Your work history section is the most important part of your resume. It's also the most difficult part of your CV to address. Keep reading to find out how to properly describe your work experience on your resume.
Because while a well-written work experience section can land you a job, a badly written one can easily sabotage your chances of getting an interview. You must know how to write it and what to include in it.
And that's what this guide is for! It will show you:
- What is a work experience section?
- Why bother writing it?
- Where to put the work experience section on your resume?
- How to write a work experience section?
- …if you’re a student or a fresh graduate?
- …as an experienced professional?
- …if you’re an artist or creative?
- …if you’re changing careers?
- How to overcome an employment gap?
- How to address maternity leave?
- Plus some final tips and tricks
Too long, don't wanna read? Watch this 60sec video guide
What is a work experience section?
The work experience section or employment history is a detailed summary of your past work experience. In other words, a comprehensible report of all jobs you’ve held in the past.
Depending on your background, you can include full-time positions, part-time jobs, temporary roles, internships, or even volunteer work.
In the work history section, you should list key information such as:
- names of companies
- job titles
- positions held
- dates of employment
- responsibilities you've held
But more importantly, it should highlight your main achievements and provide specific examples.
Side note: The experience section often goes under other names. Some people call it Employment history. Others refer to it as Work experience or Work history. All of these terms are interchangeable and all of them are correct. So you don't have to worry about picking the right one.
Why should you include the work experience section?
We hate to use the word “important”, but…
… work experience is super important, if not a key section of your resume.
When you think “resume”, the work experience section is probably the first thing that comes to your mind. And you’re not alone. Based on this section employers determine whether or not you have what it takes for the job.
It provides an overview of your experience. A well-written work experience section is a crucial element because it shows that you have the necessary qualifications.
Where to put your work experience on a resume?
In most cases, your work experience section should come right after your contact info and professional summary.
But this isn't always the case. In some situations, you want to put your key skills, key achievements, or education section first.
For example, place your education first if you’re a student, fresh graduate, professional who recently went back to school, Ph.D. researcher, doctor, or another profession where the educational background is very important. Or if you’re writing an academic CV.
Generally speaking, the role and importance of your employment history section depend on where you're in your career and the type of resume you choose to write.
You can choose to write either a chronological, functional, or combination resume:
A chronological resume
The most common resume type.
It’s built around the employment history section. This makes it great for seasoned professionals with several years of work experience. It presents information in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent events being placed first.
Order of sections in chronological resume usually looks like this: Contact Information > Professional Summary > Work Experience > Education > Skills > Others.
A functional resume
This resume type draws attention to and puts forward your skills, accomplishments, job traits, and personal characteristics.
It works best for fresh graduates, students, people returning to work after parental leave, and people who are changing careers — in other words — for those who might already have the skills but lack experience (or have an employment gap in their resume).
Order of sections in functional resume usually is the following: Contact Information > Professional Summary / Resume Objective > Skills / Projects > Work History / Education > Others.
A combination resume
A combination resume contains elements of both the chronological and functional format. It does so by including your relevant skills and accomplishments first and then detailing your employment history and education.
It's great for students, fresh graduates, or career changers who don’t really fit elsewhere.
A combination resume also gives you a chance to order sections in a way that works best for your unique career path. You can, for instance, place the key achievement section first if there's a success that you truly want to highlight.
How to write a work experience section?
In summary, you should begin with listing your current (or most recent job) and then continue with the previous ones. Your first job should close the section.
The description of your most recent job position should include the following information:
- name of the company
- job title
- responsibilities and achievements
The more recent the job, the more detailed information about it you want to offer. On the other hand, you don’t really want to waste space on jobs that took place years ago. So, don’t go into too much detail.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Despite that, the employment history section is probably the most difficult to write. Why though?
The answer is quick — the main challenge of describing your work experience on your resume is the sheer amount of information you have to include in this section. You have to choose wisely what to include so you won’t overwhelm the recruiter.
Another problem arises once you stop writing it. You look back to your finished work history section and you may wonder:
Is your work experience section too short? Is it too long? Does it look somewhat chaotic?
There’s no reason to worry though. We’ve got you. Here are some tips on how to make your job history section more orderly and appealing:
- Use action verbs. As opposed to buzzwords, there are some powerful words you DO want to use. These include expressions such as “achieved,” “advised,” “negotiated” and others. See the pattern there? Instead of adjectives, use verbs you can support with evidence.
- Tailor it to a specific opening. Your accomplishments should match the employer’s needs and priorities. This is one of the quickest ways to get noticed and invited to an interview. Do your research and re-arrange your bullet points to show exactly the type of experience they want.
- Keywords. Reread the advertised job description and carefully pick the most important keywords. These are the words that best describe the position you’re applying for. Pack your resume with these keywords. Not only will it help you get past applicant tracking systems (ATS), but it will also leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager.
- Show your problem-solving skills. In the end, hiring managers want to know how effective are you when it comes to solving real problems. There’s no better way to prove your problem-solving ability than to briefly describe how you solved difficult problems in the past. Follow the PAR scheme: What was the Problem? What Action did you take? What was the Result?
- Quantify your past results. Managers love measurable results. A single number is often worth a thousand words. Don’t say you “increased the company’s revenue by, like, a lot”. Instead, don’t be afraid to brag about “increasing the company’s revenue by 20%.”
- Use bullet points. Bullet points help you structure your sub-sections. It also takes next to no effort on your part. Use them in combination with short paragraphs. First, describe the scope of your responsibilities, then use bullet points to list your top contributions for each job. Add 2-4 bullet points for each job.
Then, there are also common work experience section mistakes that you should avoid:
- Don’t include the job description. Wait, what? Isn’t that the whole point? Well, no, employers usually know what the job should entail. Instead of listing what you were supposed to do, tell your potential employers what positive results you were able to bring about.
- Avoid buzzwords. Some phrases have been used so much in resumes that they became meaningless. Avoid words such as “thinking outside the box,” “creative,” or “problem solver.” These words always sound insincere. You want to inspire confidence.
Christy's word of advice
When it comes to the Work Experience sections, many resources say you should only highlight achievements and omit duties. What's your take on this?
“I usually say have both. I recommend putting a few most important duties first because that's adding the context, and then the achievements. You can maybe get away just with the achievements if you're in an achievement-focused role, for instance, sales. But in general, I'd recommend having a mix — context plus impact.” — Christy Morgan, Kickresume's Resident HR Expert
How to list work experience if you’re a student or a fresh graduate?
Naturally, you don’t have tons of experience if you’ve just finished school. Yet, being young is no obstacle. It comes down to how you present the experience you already have.
As a student or fresh graduate, you should place your work experience after the education section. Then list key skills, volunteer experience, and other voluntary sections.
Why list education first? Because your education and educational results are your strongest weapons right now.
Also, try to think of any job-relevant experience that you could put on your resume. Do you have any related experience at all when you worked as an intern? Have you done some volunteer work for a local charity? Or attended a conference?
All of these things belong on your resume. Treat your internships and extracurricular activities as regular jobs.
These activities can showcase your motivation and skills. They also help recruiters gauge your professional aptitude. Each one of them should come with a few points that detail your responsibilities and accomplishments.
Here’s what you can include in your employment history section:
- Part-time jobs. If you’re fresh out of school (or still studying), part-time jobs are probably your primary type of experience. Even if the job isn’t super-relevant to the job you’re applying for now, there are valuable transferrable skills you’ve acquired in that job. Highlight them.
- Internships. Paid and unpaid college internships are one of the best weapons against the “experience required” line in a job posting.
- Volunteering. Most recruiters look at volunteer experience similar to paid work experience. Just because you didn’t get paid doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job. Go ahead and list your volunteer roles as you would a full-time job. Detail the length of time you volunteered, relevant tasks you undertook, and the skills you gained through the experience.
- Extracurricular activities. If you’re applying for copywriting job, for example, recruiters will be more impressed to hear that you wrote a handful of articles for your student newspaper than that you had a summer job in a local fast-food restaurant.
How does this look in practice? Take a look at this fresh graduate sample below!
How to list work experience if you’re an experienced professional?
Even if you’re an experienced professional, the hiring manager is going to put your work experience section under scrutiny. Because of that, you want to make sure your work experience section is tight.
To help employers navigate this section, list your work history in reverse chronological order. Put the most recent — and therefore the most relevant — items first.
Side tip: If you’re working a full-time job and freelancing at the same time, it’s only up to you to decide where you want to draw attention first.
Most importantly, don’t just state where you worked and what was your job title. Rather, also use 2–4 bullet points for each job to describe your duties and specific achievements.
Here’s an example of how to do it:
Work Experience Section Example
Automotive Technician, Icahn Automotive, Rotorua, New Zealand (03/2017 – 09/2019)
- Repaired various cars and trucks. Troubleshot and diagnosed vehicles. Repaired or replaced defective parts. Ensured that everything was in compliance with the company’s high standards and clients’ needs.
- Awarded Employee of the Month for increasing customer satisfaction with provided services from 87% to 95% within one year.
Mind the length
Executives can use more than one page of their resume to present their extensive work experience. But that doesn’t mean that you should let your resume become a 700-page-long autobiography.
You may be wondering how to filter the information then. Especially if you have years of substantial experience.
Well, as we already said earlier, if something’s recent, it also means it’s more relevant. That’s why you should describe more recent jobs in greater detail. Older ones will do with a brief description, allowing you to save some valuable space for more important details to put on your resume.
Finally, remember that you should never ever make your resume longer than two or three pages. Recruiters are busy and they can easily get overwhelmed by an overly long document. It would be sad if only this killed your chances of getting called for an interview.
How far back should your employment history go?
Generally, it’s okay to include up to 15 years of experience, but try to avoid going further back in time than that. An exception would be a truly unique experience – such as being the one who started a successful company.
Or, if a job requires 20 years of experience, then you should also definitely include more than 10–15 years of experience on your resume.
However, most industries change a lot in 15 years, rendering any experience older than that obsolete.
If you have been working for less than 8-10 years, go back to the beginning of your work history and try to tailor your resume to be relevant to the job you’re applying for now.
Avoid writing about every single job you’ve ever held. This can easily overwhelm an employer and make them lose interest. Instead, only use previous work experience at least a bit related to the opportunity you want.
If you’ve worked more than 10 years as an executive, consider starting your work history at the point you became a manager. Most hiring managers don’t care what your first job was. They want to see how you progressed since you started as a manager.
How to write a work experience section if you’re an artist?
If you’re an artist, you know that your life and your job are a little different from the rest of the people. Because of that, it probably comes as no surprise that your work experience section should be different, too.
In short, as an artist, you should say goodbye to wordy descriptions and focus almost entirely on your portfolio.
Consequently, your artist resume can be quite short and mostly focus on listing your training or education, courses you've taught, or artist residencies that you've been accepted to.
See the sample below for what a good artist's resume should look like. Also, notice the fun creative resume template!
Finally, don't forget to polish up your social media profiles, as this is one of the most convenient ways of finding new clients today. Create your own website, and make sure to upload your portfolio to sites like Behance or Dribble.
How to list experience if you’re changing careers?
If you’re pursuing a career change, your resume shouldn’t revolve entirely around your employment history. After all, that’s all in the past now.
Instead, you should highlight your transferrable skills. You need to show how you can use the skills from your previous career in the new one.
Because of that, the hybrid resume format is the way to go.
How to do this?
- In the employment history section, briefly outline your work history. Only mention those positions where you acquired skills that are relevant to the new position. You can also mention any relevant volunteer work.
- Try to find any keywords that relate to your experience. Look closely at the qualifications in the job description and tailor the bullet points in your work history to highlight that applicable experience.
- Focus less on the duties and more on your transferrable skills. These are any skills that you can transfer from one career to another. For example, if you have a background in journalism and want to apply for a copywriting position, the obviously shared keyword here is writing. Even though you don’t have any copywriting or marketing experience, you do have expert-level writing skills that you can use in the new field. That's a transferable skill. Try including these in your work experience section.
How to overcome an employment gap in your work history?
While many see a gap in their resume as an issue that's hard to overcome, that isn't necessarily the case. You just have to know which gaps should be addressed and which can be ignored.
If the resume gap is worth addressing, you can also learn how to give your resume gap a little “glow up.”
Generally speaking, there are two basic criteria you need to consider when thinking about the seriousness of an employment gap on your resume: its duration and how recent it is.
- Short gaps don’t matter. Work gaps don’t generally become red flags unless they lasted for more than six months.
- Old gaps don’t matter either. Recruiters are interested in recent history and won’t investigate things that no longer have an impact on the present.
If your resume employment gaps are recent and quite long, what can you do?
- Change the way you write dates. Simply exclude months and the gap might disappear. So, instead of writing (October 2017 – August 2019), (September 2014 – January 2017), you write (2017 – 2019), (2014 – 2017). Obviously, this technique works best for employment gaps that took place within a single calendar year.
- Consider changing the format of your resume. You should use the functional resume format. It shifts attention to your strengths and job-relevant skills rather than your work history.
- Make the most of your employment gap. Starting a business, freelancing, studying, volunteering, taking a purposeful sabbatical — all of these count as valuable experience. List these experiences along with other positions you held in the work experience section. Describe how you expanded your skillset.
- Boost your credibility with references. Ask your former employers, ex-colleagues, and other industry professionals if they’re willing to vouch for you. Include their names and contact information directly in your resume or attach an additional page to your resume.
How to address a maternity leave on your resume?
A very specific type of employment gap is maternity/parental leave.
If you find yourself in the situation when you're trying to enter the work world after you took some time off to give birth or take care of your offspring, you may be a little worried about how to address it in your resume.
The best thing to do is to use the functional or combination resume format, rather than chronologically list your previous work experience.
Both formats allow you to attract the employer’s attention with your skills before addressing the elephant in the room.
Once you’ve done that, briefly mention that your career gap was due to the maternity leave. You can do it like this:
Example: How to address maternity leave in the work experience section
Maternity leave (January 2019–present)
That's it. You don't have to go into great detail. After all, you're not the first person in the world who has ever taken a parenting leave.
You just have to make sure to emphasize the work you did before you took some time off. Write about it as if it were yesterday and you still remember the details of the projects you worked on. Recall your accomplishments and the projects you're proud of from that period of your life. Time doesn’t devalue those experiences and skills that you've learned in the past.
Alternatively, if you've volunteered or completed a course during your leave, don't forget to mention it! Make sure to write about any relevant community service or voluntary work that you engaged in during your time away. Any freelancing projects or short-term gigs work as great resume enhancers.
See the example below:
Example: How to update the work experience section after maternity leave
During my maternity leave, I focused on maintaining and enhancing my skill set. That involved enrolling in an online course, continuing my education, and participating in a sales conference to ensure that I remained up-to-date with industry happenings.
Sales Success Summit, Boston (June 2019)
- Joining fellow sales leaders, trainers, and enablement professionals to learn expert secrets about sales and marketing.
The Art of Sales: Mastering the Selling Process (Northwestern University) – Online course (March 2019 – June 2019)
- Coursework focused on standing out in the crowd, attracting customers, and building support for initiatives within one’s company.
If you'd like more tips on how to do this, go and read our article on how to tackle maternity leave on your resume.
Final resume tips
- Don’t be afraid to use bold whenever you want to highlight important bits of information within the section.
- Include key achievements subsection. Pick the biggest achievement from each job and highlight it in a subsection. You can also write it in bold. This will catch the attention of the hiring manager in an instant.
- Keep it simple and easy to read. Don’t overdo it. Pick 1-2 colors maximum, 1-2 fonts, and 1-2 heading sizes.
- Remember it’s not only about you. It’s also about your future employer. Look at the job description again and determine what are his needs. Address these in your work experience section.
FAQ: How to describe your work experience on a resume
1. Is it ever ok to change the title of my past jobs a little bit?
While we always advise against lying on your resume, slightly altering the name of your past position shouldn't hurt you. Especially, if the name of the position didn't fit your responsibilities (which happens more often than you'd think).
Additionally, if your boss thought they were being original but you ended up with a stupid-sounding work position name, you've also got the green light to change it in your resume.
2. What should I not include in the work history section of my resume?
- A wall of text. Always opt for bullet points.
- Too much information. Keep it brief.
- Personal information. Your age, relationship status, or sexual orientation are all private information (and should stay that way during the recruitment).
3. Should I include a job that I was fired from in my resume?
Yes, if it's relevant to the prospective job position, there's no reason not to mention it. Even if you were fired (for various reasons), you've managed to get the job in the first place and you've learned some valuable skills.
This article was recently updated. The original article was written by Nikoleta Žišková in 2021.