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How to Write a Resume:  The Work History Section

Tip 1:  Offer Brief Job Descriptions

The number one complaint employers have about resumes are the long, detailed job duties and descriptions offered by the majority of job seekers.  Some of our clients present us with resumes that offer such long and detailed job descriptions that they are five or six pages long! 

A good rule of thumb is to summarize three or four of your most important job duties and focus on accomplishments since the person reading your resume is probably familiar with what job duties a person in your field does on a routine basis.  For example, if you are a software engineer, the reader is familiar with the routine job duties that a software engineer performs, and therefore, it is a waste of space to list all the job duties commonly performed by software engineers.  Instead, a software engineer should focus on how he made a difference performing his job, e.g., his special achievements and projects.

Tip 2:  You Don't Have To Offer Your Entire Work History

Most employers are only interested in the work you've been performing for the last 15 to 20 years, so if you want to leave off older work history, feel free to do so.  If you're over fifty and think you might be facing some age discrimination, omitting older work history will make you appear younger on paper and help get your foot in the door.

Tip 3:  Use Your Accomplishments to Make Your Resume Stand Out

As mentioned in Tip 1 above, employers don't want to read a boring, long list of routine job duties. What they really want to find out is what you can do for them, which means telling them how well you performed in past jobs.  Therefore, tell them not just what you did, but how well you did it.

Imagine you and another applicant, who happen to have the exact same work history and qualifications, are sitting next to each other being interviewed for the same position.  If the interviewer asked you why he should hire you instead of the other person, what would you give as an answer?  Since the other person has the exact same work history and skills, you would have to distinguish yourself from the competition in some manner.  And the way to do it would be to tell the interviewer how you made a difference. This is the same type of information you should offer on your resume.

Ask yourself:

Did you increase sales or revenue and if so, by how much?
Did you streamline operations that reduced expenses and saved money?
Did you receive any awards or recognition for outstanding work?
Did you solve a major problem the company had?
Did you increase productivity, reduce employee turnover, improve efficiency?
What projects did you work on? Were they completed on-time and within budget?

Compare the quality of the typical resume with one that really stands out:

Boring resumes read like this:

  • Managed staff of 20
  • Responsible for filing documents
  • Responsible for risk management
  • Trained sales staff
  • Responsible for departmental budget

Outstanding resumes reads like this:

  • While managing staff of 20, cut absenteeism 20% and reduced employee turnover 30%
  • Reorganized filing system so sales representatives could retrieve client files without assistance from clerks
  • Developed and implemented TQM programs that reduced losses by approximately 33%
  • Gave weekly motivational lectures to sales staff, which resulted in a 20 percent increase in sales; wrote sales presentation materials, and routinely trained new sales recruits
  • Reduced operational budget 5 percent each year for the budget past three years, saving the company $270,000 in operational expenses

After reading the above, you might be thinking to yourself, "I don't have any accomplishments like those!"  This is true, particularly if you just graduated from college, work in support positions, don't have any work experience, or just lack accomplishments.  After all, not everyone is given the opportunity to "increase revenue 500 percent".  If this is a good description of you, keep reading for techniques you can use to create a better work history section.


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