How to Describe Work Experience on a Resume: Practical Tips & Examples

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

When reviewing job applications, recruiters and hiring managers spend most of their time looking for relevant skills and experiences in the resume work experience section.


Considering this, it's no surprise that the work history is a core element of any resume.


So, to create a successful resume that impresses employers and leads to interviews, this section of your resume needs to be nothing short of perfect.


To help you write an impeccable work experience section, in this guide, we'll cover:

In short, we'll share all the information you need to write a work history section that sets you apart from other candidates.


Ready? Let's dive into it.




 


What should be included in the work experience section?


The main purpose of the work experience section is pretty straightforward - it's a place on a resume where you list your employment history.


The work experience section should, at a minimum, include:

  • job title

  • company name

  • job's start and end date (preferably both month and year)

  • descriptions of your responsibilities and achievements

It should look like this:



In addition to a basic description of your role, duties, and skills, go ahead and include any notable accomplishments or contributions to that company.


The more impressive your work experience sounds, the better chances are that you'll be invited to an interview.



 


How to list work experience on a resume?


Listing work experience in reverse-chronological order is the most common -- and preferred way of organizing work history on a resume.


This approach may seem counterintuitive at first. However, this is how the experience is typically presented on resumes.


Think about it from the reader's perspective.


When employers receive hundreds of job applications to review, they want to scan them quickly, focusing first on the most important information showing whether a candidate meets the job requirements.


They usually look for this proof in the work experience section among recent experiences. So, they expect to see this information at the beginning of a resume rather than at its end.


So, when listing experience on your resume, start with your current or most recent job first.


Follow it with your previous job(s) going back to the beginning of your career.


Depending on the resume format (coming soon), there may be other ways the work chronology can be presented. However, reverse-chronological order works best in 99% of cases.



 


How to format the experience section?


The work experience section should be formatted in a way that makes it easy to scan quickly.


The best way to do it is to list your responsibilities and achievements in bullet points.


Bulleted lists allow you to include all the necessary information in an organized and compact way, making it easier to include all of your experience in a limited amount of space without appearing wordy.


Bulleted lists allow you to include all the necessary information in a compact way, making it easier to include all of your experience in a limited amount of space without appearing wordy.

Since bulleted job descriptions are easier to comprehend and quicker to scan than lengthy sentences and dense paragraphs, they also make this section easier for a potential employer to read.



 


How to Write Powerful Resume Bullet Points?


Since they entail essential information about your experience, bullet points are the heart of a resume.


When reading through job applications, employers focus their attention on the bulleted lists of responsibilities and accomplishments, which provide most of the content and context for your resume.


This content (i.e. the resume bullets) will distinguish an average resume from a competitive one, determining the outcome of a job application.


As such, writing strong bullet points is key to a resume's success.


Writing strong bullet points is key to a resume's success.

The first step to writing more effective bullet points is recognizing that resume job descriptions can and should be more than just a list of the tasks and responsibilities you managed in a particular role.


Instead, they should be accomplishment-focused statements.


Here are a few effective strategies to make your bullet points -- and your resume stand out:

Let's dig deeper into each of these suggestions.


 


Quantify your work and achievements where possible.


Instead of merely describing your tasks and responsibilities, focus on your results and accomplishments.


In a resume, numbers give weight and credence.


Even if it’s just a rough estimate, a number turns a claim into a fact and pops off the page. So, quantify your work and achievements where possible.


Did you save time or reduced costs by improving processes? Did you manage multiple projects or big teams? Did you contribute to an increase in sales or customer satisfaction?


Think about measures of success in your job and see how you can incorporate them into your resume.



WRONG: increased customer satisfaction


RIGHT: increased customer satisfaction by 21% through bespoke advice



Also, remember that recruiters and hiring managers don't read resumes word for word.


Instead, they scan a few first words of each statement in a job description.


So, if you save the best for last, i.e. if you keep your successes at the end of the bullet, it may not be seen.


To prevent this, flip your bullets and put your achievements at the beginning to level up your content.

See the example below.

  • GOOD: modernized the record management system of the finance department and decreased data-retrieval time by 80 hours per month

  • AMAZING: saved 80 hours per month for data retrieval by modernizing the record management system of the finance department


Cut out long and empty phrases.


Every word in a resume counts.


So, it's vital to fill your resume with strong and action-oriented words.


Omit phrases such as 'I am responsible for' or 'in charge of'.


Instead, start every statement with an action verb that summarizes your activities, such as 'led', 'improved', and 'created'.


  • WRONG: in charge of financial risk assessments

  • RIGHT: assessed financial risks for a Global 500 company



Be specific about what you did and how you did it.


When you're describing your achievements, it's not enough to state the final outcome. The readers need to know how you got there.


While cutting out long and empty phrases will help you cut the noise and make your resume content punchier, adding specific details about exactly what you did and how you did it will aid in your ability to stand out and align with the job you're applying for.


While cutting out long and empty phrases will help you cut the noise and make your resume content punchier, adding specific details about what you did and how you did it will aid in your ability to stand out and align with the job you're applying for.

So, with each achievement you add to your resume, add details about your actions that lead to the specific result.

  • WRONG: increased revenue by $1.5M YoY

  • RIGHT: increased revenue by $1.5M YoY through development and implementation of an innovative sales strategy


Lead with strong action verbs.


Action verbs are high-impact words that express an action.


In a resume, they are used to highlight your skills and experience and convey your performance and achievements to potential employers.


They are specific, clarify your contributions, and bring a confident tone to your resume.


To make sure your resume sounds active, strong and achievement-focused, use action words at the beginning of every bullet point in your job description.

  • WRONG: responsible for project management

  • RIGHT: designed project strategy and managed $5M projects


Be consistent with the wording.


Writing consistency plays a vital role in a resume's readability.


The easiest way to ensure your wording is consistent is by applying the same tense throughout your job descriptions, combining the present and past tense.


For your current or ongoing position, use the present tense. It's best to go with the present continuous tense (-ing form), e.g. managing, overseeing, and handling.


Use the past tense (-ed form) for all previous jobs, e.g. accelerated, spearheaded, and transformed.



 


How to Organize Bullet Points?


The order of bullet points can change the impression your resume gives.


If you place your significant accomplishments at the end of a list, you're risking them going unseen by a recruiter or hiring manager.


To ensure your resume efficiently grabs and keeps the reader's attention, sort bullet points by their relevance - starting from the most relevant to the job you're applying for and finishing with the least relevant.


To ensure your resume efficiently grabs and keeps the reader's attention, sort bullet points by their relevance - starting from the most relevant to the job you're applying for and finishing with the least relevant.

If you have lots of bullet points, review your resume with a focus on the statements and descriptions at the bottom and consider if they add value to your job application.


If not, cut them out. If in doubt, cut them out as well.


Leave only relevant, high-quality, achievement-focused, factual content.



 


How to select the experience that should be added to your resume?


Solid work history on a resume doesn't show every single thing you have done in your career.


Quite the opposite.


A well-written work experience section will entail a carefully picked selection of the most relevant responsibilities and most impressive accomplishments from your work history.


The key word is 'relevant'.


So, customize descriptions to the job.


Use the job description as inspiration. Include in your lists only those responsibilities that mirror the content of the job ad by using the same keywords (note: ‘mirror’ isn't the same as copy-pasting the content).


Be critical about every single detail.


Think carefully about every bullet point you include in each job description.


Ask yourself if it shows valuable work experience, achievements, knowledge or skill - those you could use in a specific job. If the answer is 'no', 'not sure' or 'maybe', remove it or tweak it.


And remember -- the resume work experience section should be focused on relevant professional experience and paid work. Unrelated unpaid internships, short-term or temporary work, volunteer experience or engagement in student organizations shouldn't be added here - unless you're a recent graduate.



 


How long should the work experience section be?


In a nutshell, the length of the work experience section on a resume depends on the length of a job seeker's work history.


However, this doesn't mean that there is no limit to how long it can be.


The accepted rule for length is one page for every ten years of experience - with certain exceptions.


If in the last ten years you had a career progression in the field related to your target job, and you had more than three relevant jobs, it may be hard to put all the important information on one page. In that case, feel free to expand your resume and the work experience section onto a second page.


On the other hand, if you have an extensive work history with more than twenty years of experience under your belt, it's still advisable not to exceed the two-page mark.


The best - and probably the only way to do it is by providing more details on the past ten years of experience and cutting down the outdated information regarding the jobs you held more than ten years ago.


To maintain your resume at the ideal length, focus on:

  • the length of a bullet point

  • the number of bullet points


How long should a bullet point be?


Bullet points on a resume should ideally be one-line long.


At a maximum, they shouldn't exceed two lines. It helps to keep them under twenty words, with a good average being around fifteen.


If a bullet point is too long, shorten it by restructuring it, rewriting its content, or breaking it down into two sentences.


Here is an example:


WRONG:

  • Performed risk assessments and collaborated with 30+ colleagues from internal controls and audit teams to gather and compile risk-relevant data and present critical findings to over 20 business partners and senior management, including control owners, senior directors, business managers and CFO.

RIGHT:

  • Performed risk assessments and compiled risk-relevant data in collaboration with 30+ internal controls and audit team members.

  • Presented critical risk-related findings to over 20 senior stakeholders, including business managers, senior directors, and CFO.


How many bullet points should you have?


From the employer's perspective, the most relevant information on your resume is your recent experience.


As such, you should allocate more space -- and more bullet points, to the most recent jobs.


In other words, the number of listed points in a work experience section should be inversely proportional to their age (i.e., the most recent jobs should encompass a larger share of your resume).


However, even the job description of the current or most recent job shouldn't be too long. It's best to aim for a maximum of five to seven bullet points.


As you go back to the past jobs, cut the bullet points down - focus on two to three key achievements and keep only those on your resume.


If you have a long career, feel free to cut off the work history at a 10-year mark or after 5-6 jobs - whichever comes first.


After that mark, add a separate section named 'previous employment', and list only basic information about the employment, i.e. company, job title, timeframe, without further details on your responsibilities.


Here is an example of the previous employment section.













 


Final Thoughts


When working on your resume, listing relevant experience and writing robust and achievement-focused job descriptions gives you a chance to present your career history in the best light.


This section should include:

  • company name of previous employers

  • current and previous job titles

  • timeframes of employment

  • brief description of each job

To make sure you're presenting your professional experience in the most informative way, use the reverse-chronological resume format.


Start the list of your professional experience with the current or most recent job. Then list previous positions following the reverse-chronological order.


Keep this section concise and informative by focusing on achievements, cutting out empty phrases and using action verbs in your job descriptions.


To keep this section of your resume relevant to new job opportunities, when describing your career path and listing experience on your resume, focus on paid jobs. Don't add volunteer work or other unpaid or temporary types of employment.



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