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How Much Work Experience Should Go on Your Resume?

Here are some tips from Rick Herian to help you make the work experience section of your resume stand out!

While every section of your resume is important, the “Work Experience” segment holds a significant amount of weight since it’s where you show the impact you had on an organization through your accomplishments. This section of a resume can also come with a lot of questions because it’s more subjective than sections such as “Education.” 

Before you complete the Work Experience segment, you might have questions such as:

  • How much work experience should I include on my resume? 
  • Do I include my time in retail five years ago, even though I am applying to be a medical assistant
  • Should I include a position I was only at for a few months? 

For answers to those questions and more, here are some tips from Rick Herian, Career Development coach at Herzing University, to help you make the work experience section stand out:

1. Focus on your most recent experience

Try not to emphasize the experience you had 10 or more years ago. Employers are most interested in what you’ve done lately, so the most recent work experience on your resume should have more bullet points detailing your achievements. It’s a good idea to include five to seven bullet points listing your accomplishments and duties for your most recent positions. 

You can include work experience from 8 to 10 years ago, but this content should have fewer bullet points. You should have approximately three unique bullet points for these older positions that show why this experience is important enough to include on a resume. 

2. Make unrelated work experience relevant

We’ve all had those jobs that weren’t really geared toward advancing our careers because we needed to earn some extra money, such as after a layoff. Even though it might seem like a good idea to leave out this experience, that’s not always the case and there are ways to make an unrelated position fit on your resume. 

Employers want to see if you are employable. They want to see when you were employed and for how long to get the full scope of your professional accomplishments. An unrelated job can be very helpful on your resume to help fill a gap between jobs in your chosen career.

You don’t have to get very detailed about this experience, even if it is the most recent job you had. Instead, write three detailed points that highlight soft skills that could transfer to the job you’re applying for. This could include emphasizing your communication and problem-solving skills while providing examples of how you went above and beyond to achieve objectives. These are things that will resonate with employers regardless of industry.  

3. Be ready to explain short-term work experience 

You may have started a job with the best of intentions, but something happened and you left a position after only a few months. It’s okay to include a position like this on your resume if you can explain the circumstances in an interview, such as why you left after a short time. You can also talk about how the current circumstances are different and why, if hired, you plan to stick with this company for the long haul. Employers will appreciate your honesty as well as the insight on why working with their company is the right fit for you.  

If you decide not to include the position, make sure you’re ready to explain why there’s a gap in your employment history. 

4. Include a variety of skills and achievements

Let’s say that you have multiple work experience entries on your resume, but the job title and responsibilities were the same or very similar. Avoid repeating bullet points word-for-word from one job to the next. Once an employer reads a bullet point about a skill or an accomplishment, they get it. They do not need to reread it in the next work experience entry.

Include the most detailed accomplishments in the current or most recent relevant entry. Then, in the other work experience entries, dig deep. Think of that project or task that took you outside of your day-to-day. Even if it was something you only did once, it shows your ability to go outside the typical expectations of your job to positively impact an organization. That is who employers want to hire!

5. Be specific and use data to highlight your impact

In general, employers are more concerned about the impact you made at an organization rather than getting hung up about the job title you had or how long you worked there. When writing work experience bullet points, be detailed and specific. Use data to support your accomplishments. 

For example, employers read bullet points all the time that say things like “Provided high-quality customer service.” What they do not see as often is: “Welcomed, answered initial questions and accurately took orders for over 200 guests per shift, which earned a year-to-date customer satisfaction rating of 95%.”

The difference is clear even though the two are describing the same thing. The takeaway for an employer reading the second example is that you are detailed, data-driven and that you will work hard to get positive results.    

If you treat the Work Experience section as something you must do because all resumes need to have it, then that is how employers are going to read it. If you treat this section as an opportunity to stand out based on the clear and positive impact you had in your past positions, then employers will take notice. It will make it easier for them to consider you for the job!

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Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. Herzing does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salary.

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