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Job Search Skills

The "Experience Section" of Your Resume

By Julie Dobrinska
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The experience section of a resume can be the most difficult section to develop. In a relatively limited amount of space, you must communicate where and when you worked, what you did, and how well you did it. You must also try to downplay any gaps in employment or potential job hopping implications. And, in some cases, you may need to condense your experience and work history. Oh, one more thing – it's the section that determines whether or not you get an interview. No pressure there! In other words, you need to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Here are a few tips to help maximize the experience section of your resume.

1. Use the chronological format when possible.
The chronological format is widely preferred by interviewers. It shows your professional experience/work history in reverse chronological order, starting with your current or most recent employer and working back. In extreme circumstances (drastic career shift, very spotty employment history) you may want to consider a functional or combination resume format, which focuses more on your skills and abilities than your actual employment history. You should be aware, however, that these other formats may send a red flag to the reviewer, and should be avoided if possible. After all, they also know that functional resumes are used when a person is trying to cover up something!

2. Be consistent in the layout of information.
Typically job titles are listed first, followed by company name, city and state, then dates of employment. If there are multiple branches or locations for the company, it is common to list the city for the location where you worked. It is not necessary to include the address or zip code for the company. 

It is also important to be consistent in the formatting and spacing of the document. Keep bold, italics, underlines, commas, dashes – whatever you use, consistent throughout the document.

3. Spell it out.
Don't assume the reader will recognize all abbreviations or company specific buzzwords. Unless the company is well known by its initials, like IBM or UPS, spell out the company name. If the business of your employer is not obvious, putting a very brief, descriptive tag line under the company name is a good idea.

The same applies to job titles. If the reader may not get a clear picture from your job title (SQA Level III), you might want to add a descriptor (Senior Quality Assurance Supervisor).

4. Pack a punch.
After each job position, describe your duties in 4 or 5 statements. Devote more space to most recent jobs. Be direct and to the point – it's what you say and how you say it. Don't just list job duties, list accomplishments – major projects completed, improvements made, goals met, etc. An effective resume uses a combination of resume keywords, action verbs, and statistics.

Resume keywords are nouns and noun phrases that relate to a particular job or position. They are an absolute necessity in today's market because of the way resumes are processed. Resumes are scanned electronically and manually for these keywords and are filtered in or out based on the result of the search. Don't underestimate their importance. Even if your resume is not being scanned by a computer, keywords will help your resume stand out. For example, keywords for an accounting position might include: accountant, accounting, Quickbooks, finance, budget, general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, tax, spreadsheet, Excel, collections, etc. More information on keywords is available at www.yourofficecoach.com/topics/fine-tuning_your_resume.htm.

Action verbs and phrases appeal to the human eye and need be included as well, as they will add power to your resume. Review the information available about the position. Match the needs as closely as possible (but not word-for-word), using the terms and phrases included in the advertisement or job posting. Examples of action verbs include (use present tense if it relates to a current job): generated, developed, implemented, established, supervised, launched, audited, administered, formed, founded, etc. There are literally hundreds of action verbs – use a print or online thesaurus to avoid repetition.

5. Be accurate.
It's important to tout your abilities and accomplishments, but don't get carried away. Remember you need to be able to back up everything you say. Don't lie or embellish any part of your resume. The potential damage it could do far outweighs the benefit. If you are hired and later found to have falsified information, you could be fired, even after several years with the company.

6. Close the gaps.
If you have gaps in your employment history, don't despair. There are several ways to handle them, depending on how many you have and how long they are.

If you need to cover a couple of months, look at your dates. The month does not need to be listed on your resume if describing jobs that lasted more than one year or spanned years. For example, November 2009 to January 2010 could be recorded as 2009 to 2010.

If you held any volunteer or community service positions during your time off, treat them as you would a previous employer. Similarly, any classes taken during your time off should be listed in the Education & Training section of your resume.

If the gap in your resume resembles the Black Hole, you may want to address it in your cover letter. If so, be brief and put a positive spin on it. Regardless of how you handle any gaps in your resume, you should be prepared to explain them in greater detail in an interview.

7. Filter your experiences.
If you have a lengthy job history, don't feel you need to include it all. Experts state that 10 – 15 years is sufficient. Other significant experience can be grouped together under a heading of “Additional Experience” or “Other Experience”.

When you've been with a company for a number of years, you can list different positions held to show your movement within the company (providing you were moving up the corporate ladder, not down).

In addition to the numerous books and publications available for the job search process, there are many free resources available over the Internet. Use a search engine, like Bing or Google, to find information. Simply type in what you are looking for: resume tips, job search process, gaps in resume, etc. and you will have a number of websites to choose from. Like anything else, though, don't believe everything you read! One way to confirm advice is by comparing it to several other sources. It is also helpful to have someone you trust read your resume and give feedback.

It is important to realize that no one has more invested in your job search than you. Take the time to review your resume. If you are having a difficult time getting interviews or you think your resume isn't doing you justice, you may want to do a little digging for more ways to maximize it.

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