There’s no one size fits all solution to writing a resume. Your work experience section forms the core of your resume, and should always be the focal point, but beyond that, there are infinite ways of structuring it. How you list your work experience will depend on your job history, the position you’re applying for, and what you want to highlight, but there are also some general do’s and don’ts you should always follow.
What Every Resume Needs
Company name and job title
The first thing on every job in your work history section should be the company name and your job title. It doesn’t matter which you list first — it’s usually more compelling to list your job title first, as it places the emphasis on what you did more than who you worked for, but the opposite can work in your favor if your past employer was particularly prestigious. That said, as long as you pick one and stick to it, it’s not going to make much difference either way.
List your exact job title
If you held a job with a standard or self-explanatory title, it’s fine to list it exactly as it exists within your company. This ensures that your resume will line up with any potential reference checks and prevents misunderstandings – or worse, appearing like you’ve deliberately falsified your job history. Titles like sales associate, sales assistant, and sales representative, for example, might be used interchangeably, even if one is technically more accurate than another. If you feel like there’s a disconnect between your title and the actual job, you can clear that up in your bullet points or with an introductory paragraph.
Include the title of the job you’re applying for
If you can, it’s best to include the exact title of the position you’re applying for somewhere on your resume. Why? Resume screeners and automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) can sometimes use these terms to filter out resumes that aren’t a match. Only do this if your position was reasonably similar to the target role — it’s more important to be honest than to look good, but even better if you can do both. Here are more of our tips on how to beat the ATS.
Eliminate the jargon
Remember how we told you to use your exact job title? The exception to this is if your company uses a lot of jargon or buzzwords in its titles — think “Business Ninja” or “Coding Rockstar.” These titles don’t make it clear what your job actually was, and they mean very little to a hiring manager. In cases like this, it’s best to use a standardized version of whatever position you held, like “Business Analyst” or “Software Developer.”
Dates of employment
Always include the dates of employment for any job you list. Leaving them off makes it impossible for employers to tell how recent (and therefore how relevant) your experience is and is likely to come across as deliberate obfuscation at the very least.
You don’t need to put exact dates — listing just the month and year is fine. Some people prefer to list the years only, which is okay as long as you do it consistently and it still accurately represents your work experience. If you worked somewhere for a couple of years, listing it as 2018 - 2019 is fine. If you were only there for a few months, it’s better to list it as December 2018 - February 2019. And if you’re currently employed, list your end date as “present,” not as the current date.
Listing your end date as “present” makes it clear that you still hold the position. Putting “2021” as your end date instead could make it appear as if you’re currently unemployed.
If you think this should say “responsibilities,” think again. Your resume shouldn’t read like a job description and shouldn’t focus on simply listing your duties. Each bullet point should start with an action verb and be quantifiable wherever possible. “Wrote Facebook posts” is vague; it describes what you did, but not how well you did it. “Implemented new social media strategy that increased Facebook conversions by 30%” describes exactly what you accomplished and sounds a lot more impressive.
You should aim for up to 6 bullet points for your most recent roles. Older jobs should have fewer, around 1-2. For even more tips, check out our guide on how to write resume bullet points.
List your most recent job first
Your work history should be in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job at the top. If you’ve held older positions that were more relevant, you could consider options like splitting your resume into “relevant experience” and “other experience” sections, or including a resume summary that provides more context for your work experience.
You don’t need to list every job you’ve ever held
Your resume is a summary of your work experience, not an exhaustive brief. If you have enough relevant experience, it’s okay to leave off some less relevant jobs if you don’t feel that they strengthen your candidacy. The same goes for older positions. A good rule of thumb is to cover your past 10-15 years of work experience. Much more than that, and you risk trying to cram too much in and diluting your most recent accomplishments, especially if they’re also the most impressive. As always, there are exceptions — if you’ve been at your current job for that entire time, you’ll obviously want to go back further, and the same could be true if there’s something particularly noteworthy before that cutoff that you’d like to include.
On the other hand, if you spent a few months doing something completely unrelated to your field, or you held a position for a very short time, it’s also totally fine to omit it. Short-term jobs are unlikely to add anything to your resume, and having more than one or two of them risks flagging you as a job hopper. If your resume looks better with those jobs taken out, it isn’t dishonest not to include them.
Include the job location
This doesn’t have to be super specific — just the city name is fine. If you worked remotely and want to emphasize that you’re based in the United States, listing your location as “Remote (US-based)” is fine.
What Else Can You Include?
While your resume should aim to be as concise as possible, you can include a short introductory paragraph before you get into your bullet points. This can be useful if you want to highlight a particularly noteworthy accomplishment, like if you were promoted significantly ahead of schedule.
An introductory paragraph like this provides extra context about your accomplishments to emphasize that you went above and beyond in the role.
You can also use an introductory paragraph — or even just a short sentence — to provide a little more information about what exactly your role or company did. This is a good idea if you worked for a little-known or startup company, or if you held an unusual job title.
If you’ve been promoted or taken on new responsibilities, make that clear on your resume. This is especially important if you’ve been at one company for a long time — to don’t want potential employers to think you’ve stagnated. You can show career growth by listing a progression of titles, emphasizing increased responsibility, or explicitly noting the promotion in your bullet points.
If the roles were similar, you can group them together like this:
Listing your titles in succession makes it clear you were promoted while allowing you to group similar accomplishments together.
If the roles were different, you can list them separately and include bullet points under each one like this:
Listing your roles separately under one employer heading makes it clear that the new role was a promotion, not a completely separate job.
If you’re still unsure about how to illustrate your career progression, read our tips on how to show a promotion on a resume.
Even if you haven’t been promoted, there are still ways to show career growth, like highlighting key projects you worked on.
If you want to emphasize specific projects you worked on, you can include separate bullet points underneath each project instead of grouping them all together. This is a great strategy if you work in a project-based role — for example, if you’re a freelancer or consultant — and you want to highlight your most impressive work.
Listing individual projects on your resume like this is a great way to draw attention to any particularly noteworthy ventures.
Formatting your freelance or consulting experience under a general heading like this allows you to combine your experience in multiple roles under the same heading while distinguishing between different projects.
What if you have a non-standard job history?
If you don’t have a lot of paid work experience
If you’re a student or recent graduate, you can still include non-traditional work experience on your resume. Simply format any volunteer or student work the same way you would any other job and read up on how to list volunteer work on your resume.
If you’re listing volunteer work or other unpaid projects, stick to the standard format and use bullet points to highlight your accomplishments like this.
If you have gaps in your resume
Small employment gaps (say, under six months or so) aren’t likely to be an issue unless you have a lot of them. .Even larger gaps aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but hiring managers will want to know what happened. If there’s a good reason — like if you’ve been dealing with a personal, family, or health issue — the best strategy is to address it head-on so employers aren’t left wondering if you’re trying to hide something work-related.
This format clearly explains the reason for a career break and gives you an opportunity to highlight anything you’ve accomplished during that time.
If you’ve been spending your time volunteering or taking on short-term (temporary or contract) work, you can use that to fill a gap in your resume, too. If you’re curious about formatting, learn more about the right way to list contract work or temporary jobs on your resume.
For more ideas on how to format your work experience, browse our selection of resume templates.