Your job resume is typically your first interaction with a potential employer. It's the one document that hiring staff will use to not only decide whether you are qualified for the position, but also whether your skills and talents are a good fit for the company as a whole. This information is often taken from your work experience, so if you want it to shine, formatting your resume correctly is key. Here are a few tips to help.

Information to Include in Your Work Experience

The most basic advice for resume writing and how to format it, specifically the work experience section, is that it must include the information the new employer would want most. Therefore, each entry should clearly state:

  • The name of the company you work or worked for, and its location
  • Your dates of employment
  • The job position or title that you held
  • Your responsibilities, duties, and achievements in bulleted form

If your work history does not include all of this information, it isn't complete enough for the new company to clearly decide whether you might be right for their open role. This increases the likelihood that they'll set your resume aside and move on to the next.

Choosing the Right Work Experience Format

There are a few different ways to format a resume, making it important to choose the one that best highlights your work history. One option is to list your work experience chronologically, naming your employers with the most recent first and working your way backward. The benefit of this approach is that it shows how your career has advanced from one stage to the next.

Another approach to resume writing is to take a more functional route. This involves listing past employers and roles based on the skills you learned that would best apply to the open position. If you are a new grad or changing careers, this format may make more sense.

You could also combine the two to more fully express your related experience and skills in a way that puts you in the most positive light possible. This generally involves listing related experience first, focusing on your skills and professional achievements second.

Work History Length

When you only have one chance to make a good first impression and show that you are qualified for the job, it's tempting to want to tell the employer about your every skill and accomplishment. However, this would create a work history so long that their eyes will gloss over when reading it. Instead, when formatting your resume, aim to be brief and to the point.

Come up with a list of all of the information you want to share about yourself and the roles you previously held. Next, compare that list to the job post to see which skills, talents, and accomplishments match what they're looking for. Make those a priority within your work experience. You can explain the rest when called in for an interview.

It's All About the Right Words

In the past, when an employer had an open position, someone had to sift through the resumes by hand. Now, many businesses use applicant tracking systems. These are computer programs designed to help identify qualified applicants, reducing the final list and saving the company a lot of time.

The key to resume writing worthy of making the first cut requires that you use words the system is programmed to find. Unfortunately, you won't know what those words are upfront, which is where the job post comes in handy.

Look at the desired qualifications and, for the ones you have, be sure to use the same wording when listing them in your work history. Use variations and acronyms when you can in case they've only programmed the system to look for one or the other. For example, if your work history includes working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, you'll also want to include the acronym CNA.

How Far Back Should Your Work Experience Go?

This is one of the most common questions asked with formatting a resume. You want to include enough of a work history to show that you're qualified, but you don't want to go back so far that you list your babysitting job when you were 12 years old. So, how far back should your work history go?

Some job search experts recommend that, when formatting a resume, you should include all of the jobs you've held during the last 10 to 15 years. Others say that it is less about a specific length of time and more about going back as far as necessary to show the prospective employer that you can do the job.

Since the advice is mixed on this factor, it may be helpful to think about what the position entails. Can you convey that you are qualified with your last couple of jobs or do you need to go back a bit further to show more relevant experience? When in doubt, it may be better to supply a work experience summary that is a bit longer than they want than one that is way too short.

More Help on Resume Writing

Formatting a resume correctly can help you get the job you desire. These tips should help you create a compelling work history that effectively highlights all of your past experience. If you want more help crafting an effective resume, contact Saint Leo University's Career Services. We offer a number of job searching services that can help you stand apart.