Work experience on your resume

How to Describe Work Experience on a Resume in 2021 (Examples & Tips)

Your work experience is a summary of all your hard work, dedication and achievements over the years. Here's how to do justice to your work history.

Rohit Sahay
Written by Rohit Sahay • Last updated on Mar 31, 2021

The work experience section of a resume will be the crown jewel that demonstrates to potential employers that you have the work history to back up your credentials.

In this guide, we will provide you with in-depth coverage for how to craft the perfect work experience section to help you land more interviews and job offers. 

Here's an outline of what we'll learn:

  1. Including Work Experience on a Resume
  2. What to Exclude from Your Work History
  3. Formatting Your Work Experience Section
  4. How to List Achievements and Accomplishments
  5. Add More Experience with Relevant Certifications
  6. Use Strong Action Verbs
  7. How to Show Job Promotions
  8. Addressing Career Gaps in Your Work Experience
  9. How to Show Volunteer Work and Internship Experience
  10. How Far Back Should Your Work History Go?
  11. Key Takeaways

For all the inside scope on each component of your resume, check out our comprehensive resume guides for 2021

Including Work Experience on a Resume

Work experience is a major component of any successful resume.

However, it can be difficult to decipher what exactly you should be including in your work history. 

Each job applicant will have a differing amount of working experience under their belt.

The key is to not shove too much information into this section.

Instead, you will need to take the time to sit down and decide which information best highlights your strengths and gives you an advantage for a particular job opportunity.

It is important to keep in mind that you should be altering your resume to match the job description of each individual job you are applying to. 

By taking the time to re-edit your work experience section for specific applications, you will have a much greater chance of impressing hiring managers. 

In this article, we will help you craft the perfect work experience section.

Some key questions we will be answering include:

  • What should you be including in your work history?
  • What should you be excluding from your work history?
  • How should your work experience section be formatted?

Keep reading to learn more about how you can begin optimizing your work history section.

Beautiful resume templates to land your dream job

What Information to Include in Your Work History?

Ultimately, your work history will contain the following:

  1. Job Position (e.g. "Bartender")
  2. Company (e.g. "Red Lobster")
  3. Location (e.g. "Brooklyn, NY")
  4. Start Date - Month & Year (e.g. "October 2019")
  5. End Date - Month & Year (e.g. "January 2021")
    Note: You can list "Present" if it's your current job
  6. Description (responsibilities and achievements)

Here's how that looks, you can also see an example of the Yoga Instructor resume here.

Yoga Instructor, January 2018 – Present
Mellow Mushroom • Nashville, TN

• Taught 40+ elderly clients basic yoga moves each day
• Held 4 classes a day that differ in intensity, including beginner and intermediate
• Advised modifications for yoga poses to ensure proper form, to meet clients' athletic abilities
• Instructed clients on breathing techniques, such as Basic Breath Awareness and Retention
• Developed body-mind-spirit awareness, mental clarity and physical flexibility and strength

However, when deciding which information to include within your work experience section, there are four main principles to keep in mind:

  1. Relevancy
  2. Timeliness
  3. Longevity
  4. Position

Here is a quick breakdown of each of these crucial factors:

1) Relevancy

When writing out your work experiences, it is important to consider how relevant your previous experience is to the job you are currently applying for

Your most relevant experience should always be the most emphasized and focused on, as it will be where you showcase the skills and achievements that qualify you for the position.

For instance, let’s say you are applying for an entry-level copywriting position and you have two major examples of work experience you would like to include.

These examples are:

  • Managed the front of house of a restaurant for four years.
  • Worked as a journalist at a local newspaper for one year.

Even though the management position may take up a greater chunk of your professional background, your experience as a journalist is much more relevant to the field of copywriting.

Therefore, you would want to place greater emphasis on your more relevant experience. 

2) Timeliness

Let’s say you are applying for a position for which all or most of your work experience is fairly relevant with similar importance in your roles.

How do you decide which of this experience is best to include on your resume?

When listing out your relevant work experience, it is recommended to showcase your most recent experience first and work backwards from there. 

As a general rule of thumb, it is good to aim to include work experience that you have gained within the past 5 years, though trying to include examples from within the last 1 to 5 years is ideal. 

Generally, work experience older than 5 years should be included on more in-depth resumes, such as on a resume for a job applicant seeking a senior position at a company.

Additionally, the academic resume format “Curriculum Vitae” – or CV – will typically include experience that spans across an even wider timeframe. 

3) Longevity

If you have held a relevant position for a long period of time, this kind of longevity can be highly impressive to hiring managers.

Showcasing your longevity at a previous job demonstrates your ability to commit to a company long-term. 

Moreover, showcasing positions you have held for a long period of time can also be a great opportunity to emphasize any promotions you may have received.

Showing your ability to not only commit, but to grow as well can be majorly influential on the impression your resume leaves.

4) Position

Different positions you have held within a field or industry may hold greater weight than others.

While it is still important to keep relevance, timeliness, and longevity in mind, it can also be useful to showcase your higher positions on your resume.

For example, let’s say you are applying for a position as an executive administrative assistant and you have the following work experience:

  1. Office manager for small law firm 
  2. Administrative assistant for a tattoo parlor

While both positions are relevant to the job you are applying for, your role as an office manager may have had greater responsibilities compared to your assistant position. 

Check out our Human Resources Resume Example to see how the work experience section utilizes all four of the above mentioned factors. 

Human Resources

What to Exclude from Your Work History

When you are writing your work experience section, it is important to note that you don’t want to include every job under the sun that you have ever held.

A hiring manager won’t want to read through all of that, nor are all of your experiences likely to be relevant for the job you are applying to. 

For instance, short-term jobs that you left soon after being hired may not be the best to include, as this can lead to speculation and uncertainty as to why you held the position for so short an amount of time.

If you happened to work a job that was purposefully or contractually short-term but holds a high level of relevance to the job you are currently applying for, it can be useful to include a short note explaining why you were only in the position for a limited amount of time. 

Omitting Jobs from Your Resume

There may be a variety of circumstances that may lead you to wanting to omit certain jobs from your resume.

For instance, if you were fired from your previous position, you may feel inclined to try and hide this information out of fear of it leaving a bad impression on hiring managers.

However, even jobs you were fired from should be included if they are relevant working experience

Being fired from a previous job is not an automatic deal breaker in most cases, and including that position on your resume is oftentimes preferred over leaving unexplained gaps in your employment history.

Moreover, you do not have to explicitly state on your resume that you were fired.

Should this be a topic of concern, it will likely come up in a job interview at which point you can more clearly and directly explain what happened.

Keep Your Job Descriptions Simple

A common mistake that many job applicants will make is writing descriptions of previous jobs that are too wordy or long.

Although it can be helpful to include more information about your most relevant or most recent experiences, you still want to write in clear and concise sentences that are easy to skim.

In truth, it is unlikely a hiring manager will thoroughly read your resume – especially if there are many applicants for the position.

As such, you must optimize your resume to provide information clearly and quickly.

A hiring manager should be able to gain the most valuable information with only a short read-through or skimming. 

Formatting Your Work Experience Section

As mentioned, you don’t want to go overboard when writing your work experience section.

Although you should aim to include the best and most relevant details, you should strive to write in short and simple sentences. 

Here is the basic format to use when structuring your work experience section:

Position, Start Date – End Date
Company Name, Location

• Descriptive Sentence
• Descriptive Sentence
• Descriptive Sentence

Alternatively, you may also want to list the company name on the first line with the position title.

This can be especially true if you worked for a well-known and easily recognized company or brand.

The formatting would then look more like this:

Position, Company Name
Location, Start Date – End Date

• Descriptive Sentence
• Descriptive Sentence
• Descriptive Sentence

There are, of course, some stylistic choices you can make to help your resume stand out.

However, sticking to this straightforward and easy to read format is key. 

Here are a couple quick examples of correct and incorrect formatting:

1) Always use bullet points for your descriptions.

Long paragraphs can be hard to read and make your work experience section look too cluttered.

Incorrect:

Restaurant Manager, 2018 – 2020

In this position as a restaurant manager, I worked diligently to help implement new point of sales systems that greatly reduced operational costs. I also managed a staff of over 20 waiters on any given day. Of my responsibilities, I was in charge of handling customer complaints and issuing refunds. 

Correct:

Restaurant Manager, 2018 – 2020
Mellow Mushroom • Nashville, TN

• Hired and trained over 20 staff members.
• Implemented point of sales systems that reduced operational costs by 15 percent.
• Reduced customer complaints and refunds by 25 percent

2) Be specific as possible.

When writing your work experience descriptions, try to be as specific as possible rather than providing vague descriptions of your work accomplishments in the position. 

Incorrect:

Junior Graphic Designer, The Coca-Cola Company
Atlanta, GA • June 2017 – July 2020

• Responsible for making creative designs for the company.
• Created hundreds of different designs for a variety of projects.
• Worked closely with top-corporate officials. 

Correct:

Junior Graphic Designer, The Coca-Cola Company
Atlanta, GA • June 2017 – July 2020
 
• Led the design, development, and implementation of a label design project.
• Designed and implemented new branding materials, including a re-design of the logo. 
• Presented key deliverables to executive level stakeholders. 

In the following Content Marketing Associate resume example, you can see how Sarah has emphasized each of her bullet points with specific relevant keywords.

Content Marketing Associate

How to List Achievements and Accomplishments

When it comes to listing your achievements and accomplishments on a resume, there are several considerations to keep in mind

As a general rule of thumb, your job descriptions are the best place to showcase your greatest accomplishments within a position.

For example, let’s say you worked in a sales position and raised overall sales by 10 percent.

This is the kind of specific accomplishment you will want to list within your job description. 

As previously mentioned, you will always want to be as specific as possible when listing out your achievements.

Here are some examples of how to properly list your accomplishments within your work experience section:

If you have specific data to quantify an accomplishment, always provide specific numbers rather than generalized statements.

Incorrect:

Increased productivity of staff immensely over the course of the position.

Correct:

Improved staff productivity rates by 30 percent, leading to a reduction of labor costs by 45 percent

Awards are a type of achievement that can be particularly useful to include.

Keep in mind that a hiring manager may not be familiar with company-specific awards.

Thus, you should provide enough detail to explain the importance of the award. 

Incorrect:

Earned the Departmental MVP Award in 2019.

Correct

Earned the 2019 Departmental MVP Award for increasing productivity and efficiency rates, as well as improving cross-functionality of the department. 

Depending on the quantity of achievements you have, it may also be beneficial to create a section devoted entirely to your professional accomplishments.

The key takeaway here, however, is that job descriptions are one the most useful places to showcase your job-specific achievements. 

Add More Experience with Relevant Certifications

Although certifications may not be direct work experience, they often times are major indicators to employers of how qualified the candidate is for a position.

To earn a certification, you will typically be required to complete an accredited course successfully.

It can be tempting to include every certification you have ever earned on your resume as a way to help add some extra detail and interest.

However, when you are including certifications you should still be keeping relevancy as your top priority.

As such, only the most relevant certifications should be showcased. For instance, let’s say you have a CPR and First Aid certification.

If you are applying to become a school nurse, these kinds of certifications are not only important but are likely required.

Comparatively, if you are applying to a position as a content writer, these certifications hold no relevance. 

If you have earned a certification as a result of working a previous job, then you would likely want to include that certification in that specific job description.

Otherwise, your certifications may be better suited in their own devoted section.

Additionally, working to earn relevant certifications that you can list in tandem with your work experience section can help you to greatly stand out from other job applicants.

Here is a quick list of a few well-known certifications that would be useful to include on a resume:

  • PMP: PMP is a Project Manager certification and is given to professionals with a four-year degree, a minimum of three years of project management experience, and the successful completion of the PMP exam and hour requirements. 
  • NCLEX-RN: The NCLEX certification is the required certification for nursing professionals put forth by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. 
  • PHR: The PHR certification stands for Professional in Human Resources and is earned through successful completion of an exam upon confirmation of eligibility. 
  • SERVSAFE: ServSafe certifications are used in the restaurant industry to certify that kitchen and waitstaff are following all proper food and drink protocols. 

For more information on how to best show certifications, check out our guide on listing certifications on a resume.

Use Strong Action Verbs

When you are writing your resume, you want the words you use to engage the person who is reading it.

Chances are that the hiring manager reading your resume will read hundreds of other resumes that all contain similar words, verbs, and phrases. 

When choosing which words to use in your resume, it is important to remember that you don’t want to tell the employer why you are a great candidate.

Instead, you want to use the words to show the employer why you are the best candidate. 

This is where strong action verbs come in.

In your job descriptions, rather than saying something boring like “managed a staff of 50+ members” —  instead use a stronger action verb such as “delegated” or “directed.”

Here are a couple quick tips for using strong action verbs on your resume:

1) Always lead with your action verb

Don’t bury your action verbs or make them difficult to spot.

Start your sentences with a powerful action verb instead.

Incorrect:

I helped senior executives with important administrative tasks.

Correct:

Assisted senior executives with administrative tasks, including managing travel schedules and optimizing file organization systems. 

2) Make it contextual and supporting

While it is important to use action verbs, don’t just use any word that comes to mind.

The words you use should make sense in the context of how they are being used to describe a job. 

Incorrect:

Prohibited operational costs from exceeding budgetary restrictions.

Correct:

Maintained low operational costs according to budgetary restrictions. 

Though both of these statements essentially say the same thing, the latter is much more clear and better represents your professional achievement. 

For more ideas on which action verbs to include on your resume, check out our list of 350+ Action Verbs to Make Your Resume More Effective in 2021. 

How to Show Job Promotions

If you have worked in a previous job for a longer period of time, chances are you have received a promotion or two along the way.

Keeping track of these promotions and showing your professionals growth is essential. 

There are a couple different ways to show promotions within a job description.

When showcasing different roles you have held within the same job or company, it is important to list your highest position first and work backwards from there.

As an example, let’s look at two different ways a job candidate could list their promotion from office assistant to office manager on a resume:

1) Stacking job promotions

Use stacked positions to show your growth over time, with the most recent and highest position at the top.

Incorrect:

Office Assistant, Tennessee Valley Authority
Nashville, TN • January 2015 – January 2016

• Promoted to current position of Office Manager in 2016.

Correct:

Office Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority • January 2016 – November 2020
Office Assistant
, Tennessee Valley Authority • January 2015 – 2016

This kind of stacked formatting is an easy way to show you growth within a company without having to detail each position.

This is a good format option for when you want to focus solely on the highest position you earned.

2) Listing job promotions as separate entries

This format is useful if you served in each position for several years with different responsibilities in each. 

Incorrect:

Office Assistant and Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority
January 2015 – November 2020

Correct:

Office Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority
January 2016 – November 2020

• Job Description & Achievements

Office Assistant, Tennessee Valley Authority

January 2015 – January 2016

• Job Description & Achievements

The choice to format promotions as two separate entries should be reserved for instances where most or all of your work experience has been in different positions within the same company

Otherwise, the stacked format allows you to feature other work experiences with different employers as well. 

Legal Assistant

Addressing Career Gaps in Your Work Experience

In some cases, a job applicant may not have very much relevant work experience or they may have large career gaps.

If this is the case for you, it can be useful to consider utilizing different resume formats to help fill in those gaps. 

The worst thing you can do is try to hide these career gaps from hiring managers.

These are the types of details they will be looking out for, and signs of deception are likely to get your resume thrown out immediately.

Instead, you should consider the different resume formats that may be better suited to showcasing your skills rather than your experience.

Here are the three main types of resume formats and how we'd rate them from best to worst for addressing career gaps:

1) Functional (best)

Functional formatted resumes focus more on skills and unpaid experiences, making them well suited for applicants without a strong work history.

2) Hybrid/Combination (good)

Hybrid resumes will combine elements of both reverse-chronological and functional resumes, making them good to use when you have career gaps. 

3) Reverse-Chronological (worst)

This format focuses on making the work experience section the main component of the resume so it won't be the best choice for you.

Though having limited work experience or large career gaps can certainly make the resume writing process more difficult, it is by no means impossible to create an effective resume in spite of this.

Check out our guide for writing a resume with no work experience for more advice on how to create a resume when you have limited experience or career gaps.

How to Show Volunteer Work and Internship Experience

For some applicants, especially those who may still be in school or are recent graduates, you may lack paid working experience but have several good examples of volunteer work and internships. 

Generally speaking, your internship experiences can go in your work experience section, as these are still technically professional experiences you applied for and earned based on your academic credentials.

Volunteer work, comparatively, should often be listed in a separate section as this is not typically considered “professional experience.”

Nonetheless, volunteer work can still hold a good amount of value, especially if it is directed related to the job you are applying for.

For instance, an IT professional may have volunteered their time to work on a not-for-profit software development project.

Though this experience was unpaid, it provided the applicant with experience working directly with software developers.

This kind of experience will still be crucial to share with potential employers. 

Consider an Alternative Format

If your work experience is limited to internships and volunteer work, this may be another good opportunity to utilize the functional or hybrid resume formats.

This will allow you to showcase the unpaid experience you have, while also sharing the focus with other sections such as skills and academic accomplishments. 

How Far Back Should Your Work History Go?

We’ve covered the importance of timeliness and longevity when deciding which previous jobs to include in your work experience section.

The reality of how far back you should go ultimately depends on the position you are applying for.

For applicants who are applying to entry-level or lower-level jobs, keeping your work experience section concise and focusing on jobs you have worked in the past 1 to 5 years is likely to be preferable. 

Comparatively, if you are applying for a senior-level position, or for a position in the fields of science or academia, it is recommended to showcase more of your professional background.

For instance, applicants who are seeking positions in academic fields will likely want to use a CV format which typically will cover most – if not all – of both their professional and academic background. 

Not every job is the same, nor is every applicant the same, so how much you include on your resume will depend on the situation at hand.

Luckily, there are many resources to help, such as our guide on on writing the perfect resume.

Key Takeaways

By now you should feel a much greater sense of confidence for how you should be writing and formatting your work experience on your resume.

Here are five key takeaways to remember as you embark on your resume writing journey:

1. Relevancy is Key

When listing out your work experiences, keep in mind which of your previous jobs are the most relevant to the position you are now applying for.

You don’t want to weigh down your resume with too many jobs and job descriptions, so narrowing down to the 3 – 5 most relevant experiences is key. 

Do keep in mind the other three factors we discussed as well: timeliness, longevity, and position.

You want to showcase how your prior work experiences have given you the skillsets to make you highly qualified for the job you are seeking. 

2. Show, Don’t Tell

When writing your job descriptions, avoid using statements such as “I did this” or “I accomplished this.”

Instead, word your descriptions in a way that showcase your achievements and strengths within the position.

Employers don’t want to be told what you can do because words only mean so much without the evidence to back them up.

Show hiring managers what you are capable of by providing clear and quantifiable examples of how you have excelled in your previous positions. 

3. Use Strong Action Verbs

Begin each of your bullet points in your job descriptions with strong action verbs that clearly represent the action or accomplishment you are showcasing.

The use of these verbs not only helps to clarify your work experience section, but also helps emphasize key points, tasks and achievements.

However, be wary of using these verbs just for the sake of using them.

Always make sure the verbs you are choosing relate back to the statement you are making so you don't not accidentally cause any confusion.

4. Keep it Simple 

Bullet points and simple sentences are your friend. Most hiring managers are not going to read through your resume in its entirety.

Thus, having bite size and concise descriptions that effectively represent your abilities, skills, and accomplishments is key. 

5. Determine Which Format is Best for You

If your work experience is limited, you may want to consider using an alternative resume format.

To help determine which format best suits your needs, take a look at our guide for choosing the correct resume format

Closing Thoughts

Your relevant work experience can make or break your opportunity for landing an interview with the job of your dreams.

Figuring out the best and most concise way to list your experience is, thus, crucial. 

To learn more about how to craft the best resume possible, check out our comprehensive guides and resume templates to get started making your perfect resume today. 

Rohit Sahay
Rohit Sahay
Rohit is a software engineer, entrepreneur, and investor with a passion for helping others advance in their career. He interviews experts across different industries, researches job market trends, and provides career advice at every step of the job search process.
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