CVS / JUL. 31, 2017
version 7, draft 7

How to Write Your CV’s Employment History Section (with Examples)

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Your CV as a whole is undoubtedly the most powerful tool in your job search arsenal, but it’s the employment history section that generates the most interest in an employer. And it’s not necessarily where you worked at that matters (though working for a big company like Google can, of course, favourably impact your application), but rather whether your experience, skills and strengths are a good match for the job you’re applying for.

So, how do you go about writing your employment history? What should it include? How can you deal with gaps? And how far back should you go when listing past jobs?

Get the answers to those questions (and more) in our comprehensive guide, plus valuable tips, mistakes to avoid and examples for putting your work history section together!

1. Give it the Right Name

Naming the employment history section of your CV can be a tricky business, and that’s because one name can serve an entirely different purpose from the next, as detailed below:

  • Employment History / Work History / Professional Experience: These all essentially mean the same thing and come down to personal preference. Use one of these headings to group your past jobs in a more general CV.
  • Work Experience: Is generally used when you don’t have much professional experience to speak of, and is a great way to list any work placements, internships or work experience programmes you’ve completed while still at school. (Meanwhile, you could also consider using a skills-based CV if you’re just starting your career or seeking a career change.)
  • Relevant Experience: This is usually used to group experience that is related to a specific position you’re applying for in a tailored CV to highlight the skills most applicable to the employer’s needs.
  • Additional Experience: Can be used to follow your ‘Relevant Experience’ section with any unrelated or similar experience you think is worth mentioning.

Of course, there is no law requiring you to group your experience under any one of these headings. You can choose to go for something a little more creative if you so wish, but remember that too much creativity can end up distracting the hiring manager from the information you want them to notice.

2. Lay out Your Experience Clearly

Your CV needs to have a flow for it to be easily understood by employers and recruiters, which means you can’t jump from one decade to another and then back again. It is, therefore, important that you sort your experience in reverse chronological order, with your most recent employment listed first. Make sure this section precedes your education unless your education is more relevant to the job you’re applying for.

3. Keep it Recent

A common question jobseekers ask when writing their employment history section is ‘How far back should I go?’

Ideally, you should only list jobs from the past 10, 15 years max. That’s not to say you should blank out 20 years from a job you held for the past 30 years. Rather, if you’ve had several different jobs dating back to 1987, for example, then you should focus on only those from 2002-2007 onwards. With the constant changes in technology and business practices, going further back than this can negatively impact your chances of success.

Remember to only list jobs which are directly relevant to the position you’re applying for – don’t make the mistake of listing every single job you’ve ever had. Unless you’re applying for a veterinarian position, for example, nobody cares about that summer you spent walking dogs.

4. Ditch the Job Descriptions

Don’t fall into the trap of presenting your employment history in a way that reads a lot like a collection of job descriptions. Employers don’t care about what your previous roles entailed – they want to read about your abilities and accomplishments, not a list of your duties and responsibilities. Remember: your CV should ideally be no longer than two pages (though this is debatable), so don’t waste valuable space with pointless information!

5. Show Your Problem-Solving Skills

Employers want people who can use creativity, reasoning and past experiences to identify and solve problems. But rather than simply tell them you’re a problem-solver, show them.

Use the PAR method to demonstrate your problem-solving skills: what was the Problem? What Action did you take? What were the Results? Write down a list of the different problems you faced (and solved) for each job, and incorporate the most impressive ones on your CV.

 

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6. Quantify Results

Numbers – employers love them. And that’s because they demonstrate what you’re capable of. So, instead of simply saying you ‘increased the company’s revenue’, don’t be afraid to mention how much exactly you increased it by – eg: ‘Increased the company’s revenue by 33%’. Likewise, ‘Managed switchboard with 5 incoming lines, receiving and routing an average 300 calls a day’ sounds much better than ‘Answered phones at the front desk’.

Remember that you may not be legally allowed to publicly reveal company figures and statistics, so make sure you check your contract before you start writing about how you single-handedly ‘saved the firm £12 million in marketing costs’.

7. Make it Readable

A widely referenced statistic says that recruiters generally spend no more than six seconds reviewing a CV to decide whether it should go into the ‘Yes’ pile or through the shredder. If this is true, you only have six seconds to make a good impression and move your application to the next stage. To achieve this, avoid writing entire paragraphs (unless you want to bore people out of their minds) and instead break down your abilities and achievements into easily digestible information using a combination of short paragraphs and bullet points.

8. Use Action Verbs

Most CV bullet points start with the same old boring words – to the point that hiring managers and recruiters have grown tired reading the same thing over and over again. Take the opportunity to liven things up a little bit and stand out from the crowd by using action verbs to list your job duties and highlight your experience.

Some examples include:

Instead of:

Use:

Lead

Coordinate, oversee, plan

Create

Design, devise, establish, spearhead

Boost

Accelerate, advance, expand

Change/Improve

Integrate, modify, refocus, restructure

Manage

Direct, guide, mentor, train

Support

Advise, coach, educate, resolve

Achieve

Attain, complete, reach, succeed

 

9. Avoid Buzzwords

Are you passionate, reliable, dedicated, creative and motivated? Great! Now delete these buzzwords and any others like them from your CV immediately! They’ve been so overused that hiring managers have become immune to them, and they add no real value to your application.

When writing your work history, ask yourself ‘Would anyone else applying for the job use this word/phrase to describe themselves?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, you know what to do. In the event that you absolutely must mention that you’re a team-player or a problem-solver, for example, make sure to back up your claims with real-life evidence!

10. Use Keywords

Many employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) as part of their recruitment process, which is a special software designed to filter out CVs that don’t match the job’s criteria. One way to avoid this (and to get your application to the top of the pile) is to carefully read the job advert for the position you’re applying for, identify key words and phrases, and then incorporate them in your employment history section (and throughout your CV).

11. Close the Gaps

Whether you took time off to raise your kids, look after an ill family member or were simply unlucky in your job search, employment gaps happen and are not that difficult to deal with. For example, if you need to cover a couple of months, simply omit the names of the months from your work history. If you did any community or volunteer work during your time off work, simply treat it as you would a previous job. If you have extremely long gaps between jobs, make sure you address these in your cover letter. You should also be prepared to explain them in greater detail in an interview.

12. Know How to Format It

Generally speaking, each employment history entry should include:

  • Job Title: Use the industry-accepted and unabbreviated version of the name of the position you held. For example, instead of ‘PA’, write ‘Personal Assistant’.
  • Company Name: Like the job title, you should write the company’s full name and not an abbreviated version of it. This, of course, depends on how the company identifies itself – for example, you wouldn’t call KPMG by its full name (‘Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler’).
  • Location: Add the city (and country, if you’ve also worked abroad) where you worked. Don’t use the company’s full address – it’s unnecessary and simply wastes space.
  • Dates of Employment: Mention the month and year of your start and end dates of employment. If you’re still currently employed, say something like ‘Apr 2015 – Present’.
  • Job Description: Though this is entirely optional, adding a short blurb describing the role can help you better sell yourself to potential employers. Like previously mentioned, use a combination of short paragraphs and 3-5 bullet points to illustrate your achievements.

Examples

Professional Example

Employment history example Reed

Career Changer Example

Career changer employment history Reed

School Leaver Example

School leaver work experience Reed

 

 

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Perhaps you’ve got a few tips and tricks you’d like to share with the rest of us? Join the conversation below and let us know!

Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on how to write a job-winning CV!

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