What to include in a resume experience section and how to impress recruiters

March 11, 2021

Captivating summary statement? – Check! Well-organized and aesthetically-pleasing CV? – Check! Concise and relevant experience? Oh, no! This section seems to be messy, uninformative, and it sounds fake. Next candidate, please!

That’s right! You can create the tidiest resume a recruiter has ever seen, but if there’s anything wrong with your experience section, they will likely move on to the next job applicant. That tells a lot about how essential this category is, right?

Indeed, the experience section is the crucial element of a resume. Regardless of how significant other parts are, recruiters are reading CVs to determine whether someone has relevant qualifications for the job role. It is where experience enters the picture to make a job applicant stand out and show why they’re the best choice.

Thanks to this section, employers get insights into your employment history and whether your past responsibilities match their requirements. No matter if you’re starting your career or have extensive experience, it can be tricky to organize this section and decide what to include.

Here is everything you need to know about what to include in a resume experience section.

What is a resume experience section and what to include

Some job-seekers might be unsure about the difference between the skills and experience section and where to place volunteering activities. It is why it’s essential to cover the basics.

The work experience section covers your professional history: previous job role titles, tenure dates, employers, tasks, and responsibilities, as well as what were your accomplishments. You’re allowed to include full-time and part-time positions, internships, and volunteering.

But if you have extensive work experience, preferably use this section for professional roles only. That means that if your volunteering experience and internships are relevant to the role, you can create a separate category.

Think about the professional experience as the ultimate unique value proposition (UVP) of your product. It is what defines your resume and you as a candidate. Ultimately, it’s the work experience that will sell you as a job applicant and compel the employer with your expertise.

The goal is to show-off what you can offer and include only job role-relevant professional history that will place you ahead of the other candidates.

How much work experience should a CV include?

Whether you’re a veteran with many years of professional experience behind you, or a fresh grad looking to start a career, you might wonder how much should you include in your resume. Here are our recommendations.

Job applicants with no experience

No matter if you just finished your studies or took a gap year, you should include all paid and unpaid experience you might have. That includes participation in student associations and organizations, (unpaid) internships, practicums, and volunteering. Ensure that you elaborate on every role and what did you learn or achieve during that experience. It is recommendable to place this section below the education category.

Entry-level job-seekers

If you have limited work experience, add all paid positions you had and explain what your accomplishments working in that company or organization were. Include part-time jobs, internships, freelancing, and any significant and relevant projects. 

Junior and mid-level job applicants

At this stage, you probably have enough experience that could be compatible with your desired job role. List only the relevant ones from your area of expertise and add detailed job descriptions. You can also add other, less significant, positions, such as freelancing and temp gigs or independent projects and internships. But ensure these are only brief mentions. 

Senior-level candidates

A long career means you probably have an extensive work history, but add only the last 15 years and relevant experience. That means the job positions you choose to add to your resume should be related to the one you’re applying for because it increases your odds of being noticed.

How should you write the work experience section?

Before starting to write your experience section, remember to always keep in mind to make it relevant. Even if you’re fresh out of college and only have volunteering experience, find a way to connect with the skills your desired job position requires. 

Use the reverse-chronological order to list your work experience. We recommend using the experience format below, which you will also find in our resume builder.

One of the most frequent mistakes candidates make when writing their experience section is that they add only the tasks without highlighting their accomplishments. Besides, job applicants often forget to pay attention to the words they use in a resume. 

A resume work experience section is ideal for writing power words that contain an action verb. These are the keywords recruiters often use to screen CVs and quickly find the most compatible candidates. These words show that you are capable of succeeding. For instance, keywords like accomplished, helped, and specialized. But go beyond that.

Visit the website of the company you want to work for and skim through their About Us page. Seek keywords they use to describe their brand and values. You can add these words to explain how one of your previous job roles made you more innovative, tech-savvy, or compassionate.

TIP: Don’t forget to use the keywords from the company’s job ad.

Don’t forget to use the keywords from the company’s job ad. If, for example, the ideal candidate of your desired employer is analytical or detail-oriented, mention how while working on your previous job role, you had to use your analytical skills. 

Ultimately, keep in mind that your future employer wants to uncover how you helped other companies grow, solve problems, or increase revenues. Highlight these and, if possible, add numbers to make it stand out. Perhaps you helped a client get 50.000 new followers on Instagram. Don’t be shy to brag about those achievements. 

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What should you do about the gap years in a resume?

The majority of people have at least one gap year in their career. Whether that’s because they decided to travel after finishing college or they struggled with health issues, people go through different situations and difficulties in life. Even though no employer should judge a candidate according to gap periods in a resume, it will happen.

You must wonder what to do if there’s a noticeable period of no work-related activity in your CV. Well, it turns out employers don’t care as much about gap years in a resume as people think, at least if they’re not longer than nine months.

2014 study examined whether long-term unemployment spells influence employers’ hiring decisions. The results have shown that recruiters don’t give much importance to periods of unemployment under 9 months.

If you’ve been without work longer than that, it probably won’t affect the ultimate hiring decision if there’s a long period of the professional experience afterward. Besides, contemporary employment gaps over nine months matter more if you’re applying for low-skill jobs. 

Hence, most recruiters will perceive resume gaps as red flags because they fear what could be behind them. Perhaps a candidate is an alcoholic, criminal, or not interested in work. It is why the best way to clear out the doubts is to explain them.

Don’t conceal them by manipulating other employment dates because companies run background checks. Expect that recruiters will probably bring that up during the interview. Be prepared and be honest. 

But avoid explaining yourself and keep it short because it shows your confidence and that you believe what you’re saying. Also, don’t worry about gap periods from more than seven years ago because recruiters probably won’t care about something that happened that long time ago. 

Thus, if employers ask about the gap years, you can mention all the skills and knowledge you earned in that period. 

Should you include volunteering in a resume?

A volunteering experience shows your commitment, initiative, and willingness to do something that’s not necessarily paid. However, if you have more than five years of relevant work experience, you can exclude volunteering unless it’s of paramount importance for a job role.

But if you’re in the early stages of your career and with little to no professional history, it’s recommendable to include volunteering in the experience section. The same rules apply: elaborate on your responsibilities and achievements to make them more relevant.

Use our professional resume builder to avoid delving into how to structure your experience section. We’ve got you covered!

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