Resumes: Describing Your Past Experience

The meat of your resume is likely going to be a description of your past experience. In general, this consists mostly or completely of paid work experience, but you can also include relevant volunteer experience. If you're currently in college and don't have a lot of relevant experience yet, you can include campus organizations you're highly involved in.

I explained last week the basic information to include about your experience, such as your position title, the company or organization name, the time frame, and the location. Where most people get stuck is what exactly to say about each of these past positions.

Here are a few tips for crafting these descriptions:

Use bullet points.

A paragraph of text under each past job makes more work for a hiring manager's brain. List out each point individually.

You should not simply list all your job responsibilities.

It drives me nuts when I see a resume that says "Responsible for this" "Responsible for that." Just because something fell under your job responsibilities, 1) it doesn't mean you necessarily did it and 2) it might not be relevant enough to the job at hand to be worth mentioning. As a hiring manager, I care about what you accomplished, regardless of whether it fell under your official job responsibilities.

Use action words in the correct tense.

With the occasional exception, each bullet point should begin with the strongest action word possible: Led a team; Raised profits; Improved a process. If you're no longer working at a job, use past tense. If you're currently working at a job, use present tense. Whether you use first or second person verbs ("[I] Lead a team" vs. "[She] Leads a team") is a personal choice; just be consistent.

Use numbers to provide detail where possible.

If you supervised people, I want to know how many. If you raised money, I want to know how much. If you led workshops, I want to know how often. Hint: If you don't know how to quantify the impact you're making in your current job, volunteer opportunity, or leadership position, now's a great time to start figuring it out.

Include one-time impressive accomplishments.

People often use resumes to list things they did on a regular basis, but when I coach clients in interview practice, they tell me stories about an amazing project they completed or a record they achieved. Those belong on your resume!