Present your work experience well and you'll blow other applicants out of the water!
For most professionals, the Work Experience section of their resme will be the most important part of their most important career document. This is the part that proves to a hiring manager that you have the knowledge, background, and experience to excel. But, given that it carries so much weight, how can you write and format it for maximum impact?
In this article, we'll examine how to lay out your resume work experience section, what to include, and how to word it. There are plenty of examples too, so that you can visualize how your resume could look. In short, we'll give you the crib sheet that teaches you how to produce a stellar resume that gets noticed for all the right reasons.
Where should I position my resume work experience?
While your work experience is likely to make up the bulk of your resume, that doesn't mean you should put it right at the top. Start with your contact details and headline, followed by a profile summary and your key skills.
Then, you have a decision to make. If you're a recent graduate, or you're aiming for your first job, your qualifications are probably more impressive than any work experience you have. Therefore, put your qualifications section directly under the key skills and position any work experience you have underneath that.
If you're established in your career, however, it's your professional experience that should take center stage. Relegate your qualifications to the bottom of the resume and promote your work experience to start just below your skills.
Pro tip: When you're writing a resume, put yourself in the mind of your reader. Make sure it's easy for them to find the most impressive and relevant information!
How to lay out your resume work experience
First things first – you need to create a basic layout for your resume work experience that you can then replicate for every role. You'll need the following elements:
To ensure your resume is easy to navigate, begin with the section heading. You can choose from any of the following:
The heading should be in a larger font than the body of the text, so that a reader can immediately identify and jump to the section they're interested in.
Next up, you'll need a subheading for every role you've held over the last 10-15 years. Within that subheading, include:
Your job title. Ideally use your official job title, but if you're going for a similar role with a slightly different title, it's fine to tweak it, or to put the target job title in brackets. The key point is that the job title should accurately reflect what the job actually entails.
The name of your employer. Use their formal name, e.g. “Ford Motor Company” rather than just “Ford.”
The start and end dates of your employment. Just month and year will do – or even just year if you've held each role for a long time. Keep the format consistent, whether you chose “12/2023” or “Dec 2023” or “December 2023.”
The location. Add the state or country you worked in, unless you've always worked, and will continue to work, locally - in which case location is less important.
When you've laid out this sub-heading, duplicate it for every role so that you have a uniform presentation that looks professional.
Role and responsibilities
Below the sub-heading for every role, you'll need to briefly explain your overall role and responsibilities. You don't need to go into much detail on this – 3 to 4 lines or bullet points should be plenty. The key here is to ensure that someone from outside the company, or someone unfamiliar with the role, can immediately understand what you were employed to do. Quantify whatever information you can, so that the reader can understand the scope of your duties, too.
Now we come to the star attraction of your resume work experience section – your achievements! Aim to list a minimum of 3 achievements for every role you've held over the last 10-15 years. Remember, an achievement in this context doesn't mean something personal to you, such as learning to use new computer software. It means a benefit you've delivered to the company.
Start every achievement with a dynamic verb, such as reduced, exceeded, improved, increased, won… the options are endless. Again, quantify everything you can so that the hiring manager can appreciate the impact you've had on the business.
Which work experience is listed first on a resume?
Always write your resume work experience in reverse chronological order – that means your current (or latest) job first, working backwards in time as you go down the page. By doing that, your most recent, high-level, and impressive experience will be the first thing the reader sees.
Resume work experience example
Let's put all that together to see how it works:
Head of IT May 2015 – date
Big Business Inc.
Led a team of 25 Software Engineers and controlled a $30million annual budget to provide IT services to 5,000 users across 15 locations. Directed transformation projects and contributed as a key member of the senior leadership team.
Enabled $5million of savings by overseeing a project to implement a time management system for 2,500 staff
Reduced average support resolution times by 20% by upskilling and expanding the team
Reduced printing costs by $30,000 per year by renegotiating contracts with suppliers
Senior Systems Engineer Jan 2013 – May 2015
Small Business Inc.
Held full accountability for all IT requirements in 3 UK offices, supported 50 users and managed a portfolio of IT projects.
Improved data retention and retrieval by 4 hours per request by transitioning from tape to cloud back-up
Won Manager of the Year for 2 consecutive years
As you can see, the focus of the resume work experience section here is on the value added to the business. By quantifying the scope of the role and the achievements, it's easy for the reader to understand this person's previous experience and how they can make a positive impact in the role.
How much work experience do I put on my resume?
As you'll have seen above, we recommend using this resume work experience format for all the roles you've held in the last 10-15 years. That doesn't mean any earlier work experience is useless and should be discarded! No, it just means that this level of detail isn't required.
Recruiters are usually most interested in your most recent experience. Earlier roles can simply be summarized in an Early Career section, giving just job title, employer name, and years of employment (you can omit the years, or even your earliest jobs, if you're concerned about age discrimination).
Similarly, if you've held many roles in the last 10-15 years, you may want to change the cut-off point to 8-10 years. A resume is flexible! Its job is to show your suitability for the role, so if you're repeating yourself or adding less relevant information, you can start summarizing sooner – it will benefit both you and your reader. As a general rule of thumb, 4-5 roles in detail is usually plenty.
How to write a resume with no work experience
Everyone has to start somewhere! If you haven't started your first job yet, that doesn't mean you can't write an impressive resume. Consider these options:
Include volunteering. If you've worked in a voluntary position, that's ideal – your resume work experience can relate to both paid and unpaid work. Present your volunteering experience the same way you'd present paid experience, as we outlined above.
Create a skills-based resume. If you have no work experience to add, you can create a skills-based resume. Add sub-headings for your relevant skills, with bullets underneath giving examples of when you've used each skill (preferably outcome-oriented).
Leverage school and college experience. Were you the Captain of a sports team? Secretary of a society? Mentor for other students? Pet-sitter? If you lack professional experience, you can draw from every other area of your life to demonstrate to a hiring manager that you have the experience and attitude to succeed in their vacant position.
If you're worried that the work experience section on your resume is a bit light at the moment, now's the perfect time to get out there and beef it up. Ask neighbors if they need a babysitter, volunteer to tutor younger students, help out the elderly lady across the street – get creative in finding ways to build up this part of your resume!
Resume example for students with no work experience
The work experience section of a resume for students with no work experience could look like this:
College Ambassador at XYZ College (ad hoc) 2022 - 2023
Represented the Computer Science course as a subject ambassador, speaking with prospective students and parents about the course and the college. Answered questions politely and shared relevant information, with the course being over-subscribed following every open evening.
Assistant Golf Coach at ABC Golf Club (part time) 2022 - 2023
Assisted with coaching junior players aged from 9-15. Drove golf carts safely and with consideration for other players. Enabled players to progress, improve their skills and enjoy a new sport, resulting in additional memberships at the club.
How to tailor your resume work experience
Now that you've written your resume work experience section, you're ready to start job-hunting. But wait! Don't just fire off your master resume to every vacant job! You may have spent time perfecting the layout and the wording, but there's one final step before you hit send.
With the job posting in front of you, you'll need to tailor your resume work experience to your target role. What does that mean? Well, go through the advert and highlight the key requirements for the role, then make sure they're reflected back, very clearly, within your resume. Aim to use the exact words you've highlighted, so that your resume pops up when recruiters carry out a keyword search.
For example, you may notice that the role requires someone who can code in C#, but your resume currently states “programming.” Changing that one word to “coding in C#” aligns your resume better with the role requirements. Do this with every point you've highlighted and watch your resume fly to the top of the pile!
Resume work experience FAQs
Pulling together your resume work experience can be tricky, so we've pulled the most common questions together to make it easier for you.
Do employment gaps on a resume matter?
Employment gaps are a perfectly normal part of life, so embrace the gap! If you've had a break longer than a few months, though, it may help to positively (but briefly) address the gap on your resume. Here are some suggestions on how you could do that:
2020 – 2023 – Planned career break to raise a family
2018 – 2019 – Career break due to redundancy: time spent pursuing an online course and completing home renovations
2023 – 2024 – Career break due to illness: now fully recovered and fit to return to full-time work
Should I include work experience that's not relevant to my target job?
Sometimes, life can blow you in unexpected directions. If you've had a role that doesn't align with your current career aspirations, it need not be a problem. Consider these suggestions:
Eliminate the role. If taking the role off the resume won't leave a gaping and unexplained hole, you can simply remove it, no questions asked.
Minimize the role. If removing the role would raise unnecessary questions, include it – briefly. Keep the same sub-headings as usual, but don't dedicate more than a line or two to your responsibilities and achievements, just mention the job and move on.
Reframe the role. Rather than focusing on the irrelevant aspects of the role, just write about the transferable parts.
Can you include volunteer experience?
Absolutely! Volunteering is generally very positively viewed. We described above how a student with no work experience can include volunteering on their resume, but what if you have a solid career already? You have four options here:
Use it to cover a gap. Volunteering can be used to cover a gap in your resume if you include it as part of your work experience section. Treat it as you would a paid role.
Create a volunteering section. If your voluntary work uses relevant skills that aren't coming through elsewhere on your resume, create a separate volunteering section, laid out in the same way as the work experience section. While you won't want to go into such great detail, it gives you the opportunity to highlight information that would otherwise go unmentioned.
Add a brief one-liner. If your volunteering doesn't add any relevant skills or experience, but you still want to mention it, you can add a brief line in your Further Details section – that's where you can include any information to support your candidacy that doesn't fit neatly anywhere else – for example, foreign language proficiency.
Ignore it. There's no obligation to include volunteering on your resume, so if you don't think it adds any value, just leave it off!
Can I leave jobs off my resume?
There are certain situations where it's acceptable to leave jobs off your resume. We mentioned irrelevant jobs above, but you may want to leave them off for other reasons. If you held a job back in the eighties, for example, it probably has very little relevance to your career today. A resume is a sales brochure, not a life story, so there's no harm leaving off outdated experience.
What if you were fired, or left on bad terms? Well, ideally a resume wouldn't have an unexplained gap on it, so you can either include it and hope they aren't asked to provide a reference, or you can take it off and find another brief way to explain the gap. The shorter the time in the role, the easier this will be!
Should I put a short-term job on my resume?
It's not unusual to take a stop-gap job to retain an income between permanent roles. Whether you choose to include it on your resume depends on how relevant it is to your current career aspirations. If it's relevant, there's no harm in including it. You could emphasize that it was a “short term contract” or “maternity cover” to pre-empt questions. If it's not relevant, however, you can pick the most suitable option above where we discuss irrelevant work experience.
How can I show a promotion on a resume?
Congratulations on your promotion, it's definitely resume-worthy! A promotion shows that you've performed well and received recognition from your superiors, and that's definitely something a hiring manager will want to know. Make sure that you include the company name within the sub-heading of every role, as that way any reader will be able to trace your progress within the business.
You may also want to add a line into your achievements section, if there was a particular reason for your promotion – for example, “Achieved selection into a more senior role having reduced customer complaints by 50% in just 6 months.”
How do I list an internship?
An internship can be included just like any other paid, permanent role. Include the same details and focus on the experience you gained and any value you added to the business.
A little effort now can get you far
The work experience part of your resume is arguably the hardest part to write, but it can have a great impact if it's done well. By following our guidelines on including resume work experience, you'll soon have a resume to be proud of that opens doors for you.
Want to check you're hitting the right notes? Why not submit your resume for a free resume review by our experts? They'll make sure you're hitting all the right notes before you apply for your dream job.