your accomplishments outside of a paid position:
Did you complete tasks that were beyond what was required?
Did you manage projects or teams successfully?
What skills did you develop, or what experience did you gain?
Did anyone recognize your contributions through awards?
Select Your Most Relevant Work Experience
As you write the work history section of your resume, be concise and focus on highly relevant information. Including too much detail or extraneous experience makes it challenging for hiring managers to quickly recognize your skills and experience.
If you're not sure what is relevant, go through the job descriptions. You don't have to customize your resume for each application; look at several postings for the position you want to get for a clear picture of what employers are looking for in a candidate.
Important Information to Include in Your Work History
Generally, you want to include a minimum of three past employers if you have them. If you've had more than three, you can pick the most relevant to your current position. If they are all relevant, include the three most recent.
Here is the basic information employers will expect to see in your resume work history:
Names of the companies or organizations
Locations of your past employers (city and state)
The dates you were employed (for example, Aug. 2019–Nov. 2022)
The specific job titles you held during your employment
The responsibilities you had and the impact you made (bullet points)
Awards and recognitions
Use Bullet Points and Be Concise
Use bullet points to make the most of the space. Keep sentences short and sweet so that each one stands out from the rest.
Keep it concise! Each bullet point should say only one thing at a time. Don't combine multiple tasks or responsibilities into one statement unless they're related. For example, an exception might be, "Worked as an intern and learned about the software development process."
Highlight Your Accomplishments
To write the best resume for your experience, follow this format to highlight your accomplishments.
Start by describing your primary responsibilities and the skills you demonstrated in that position. For example, if you were anAccountant, you might write:
Quickly processed accounts payable and receivable.
Maintained accurate and comprehensive reports.
Kept management informed about unusual expenses, chronically late receivables, or potential cash flow challenges.
Then transform your bullet points with specific details to make a strong impression on resume reviewers. Here’s one way the above examples can be rewritten:
Processed all accounts payable and receivable within one business day.
Maintained accurate and comprehensive reports that informed management decisions and resulted in a 150% increase in monthly revenue.
Eliminated cash flow gaps by carefully monitoring unusual expenses and taking action on chronically late receivables.
Use Numbers Where Possible
Use numbers to quantify your impact on the company, team, project, customer, or community. A resume that says, "Won a contract worth $10 million over two years," is more impressive than one that says, "Won contracts." The first example shows that you won a significant amount of money for the company; the second example makes it sound like you were just doing what all salespeople do—win contracts.
You can also use numbers to show how many people benefited from your work. For example, how much something "increased" or "decreased" is thanks to your efforts. A Sales Manager might report that she increased sales by 25% and decreased employee attrition by 10%.
Quantifying your experience helps the hiring manager visualize how you approached a task. To demonstrate your skills, focus on results. Instead of saying you have "strong interpersonal skills," give specific examples of how your interpersonal skills got results. For example, "I was able to build rapport quickly with new clients over the phone and in person."
Choose the Best Resume Format for Your Work Experience
Job seekers typically use one of three common resume formats: chronological, functional, and combination. Each has pros and cons, but they all have the same goal—highlighting your most relevant skills and experiences.
A chronological format is the most common work experience format because it shows a clear progression through your career. You start with your most recent job experience and list relevant jobs in order of when you had them.
A hiring manager will see your current or most recent position at the top of your work history and can follow your experience through time by reading down the list. A chronological format is a good choice if you have several years of consistent employment and progressive career growth.
If you don't have much experience or cannot show a linear progression due to career changes or gaps, a functional resume may be a better way to highlight your skills. Instead of listing your experiences along a timeline, you organize your skills and achievements to match the desired jobs.
In the functional resume style, you will list your relevant skills in a separate section above the "work history" section with the names of your previous employers and the length of your employment.
For example, your functional resume may include the following sections:
A resume summary (concise summary of what you bring to the position)
A skills summary section (highlight 3 to 5 skills with bullet points underneath each to illustrate how you've demonstrated those skills)
An education section
Optional sections include Certificates, Courses & Training, Awards, Languages, or Projects
A work experience section
The combination format highlights your skills while also showing a chronological work history. Using the combination resume format, you start with a professional summary, then present a section to highlight your skills, and then add your work history.
This hybrid or combination format lets you focus on important skills at the top of your resume. You can use it for any job level, but it is often used when applying for a management or executive-level position.
Proofread Before You Submit
Always proofread your resume before submitting it. You don’t want to be passed over because of a typo. Here are a few things to check:
Did you use the same tense throughout your document?
Are the tone and style consistent (i.e., formal or casual)?
Are names, places, and descriptions accurate?
Review your punctuation—is it consistent?
Is everything spelled correctly? Remember, there are some words a spell-checker won't catch.
A Well-Written Resume Gets Your Foot in the Door
While most employers want to know about your past work experience, what they're really looking to understand is what you can offer them. Your resume is an opportunity to help them understand what you can bring to the position, and the best way to do that is to highlight your relevant skills and achievements.
Don't be tempted to include every great thing you've ever done because the most essential information can get lost. Think about what is most important to employers hiring for your desired position. Let that guide what skills and experiences you include and the resume format you use.
A new job can be a new beginning. Whether you are looking for a raise, promotion, change of scenery, more flexible schedule, better benefits, or a new adventure, think of your well-written resume as the ticket that helps you get in the door.
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