Work Experience in a Resume: What and How to Write?

Work Experience in a Resume: What and How to Write?

The “work experience” section of a CV is perhaps the most daunting one to write. It puts a lot of pressure on a candidate to impress a potential employer with strong, relevant, impressive experience that they have gained prior to application.


But sometimes, it’s not possible to check all three boxes. What to do then? 


In this article, we will reveal how to write a successful “work experience” section of the CV in 3 cases:


  1. When you don’t have any experience

  2. When you have too much experience

  3. When you have irrelevant experience


What to put on your CV when you don’t have any experience?


Perhaps you’re a fresh graduate who has been focusing on your studies and hasn’t had the opportunity to gain much work experience so far. That’s okay! Even if you haven’t yet picked up any work per se, you definitely haven’t been sitting idly for the past few years.


When you don’t have work experience, think about your university experience. How did you spend those years? Did you join any clubs or societies? Maybe even became a committee member in one? 


Did you do volunteer work? Complete a compulsory work placement as part of your degree? Spend the summer working in your family’s business? All of that counts as work experience!


It is virtually impossible for you to have done absolutely nothing of value to the development of your career throughout your entire degree. Many courses require students to get some practical experience in the form of a placement or an internship, which counts towards their final grade. It is done precisely to make sure that nobody graduates with nothing to put on their CV. 


While at university, students are usually - quite literally - flooded with a staggering number of opportunities ranging from volunteering to mentorship schemes and work experience programmes. Their variety ensures that everyone will find something they would enjoy, and many can’t finish their course without giving in to at least one of those opportunities. 


Even something as seemingly basic as holding the role of a treasurer or secretary in a student society is valuable for someone who is just at the beginning of their career path. It is a position of responsibility which includes a range of duties. Even if it’s not directly connected to the career you want to pursue, all roles of responsibility come with a range of transferable skills valued by every employer, in every job. 


And transferable skills are exactly what you should focus on. Work organisation, time management, teamwork, communication, creativity, and leadership are just some of the many qualities you will have developed throughout your degree, which are highly sought-after in the professional world, regardless of the industry. 


So, don’t panic when you realise you don’t have as much to put on your CV as you’d like when applying for your first graduate job. Everyone has to start somewhere. Sit down, look back at your university years, and come up with a list of things you have done which contributed to the development of your career. There will probably be more than you think!


Pro tip: when writing your graduate CV, you can step away from the traditional format, which puts the work experience section first. You can create a so-called “skills-based CV”, which is the perfect option for candidates with little experience behind their belt.


This CV structure puts emphasis on the skills gained through various experiences, rather than the positions you held. 


Instead of chronologically listing past roles and describing the main duties and skills gained underneath, you do the exact opposite. You start with your skills, and then explain how and where you developed them in concise bullet points or a short description. 


It is not the conventional CV format, but it’s perfect for highlighting your key skills. Because, at the end of the day, it is the skills and not the fancy tiles that employers are looking for in potential candidates. 

What to put on your CV when you have too much experience?


First of all, there is no such thing as “too much experience” - at least not when we talk about life as a whole. Every experience matters and the more you have, the better.


However, it is a bit different in the CV-writing world. We sometimes receive resumes which are 4-pages long. While they are impressive and definitely catch the attention of recruiters, they are not exactly what you should be aiming for.


Why is a CV that is too long a problem?


Let’s go back to the very basics. The role of a CV?


To catch the recruiter’s attention and hold it long enough for them to keep on reading past the introduction section. 


The devil, as usual, is in the detail.


Professional recruiters go through dozens of CVs daily. While they do their best to give everyone the attention they deserve, it is sometimes physically not possible to read so many documents in perfect detail.


And because of the universality of the CV format, they do eventually begin to blend together. Imagine having to analyse 120 resumes for one position - and having a tight deadline for it. Humans just can’t remain at their full focus capabilities for so long. 


Think about yourself. If you were given product information brochures from two competitors, which one would you be more likely to read: the one with 2 pages, or the one with 8?


It’s human nature to pick the easiest way out possible. At some point, our attention span - no matter how long - snaps and we begin to scan rather than read. Or, even worse, give up.


The same applies to CVs. All your experience may make you an incredibly interesting person in general. But the goal of your CV is to make you the most interesting person of all for the particular job


A recruiter’s job is to identify top keywords relevant to the position they’re hiring for. It’s more difficult to find them in a CV that is impossibly long. More text results in difficulties in scanning. Keep that in mind. 


We are aware many candidates believe that the longer their CV, the better, because it shows you as a professional with long years of experience behind your belt. The truth, however, is the exact opposite.


How long should a CV be?


The recommended length of a CV is 1 to 2 pages. 1 is preferable, but 2 is allowed for those very far up their career path, who simply cannot fit all their working years on one page. 


However, we can guarantee that no one will read past the 2nd page if you decide to send a longer resume. Therefore, trying to squeeze in as much text as possible is a waste of your time and effort.


Pro tip: expand on your experience in your cover letter instead. Check out these tips for optimising yoru cover letter spacing and more. 

How to decide what to put on your CV?


Always include only the most relevant, or the most recent experience.


When you have a lot of different positions to choose from, pick the ones you are the proudest of. This can be because you have held them the longest, had the most responsibilities, or they were for well-renowned companies. This is choosing your experience by relevancy.


When you can’t decide which roles in your professional history you’re the proudest of and believe their relevance is more-less equal, you can simply list the most recent ones. They will be the ones you have held the highest up your career path, so the chances are, they will also be the most prestigious and relevant, anyway. 


Never list more than 4 or 5 positions. Any more than that is redundant, really. You are free to add your professional history on LinkedIn, and make it as long as you wish there. There is a 99% chance the recruiter will visit your profile while screening you as a candidate and see all of that. Make sure to include a link to your LinkedIn profile on your CV, so that the hiring manager can easily find you. 


A resume, as the name suggests, is only supposed to resume your most important characteristics and activities. It is not supposed to describe your entire history, from the moment you graduated from high school until your most recent position. 


And, quite frankly, once you have enough experience, it seems quite unprofessional to list positions from 20 years ago, jobs you only had for an insignificant period of time, or irrelevant roles you’ve had in between.


Less is more. If you don’t support this statement in your private life, do it just for the sake of your CV.

What to put on your CV when you have unrelated experience?


Perhaps “unrelated experience” is not the right term. Just like there is never “too much experience”, there is no experience that would be irrelevant. Every job you’ve held, no matter how small or for how short, has taught you something that helped you grow as a person or as a professional.  


Learning that something is not what you want to do is valuable knowledge, too. This is where career change comes into play. 


Perhaps a more accurate way to put it would be “experience irrelevant for the position you’re applying for”. To avoid the negative connotations of the term "irrelevant", let's call it "unrelated experience".


As we all know, the role of a CV is to introduce you as the perfect candidate for the specific job it was crafted for. This is why experience in other domains may seem irrelevant. 


For example, if you have worked in hospitality up until now and decided to finally enter a sector you have studied for, the years spent serving customers might not be directly tied to what you aim to do.


Similarly, if you have worked in Sales your whole life and have decided to switch to the IT sector after completing a coding course, these two areas are not closely connected. 


What to do in such a situation?


The answer is, again, transferable skills. 


This is why we constantly keep repeating that no job has ever left you with no new knowledge. People tend to underestimate the value of seemingly irrelevant work experience, and often oversee the advantages it gives them in their self-induced ignorance. 


Don’t make that mistake! Job-specific, technical skills can easily be taught by the employer. In fact, many companies expect freshly hired talent to go through a series of training, anyway, to make sure they are familiar with the type of software used and the inner procedures.


Transferable skills are much harder to teach. They are something you need to develop on your own, which is why they’re so extremely valuable to employers these days. Tangible know-how can be provided. Skills such as time management, communication, teamwork, or leadership are something you bring to the table. 


So, there you have it! Now you know what to put in the experience section of your CV, regardless of whether you have too much experience, unrelated experience, or no experience at all!


To summarise, always focus on the most important and relevant positions, look for achievements in all aspects of your everyday life and think about how you can apply them in the professional context, and remember about transferable skills. 


Employers are looking for motivated, flexible, and trainable candidates. If you structure your CV in a way that will showcase you fulfil all three of those requirements, you’re good to go!


Now that you know how to make the experience section in your CV pop, it’s time to put it to work and find a new job in Europe!


Feeling inspired? Visit our blog for more career advice! How can you be sure the information we provide is top-notch? We are a group of professionals working with recruiters, career coaches, and HR specialists from all over the world! 

Trust our experience and let us help you find a new job in Europe!

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