Last week, we suggested a model for describing your business accomplishments. This week, we will discuss our approach to outlining your work history. You will be ready to write a strong professional experience section for your resume, or give us the information we need to do it for you.
Employers like resumes with no gaps even though they know many of our employers have closed temporarily due to COVID-19. We may also have gaps in employment in the past for a variety of reasons.
There are several essential steps to outlining your work experience. The process may take just a few minutes for many of us. Others will want to give it thought. Specifically, we should address the following: 1
- What qualifies as professional experience?
- Where have you worked in the last 10 years?
- What job titles did you hold,
- When did you hold each title?
You may want to jot the answers down quickly, and then read the following sections.
What is professional experience?
We can all start with our list of the jobs we’ve held, the years we were at those jobs, and our job titles. This list will raise questions for many of us because we have been through mergers, downsizing, breaks to raise families, and other events that disrupted a smooth flow up the traditional corporate ladder.
Each entry in our outline, should include the name of our employer, the office location, the years that we worked there, and our job titles.
Employer Names: Most of us will not have any difficulty knowing the names of the employers to list on our resumes, but questions occasionally arise. Companies merge, break-up into subsidiaries, or change names several times during our career.
We recommend using the current name of a job candidate’s employer. Readers can identify the organization and find it on the Internet. For example, I worked for a Federal agency that was once known as the US. General Accounting Office. The agency is now called the U.S. Government Accountability Office. I used the organization’s current name on my resume and LinkedIn profile, because not everyone will know the old name.
Your list may contain names of companies that paid you to do work at other organizations. For example, a client listed OfficeTeam, a temporary employment agency, as her employer. OfficeTeam assigned her to work at Prudential. She worked in Prudential’s office, used their equipment, reported to a supervisor at Prudential, and followed their rules at her job. Her temp agency cut her paycheck, and sent her tax forms, but had little else to do with her. So, for resume purposes, she worked at Prudential.
I simplified an engineer’s resume a few months ago because he started working at his current company in 1988, but his department was eliminated around 1995. His work was so valuable, though, that his bosses sent him to another company that put him on the payroll, then sent him back to work at the same desk! Eventually, the original company found a way to bring him back on their own payroll, where he remained until the end of 2014. So he really worked for the same company, in the same job, from 1988 to 2014.
Employer Locations: We list only the city and state the employer is located in. This is normally the location where you worked, not the headquarters or payroll office location. For example, my own employers included the U.S. Government Accountability Office, headquartered in Washington, DC, and ResCare, with a payroll office in Media, Pennsylvania, and headquarters office in Louisville, Kentucky. I worked for ResCare at an office in Brooklyn, New York, and for the GAO at an office in Manhattan, so the locations on my resume are Brooklyn, NY and New York, NY. Do not list zip codes.
Occasionally, we have to figure out what location to list. For example, a woman I assisted worked for an organization that sent her on missions to far flung corners of the earth, such as Mali and Ecuador. The head office was someplace in New York, but the client never set foot there. Nonetheless, she reported to them remotely, while travelling around the world to do her work, it made sense, in my view, to list the head office location.
Another option we considered for the missionary was to omit her work location from the headline. Then, we would have omitted the location from every job headline to be consistent.
Employment Dates: We know our dates of employment and have little trouble writing them down, but we may not be sure how to present these dates. For example, should we list our dates of employment on the right side of the page, left side of the page, or just after the employer name? Do we need to list years, or months and years?
List only years of employment, rather than months and years. Otherwise, readers will look at small gaps between jobs, and perhaps ask about them, when the gaps would not even be visible if we list only years. Also, if a job lasted only a few months, we should not include it on our resume as a separate line-item.
I recommend placing dates of employment at the right margin, after the employer and location. We read from left to right in English, so the dates of employment will be seen last. Our potential employer will first see where we worked and what we accomplished, before seeing whether we worked there for a very short or a very long time.
Often, we have several jobs at one employer. It may be confusing to place all the dates at or near the right margin, but we could format the dates as follows:
CONSORTIUM FOR WORKER EDUCATION 1998 – 2004
Professional Re-employment, Outplacement, and Staffing Services (PROS), Manhattan and Brooklyn Worker Career Centers (WCC)
Career Advisor (2001-2004)
Job Developer (Research Analyst) (1998-2001)
Follow-up Coordinator (1998)
Employers can verify employment dates, so the most important thing is to provide accurate dates, regardless of how we format the information.
Job Titles: A pet peeve of recruiters is that they feel job candidates do not list accurate job titles on resumes. We often have payroll titles, and a functional title that our department gave us. Some clients have told me they have another title that they give the public, and the title that appears on their business card and external email signature. A sales person, for example, is often an “Account Executive” on their business card. Use a title that your current employer and recent employers will confirm during a reference check.
Fill your gaps in salaried employment.
Some of us will find gaps in our employment history when we list out the jobs we have had, and when we worked at those jobs. Potential employers imagine the worst case scenario for an employment gap. Gaps in paid employment occur for a variety of good reasons. Some of us take time off to raise families, or attend graduate school, for example. We can explain this when we get to the interview, but first we have to get in the door.
Often, when we think about it, we’ll find that we were doing something that can be put on the resume in the Professional Experience section. A young mother I worked with, for example, volunteered to teach computer literacy at her child’s school while she was taking a break from her IT career. She also developed a payment app for her local “mom and pop” supermarket. We put both on her resume under “Independent Consultant,” without differentiating between the paid and unsalaried project. According to a 1995 Five O’clock Club article by Kate Wendleton, “salary is not a resume issue.”
Think about what you have done while away from the workforce. Chances are, even during the current crisis, you were not sitting in front of the TV or posting to Facebook all day. You are probably doing something that adds to your record of accomplishments.
Let go of ancient history.
Frequently, job candidates come to me with three or four page resumes because they have documented every job they have had for the last 30 years. Resumes need not be one page, but no one is likely to read a three or four page resume.
Include jobs that ended less than ten years ago. Employers do not have records going back more than seven to ten years, and technology has changed a great deal in the last few decades. There’s a good chance your current job title—Web Developer, for example—did not exist 20 years ago. So, it may not strengthen your case to dwell on the details of your career prior to 2010.
A good compromise is to create a subheading, “Employment Prior to 2010:” then list the employers and job titles with no dates or narrative. This acknowledges that your career did not start in 2010 without giving away your age, or getting into details of a prior career.
You are ready to write your experience section!
You are prepared to write the experience section of your resume with relative ease if you have done an accomplishment worksheet and outlined your work experience. Don’t despair if you still find it daunting to create a polished professional resume from this information. That’s what we do! Click our free consultation link to schedule an appointment on the telephone