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Tips for Adding Work Experience to Your Resume

Work experience is the cornerstone of most resumes. How can you highlight work experiences more effectively on your resume?

Ho Lin Profile
By Ho Lin 5 minute read

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Tips for featuring work experience in your resume

When hiring managers read your resume, one critical piece of information they’ll look for is your experience at past jobs. Providing information about your previous positions is one of the most important things you can do to make a prospective employer take you seriously. Here’s what you need to know about adding work experience to a resume.

What qualifies as work experience in a resume?

Put simply, the term “work experience,” “work history” or “job experience” describes past jobs and what you did in them. From entry-level jobs to CEO positions, from full-time jobs to part-time volunteer work, your resume work experience section showcases your top responsibilities and accomplishments. A great resume needs to have this work experience section because it shows recruiters that you have the professional experience necessary to work well in the job you’re applying for.

If you’re fresh out of high school or a recent graduate from college and are looking for your first professional job, your work history will typically revolve around volunteer work, extracurricular work, internships and academic-related projects. In this case, you’ll probably be looking for a job that doesn’t require a lot of work history, and you’ll lean heavily on your skills and education sections to fill in potential employers about what you can do for them.

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How to present work experience in your resume

In the work experience section of a resume, you need to include a number of elements for every job. At the very least, you should include:

  • Job title
  • Company name
  • Years you worked
  • Location you worked (city and state)
  • Responsibilities and highlights for each job, presented in bullet points

If you use a resume builder, the builder will typically prompt you for these pieces of information as you create your resume. You also have the option of choosing your best achievement and highlighting it as a “Key Achievement” or similar term. On average, you should usually have five bullet points maximum for each piece of work experience.

Tips to improve your work experience section

No matter what resume format you’ll use for a job – functional resume, a chronological resume, or a combination resume – you’ll need to include past jobs, even if you’re going through a career change and your work experience isn’t relevant to the specific job you’re applying for. Here are a few tips you can use to make sure your employment history is applicable to the job you want:

  • How many years of work experience should be on a resume? Only list up to 10 years of past experience.
  • List your work experience in reverse-chronological order, most recent or current job first, regardless of resume style.
  • Add relevant internships, volunteer experience and extracurricular activities if you have little experience.
  • Focus on experiences that match up well with the job you’re applying to. If you’re short on professional experience, eEmphasize relevant skills from seemingly non-relevant jobs, based on the job description of the position you want.

Employers often use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes, and ATS will read through the work experience section to make sure job seekers have the right professional experiences. Make sure you look through the job description to find specific keywords for experiences the employers want (e.g., “adept at budgeting and account management”). Highlight these experiences in your resume where you can.

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FAQ: Work experience on a resume

Have questions? We’re here to help.

If you have a lot of previous work experience, you don’t need to list every single job you’ve ever had. A great resume writer will typically list up to four jobs and up to 10 years of work history. Narrow down your jobs to only the most relevant options if you have more than that. Most of the time, the best resume for a job application will only be a single page long, so start with trying to keep your work history on a single page, then edit as needed.

You don’t usually need to try and explain gaps in your work experience on your resume. Instead, it’s a much better idea to include this information in either your cover letter or just to wait until you get to the job interview. If you wait for the job interview, know that the interviewer is almost certainly going to ask about it, so make sure you know what you’re going to say when they ask. Think of your times of unemployment in positive terms (new skills you learned or personal projects you completed) so you can communicate this to the employer.

If you don’t have a lot of existing job experience, volunteer and internship work is a great addition to your resume. Most of the time, you can put this under your work experience section. However, if you do have job experience, you should put volunteering and internship work in its own section or exclude it altogether. This type of work also goes under the same guidelines as work history—there’s no need to include work from over 10 years ago, as it’s unlikely to have a big impact on how you work today.

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Ho Lin Profile

Ho Lin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and editor with two decades of experience in content strategy, creation, and development. He holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and his background includes experience aiding military veterans as they transition to civilian careers.

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