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How to Hone Your Resume's Experience Section

At different moments in life, certain big questions arise. That one moment when you whisper to the love of your life “Will you marry me?” Or maybe when you ask your best friend “Wanna come?” because you don’t want to travel the world by yourself.

Whether it's a hard question or an easy one, you need answers that will move you in the right direction.

Let's say, things aren't going well at work. You did your best, the company gave you irreplaceable experience, but you can't see a future there. The moment is here and the new big question looms - is it time to move on? Writing good resume and effective cover letter is next on your agenda.

The big question leads to smaller and more specific ones. How should you frame your experience to appeal to a potential employer? How can you compete with other candidates? What will make you stand out?

Friends and the love of your life may give you great support, but they may not have all the answers. That's where this guide can help you.

Follow complete instructions on how to format the experience section of your resume so it truly stand out.

On this article:

Competitive Job Market

According to an ERE Survey, each corporate job opening attracts 250 applications, and of these candidates, only four to six are called for an interview.

That is the main reason that no one calls candidates with resumes that are irrelevant, dull, or ordinary. The company with a job opening is searching for the most skillful and energetic professional whose talent will benefit the company, as well as a person whose career goal is highly relevant to the job.

Nobody hires an inept person.

Instead of sending generic resumes to hundreds of companies, concentrate on the ones that appeal to you the most. What job ads attract your attention? Find five great companies and tailor a resume for each one. The next day, find five more.

Airbnb Office (photo by customspaces.com)
Google Tel Aviv Office (photo by officesnapshots.com)
Zynga Office (photo by officesnapshots.com)
Urban Outfitter office (photo by officesnapshots.com)
Inventionland office (photo by officesnapshots.com)

If you don't want that amazing job opportunity to skip right over you, stop sending broadly-worded resumes to random companies. Your goal is to get a job that you really like.

HR and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

As we discussed earlier, the problem in today's job market is that too many people apply for the same position. Many just want to get ANY job. Many do not have the required skills, while others have little passion or relevancy. Others (like you) may have the skills, dedication, and experience, but without tailoring, their resumes do not reflect the fact.

Due to the overwhelming number of job applications recruiters receive, companies have started using a type of software to make the hiring process easier - an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This is how an ATS works:

  1. A resume goes through an automated scanning process, which extracts text from the document.
  2. The program separates text into the most common categories: experience, education, skills and contact information.
  3. The ATS then compares skills and keywords indicated by the employer to the skills and phrases found in the resume.
  4. The ATS then scores the resume on relevancy.
  5. Only then does a hiring manager begin sifting through the applications.

Most irrelevant resumes are rejected without even a glance from an actual human being. An HR manager examines only those resumes to which the ATS assigns the highest relevancy scores. How many top-scored resumes s/he examines is questionable, but the fact remains that only four to six candidates receive a call.

Highly scored resumes have keywords that the ATS process matched to the job description, but the recruiter spends the first few seconds repeating the process by scanning for essential words. The heart of the resume is the "Experience" section, and it receives the most attention. If the clues you left there add up to relevant information, the company will consider you as a promising candidate.

So all you need to do is make sure your resume stands out from the swirling mass of generic resumes. You can achieve this by spending just forty minutes on tailoring a single resume, dropping the right hints, and presenting your information in a focused manner. Follow these steps and get the call. Easy.

Tailoring the Resume

"In short, tailoring means customizing bullet points to feature skills relevant to the role and rearranging sections to bring the most applicable experience to the top."

Katie Douthwaite Wolf, Marketing writer.

A resume without tailoring is worse than nothing – it consumes your time and motivation but gives you zero results. Hiring managers stare at these resumes all day and can easily recognize them. So how do you start? Follow the six simple rules below:

  1. Set a daily goal to write five tailored resumes for five companies that you really like.
  2. Think how a particular company can help you achieve your career goal.
  3. Read and understand the description of the job you are applying for. Do a little research on the company.
  4. Pick out relevant and important phrases and keywords. Also, use powerful words.
  5. Turn your previous job duties into accomplishments and tailor them to a job description.
  6. Put your strongest tailored accomplishments (not duties) towards the top.

The more relevant accomplishments you have on your resume, the greater chance you have of standing out. You can be sure that five tailored resumes get a higher response rate than 50 generic ones.

The job description outlines the responsibilities, qualifications, and requirements of the job. The closer your resume matches the job description, the better your chances of being considered for the job. Don't, however, just copy the job description into your resume. Use phrases and keywords to tailor your accomplishments but not to change them.

Using these tips should significantly increase your professional image for that particular job description. Not some random job, but The Job that you really like. Start tailoring.

Achievements versus Duties

One of the single most annoying and unprofessional mistakes job candidates make is writing a poor description of their work experience. Phrases that begin with "I was responsible for . . ." and "My main duties . . ." are a sure way to get your job application rejected, even if the ATS system gave your resume a high score.

In fact, according to an NFIB study, 48% of small businesses report that there are few or no qualified applicants for the positions they are trying to fill.

Everyone agrees that having a lot of experience adds value to a resume, but what is that experience worth if it doesn't bring results? Too many candidates miss a key distinction and end up projecting an unprofessional image. Avoid making the mistake of simply listing duties, which basically just states what tasks your former positions encompassed. Instead, use the experience section to highlight your abilities and achievements. That shows your impact.

Anyone can say what jobs he has done. Step it up by showing what you accomplished at those jobs. In short, a duty describes what you did; an accomplishment describes how well you did it.

Show what you did rather than simply tell what you did.

This should include increasing positive numbers, decreasing negative ones, solving problems, fulfilling goals/targets, and any other kind of improvement you made during your time with the company.
It just takes a little extra effort to reshape your duties into results-driven accomplishments. Employers favor candidates who take action and solve problems for their company.

"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra."

— Jimmy Johnson.

Ask Yourself Questions

Your experience statement is a list of impressive personal facts. So, before reading the job description and writing great experience statements, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are your accomplishments?
  • How can you benefit the company?
  • Did you do anything better than other employees did?
  • Did you earn a promotion? Did you win any awards?
  • Did you improve any processes, systems, or methods?
  • Did you solve any problems?
  • Did you save or make the company money?
  • Did you consistently meet goals?
  • Did you make the company more competitive?
  • Finally, how can you prove any of this with numbers?

After answering these questions, write all of your accomplishments as a draft. (You can use your CV as a draft.) Only then read the job description, and using information from the draft, create a brief, custom one-page resume.

Do some quick research. What things is the company really looking for, and what parts of your experience would contribute the most to the position?

What to Include?

List the companies you worked for, dates of employment, the positions you held, and a bullet list of achievements. The format of the resume experience section should have:

  1. Name of the company
  2. Employment dates
  3. Job title
  4. Accomplishment Statements:
    • The best tailored Achievement/Result
    • The second best tailored Achievement/Result
    • Tailored Achievement/Result
    • . . .

Paragraphs are acceptable, but bullet points are easier to follow. Don't let your efforts to keep things short and sweet extend to shortening job titles, though. Using your full title looks more professional and is easier for managers to understand. Support your job title with accomplishments and results.

Rules for Writing Perfect Accomplishment Statements:

It cannot be stressed enough: write accomplishments instead of duties. This is not advice. If you want to be one of the six candidates who receive a call, it's a rule.

There are several principles you should follow to hone the presentation of your job accomplishments. These techniques will set you apart from the majority of job seekers, who simply list their responsibilities. This says nothing about what matters most: results.

1. Be specific

It's pretty easy to show your past performance. Be as specific as you can, using an accomplishments-results structure. Think of what your achievements are and how can you confirm them. For example:

Accomplishment: Increased revenue.

Result: $20,000 profit raise in two years.

Accomplishment: Tripled active client base.

Result: Increase from 2,200 to 6,000.

Imagine how a so-so candidate would write duties instead of showing achievements. Companies aren't searching for someone who can do the tasks set forth in the job description, because all 250 candidates can do it.

Companies search for the person who can do these tasks in a way that will get results. Show them this, and you will be speaking their language.

2. Never use "I."

Present your results, but never use the word "I." Why not? Simple – either you begin every statement with "I," or you don't use this word at all. Each statement on your resume should have the same brief verb-noun (accomplishments-results) structure, which leaves no space for repeating "I" over and over again.
Of course, there are exceptions if you decide to use a broad statement format instead of brief points. Long sentences sound weird without such words as "I," "We," or "Me."

Example: "When we acquired Tony Capitals in 2015, I met 100% of our goals of leading the new cross-functional team."

Another reason to not use "I" is more psychological. Job and position are all about the company ("we"), not about you ("I"). You sound selfish and arrogant if you state results and achievements as your own success.

Again, when you use brief statements, don't use the word "I." Look professional.

3. Start with action verbs

Achieve maximum impact by starting brief statements with a performance. Begin every sentence with an action verb that can lead to the scope or results of your activities. (Look at how this paragraph started. How much weaker would it sound if it did not start with an action word?)

Statements that start with adjectives or nouns are passive and not driven. These statements are generic and are used by mediocre people who have nothing to offer but tasks and responsibilities. These candidates never receive a call. Examples:

Starting with an action verb: "Met 100% of goals as leader of cross-functional teams."

Starting with an adjective: "Skilled at leading cross-functional teams while meeting 100% of goals."

You can see how different each sentence sounds just by changing the structure. Make an impact with your skills from the beginning of the sentence. Also:

  • Don't use "Responsible for ...". This describes duties, not ambition.
  • Don't use "Experienced in ..."., This shows that something happened, but not necessarily that anything was achieved.
  • Don't use "Eight years' experience . . . ," "Two years' experience in . . . ," etc. That is a lame way to start a statement because the recruiter has already seen how long you worked at each company. You don't need to repeat it. If you have had identical experience in several previous positions, describe the differences.

Tip: don't repeat the same action verb because it shows a lack of vocabulary. Start each sentence with a different action verb. If you run out of ideas, use a thesaurus to search for synonyms. Or the great 398 action verbs list for inspiration.

4. Use keywords

Beyond action verbs there are keywords. Tailor your achievements around these special words, which will shine like a spotlight among the massive number of resumes that every job ad generates. ATS programs and HR managers go by keywords, so you MUST use them as well.

While employers do look for people with a solid skill set, the skills section is not the only place you should include valuable words. The best section to put them in is the resume's experience section, because these special keywords and phrases can be gift-wrapped in full sentences and supported by numbers.

Review and pick out valuable keywords from the job description (words that are repeated many times are the most important). Also, use the keywords from the job title on the first statement of your experience section.

What if nothing in your job experience is relevant to the job title? Don't send your resume to this company. It's better to concentrate on five companies that further your career goal instead of every company that offers ANY job.
Remember, scan for and pick out keywords from the job description.

You should also add additional keywords that are highly-valued by the employer:

Words that are important for employers: Revenue/Profit, Service/Product, Growth/Increase, Budget, Idea, Time, Client, Customer, Process, Task.

Strong adjectives: Social, Professional, Structured, Creative, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Decisive, Disciplined, Organized, Thorough, Flexible, Determined, Efficient, Meticulous, Loyal, Diligent, Logical, Persistent, Methodical, Productive, Complex, Patient, Pleasant, Strategic.

Harmful words that you shouldn't use: Always, Never, Nothing, Awful, Bad, Best of breed, Fault, Hate, Mistake, Panic, Problem, Go-getter, Think outside of the box, Go-to person, Results-driven, Hard worker, Self-motivate, Detail-oriented, Proactive.

Since communication skills are the most valuable of all, definitely use the word social in your resume.

A high-impact resume speaks the words an employer wants to hear. There are thousands of great words you can use, but go easy. Too many keywords can distort your resume, and even an ATS is sophisticated enough to filter such "keyword overdosed" resumes.

5. Use numbers

While action words and keyword are important to show how closely you match the candidate a company is looking for, numbers can support these words. In the job market, they often speak even louder than words.

Numbers show you understand business language and as we stated earlier, they give what a company is looking for: employee results.

To illustrate your impact, consider offering some statistics in every single point in your experience section. There are various groups of information that can be shown by numbers, so don't focus only on profit or revenue.

  • Market

You can illustrate your work in a marketing background. In fact, it's the easiest way to use numbers when your results are not dazzling.

Example: Supplied chain analysis in purchasing and inventory management worth $120M in international market.

Example: Found innovative solutions and achieved goals in project management during 2008-2012 financial crisis.

  • Clients

If your accomplishments are not that impressive, use numbers to describe clients instead of results. You can use this type of statement to show that, while you may not be the best, you are improving in a trait that the job description requires. Consider adding such a statement at the end of your experience section.

Example: Implemented retail marketing plans for 3 years for two Fortune 500 corporations.

Example: Managed finances from $1.5M to $20M for several organizations.

  • Percentages

Percentages are one of the best ways to show results and impact. Don't worry if your annual service group growth was only 7%. Show it anyway, because the vast majority of candidates will only write about duties and responsibilities. The small growth you achieved is still a benefit and a result.

"You may be a unique snowflake, but you're not perfect."

- Larry Kim, Founder of WordStream.

Example: Improved UI of 6 websites, which decreased average processing time by 14%.

Example: Reduced service costs by 5% using thorough data analysis.

  • Time

Identify time to show how long you benefited the company. That is the easiest way to put numbers in your statements even if you only had a three-month internship.

Example: Increased monthly sales by $1,500 in 2 months.

  • Currency Ammounts

Include Dollars, Euros, Swazi Lilangeni or whatever your country's currency is in at least one statement. Money is one of the most important elements of business and the indicator of value.

Example: Earned the organization $6,000 using thorough data analysis.

  • Words like "first, only, best, most, highest"

These words might sound arrogant, but they have a huge effect as long as they are not lies. Being the top employee among other coworkers shows something that others don't have.

Example: Only employee in the company to win best employee of the month five times in a row.

Notice that this statement didn't start with an action word, but that's OK. Such words as "first" or "only" are like additional reinforcement for the action words.

...

Numbers are your friends, right words are your intercessors, and a combination will greatly influence a hiring manager's decision. Only four to six candidates are called for an interview, and if you use these instructions wisely, you will be one of them. Check out for more experience statement examples.

6. Past or Present Tense?

Information in the resume should be written in two tenses only, past and present, but mostly in past. Use present tense only if you write about current job duties and everyday responsibilities. But that eliminates what the company is really searching for – results.

Present Tense Example: I am improving methods in building relationships with clients and team members.

Past Tense Example: Improved system and methods in relationship building with clients and team members.

7. Be Honest

You may think no one will notice fake statements in your experience section, but it is not OK to lie just to get a job. First of all, if you double the numbers of your achievements on the resume, the company will expect you to perform at that level. After a while, you will begin to feel pressure, not to mention that your higher-ups will view your performance as mediocre, and that will take all the fun out of the job.

If you tailor your experience and show your small but confident achievements, you will not need "white lies." Leave stretching the truth for run-of-the mill candidates.

Brief and Broad Experience Statement Format

Your experience section is just a performance preview. Since a job description gives specific hints as to what a company expects from candidates, you know whether your accomplishments meet these expectations. There are a few achievements that are really compelling, a few that add value to your profession, and some that create the unique image for your persona.

Depending on the number of statements you want to use in your resume, you have several options for showing how much of an impact you've made:

Use brief experience statements in a bullet list if you can tailor four to six accomplishments. The structure of the sentence is easy – an action that leads to the results. Again, never use duties.

Example: "Met 100% of goals while leading new cross-functional team."

Use broad experience statements in the general list if you can only tailor three or four statements. The best way to form long sentences is to illustrate your achievements by using the same accomplishment and result structure, whether referring to the company's news or changes in its market.

Example: "When we acquired Tony Capitals in 2015, I met 100% of our goals as leader of the new cross-functional team."

Remember, your experience section just previews your performance. Show it with tailored statements.

Some Additional Tips

  • Short experience. If you went through temp jobs for longer than 3 months, simply put "Temporary Employee" as a title along with the name of your agency.

  • Direct contact. You can find any employer contact information on the Internet very easily using websites like LinkedIn. You can find HR managers that have posted job positions, and if you dig deeper, you can find the names of managers and supervisors you would work for. Contact them all. Simply write that you are interested in the company and that you have already applied for the job position. That's the best way to show initiative.

  • Typos, grammar and punctuation. Half of all resumes are thrown out because of grammatical errors. It only takes one. There are lots of techniques to proofread text, for example, read your resume backward. Also, once you finish your resume, take a short break and go back to it after an hour or two. During your break, start searching for another job and write another resume. Remember, your goal should be five companies per day. When you finish the second resume – proofread the first one. Mistakes that were previously glazed over will stand out. You can get someone else to proofread it as well.

Conclusion

There are certain big questions along life's road that beg for great answers. Since we spend most of our existence working, career questions are some of the bigger ones. They have huge importance.

We change jobs often; more rarely we shift our goals. Therefore, our career can sometimes seem to be a tortuous winding path. Successful accomplishments can help by showing us what we love and what we do best. But it takes the time to achieve impressive results.

We gain new experience, we deepen our knowledge and our value increases with each passing year. We know this, and our resume will reflect it. Aim for results and you will find the path to the job of your dreams.