Image: The Muse
The “Work Experience” section of your CV should be far more than dates and a list of the duties of your job. By adding in specific achievements, tangible details and transferable skills, your work experience section can be a highly persuasive section of your CV, even if you’re making a mid-career change.
How To Layout Work Experience On Your CV
One area of a CV writing where I often see people underselling themselves, is in the “Work Experience” section. Let’s first take a look at the basic layout to use for each of your previous roles, before moving on to look at some of the most important features.
Each previous job role should follow something resembling this outline:
Brief outline of company and what they do. 2 sentences max.
Job Title (date from – date to)
- Max 8 bullet points (for most recent role, less for older roles)
- 5-12 words per bullet point
- Include type of work, project description, who were you managing or working with, and what level
- Most importantly, highlight the transferable skills you developed/utilised
- Tailor these very specifically to the job advert – use the words they use where appropriate and rearrange bullet points to bring most important points to the top
- Each bullet point should outline a specific achievement
- Each should start with an action verb. It should be specific and include clear outcomes.
- Use as many quantifiable examples as possible (% figures or approximations are fine if you don’t know exact details)
- Even adding one “Key Achievement” against each role is powerful in demonstrating success
Let’s now take a look at some of the more advanced details of this, so you can take your CV Work Experience section from good to GREAT!
There are 3 key areas to consider:
- Transferable Skills
- Tailoring This Section of Your CV
- Adding Details
1. Transferable Skills
You’ll notice in the responsibilities bullet points, I recommend highlighting your transferable skills. This is extremely important when you are changing industry.
If you were applying for a job in your previous industry, simply outlining the specific tasks you did on a daily basis might be almost passable. But not when you’re making a career change.
When you’re trying to crack your way into a new industry, the specific duties of your previous job aren’t necessarily relevant. What is often overlooked is that you have probably developed more general, transferable skills, as you carryed out those duties. These are things that hiring managers in your new industry can understand and immediately see the value in.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of how we can turn duties into transferable skills.
- Duty focussed – Answered calls from suppliers and emailed warehouse team with updates.
- Transferable skill focussed – Responsible for direct communication with both internal and external partners.
This shows the hiring manager that you are an experienced communicator with a range of stakeholders.
- Duty focussed – Wrote weekly report for supervisor.
- Transferable skill focussed – Responsible for gathering and analysing data with regular reporting to management.
This highlights the data analysis involved in writing your report as well as the responsibility of the regular report submission.
- Duty focussed – Daily operation of packing machine
- Transferable skill focussed – Following internal protocols and SOPs in daily operation of packing machine.
This surfaces that your machine operation experience involved following a protocol and internal SOPs, and that you are able to successfully do this.
Most importantly, if a job advert asked for a key skill of “communication” or previous experience in “analysing data” or “following internal protocols”, the CVs containing the transferable skill focussed examples would clearly tick those boxes.
The CVs containing the duty focussed examples have the same experience, but they’re relying on the hiring manager to assume they have the associated skills. In a world where a hiring manager has dozen of applications and very little time, make it as easy as possible for them to see that you fit the requirements.
More acutely, you should also keep in mind that some companies will run a computer screening of CVs before they even get to a hiring manager. The computer will be “looking” for keywords and if they don’t see them, your CV doesn’t even reach the point of being reviewed by a human being.
2. Tailoring This Section Of Your CV
To continue this idea of making it as easy as possible for people (or computers!) to see you have the skills they want, you should tailor this section of your CV for each and every job advert.
In our example above, it’s always true that the person “Wrote weekly report for supervisor.”
And if, as suggested above, the advert asked for someone with experience of “analysing data”, then “Responsible for gathering and analysing data with regular reporting to management” is great.
But what if the job advert asked for experience in “data gathering and interpretation”?
Our transferable skill example suggests that this is true but doesn’t explicitly state it. In that case, we’d change that bullet point to read:
“Responsible for data gathering and interpretation for regular reporting to management.”
While you could argue that surely a hiring manager would know that the first example meant that you had the skills they need, why leave any room for doubt?
Take the time to read through the job advert, pick out the skills they are looking for and the key activities of the job you’re applying for. Then make sure that you’re using those exact words and phrases when you’re describing your relevant experience.
To be clear, you’re not claiming to have experience that you don’t. You are just reframing any relevant experience you do have, and talking about it in the same way that they do.
3. The Real Power Is In The Details
Finally, let’s talk about the importance of details.
This is another way you can easily make a mediocre CV into a great one, and an opportunity that I frequently see people missing.
For this, we are generally talking about the “Achievements” section of your previous roles.
The easiest way for a hiring manager to imagine you as a successful part of their team, is to see evidence of you as a successful part of someone else’s team in the past.
As stated in the basic example at the top of the page – as well as bullet points on responsibilities (i.e. transferable skills!), you should include a set of points titled “Achievements”. If you’re really struggling with this, or when you get to older roles where your memory of achievements isn’t so fresh, adding one “Key Achievement” against each role is better than nothing.
If fact, I’d argue that one great Key Achievement is much more powerful that four weak ones.
But the more quality examples you can add, the better.
To be honest, this is something people can be pretty bad at doing. So to help you surface what your achievements have been, consider these questions:
- Were you given targets that you met or exceeded?
- How was your success measured by your employer?
- What factors were you assessed on during appraisals?
No matter what your previous job was, how well you carried it out would be assessed by your manager in some way. That’s the details we’re trying to get to.
Once you’ve identified these examples, make the most of them by adding details. Let’s consider a few examples.
If you’re talking about your success vs a target then it’s easy – give figures (either absolute or as percentages):
- Instead of – Achieved target in 2016
- Try – Achieved 103% of sales target in 2016
If you’re talking about your success in developing or implementing something new, then tell the hiring manager the outcome:
- Instead of – Implemented new production system
- Try – Implemented new production system that increased productivity by 15%
(and bonus points if you can follow that by demonstrating the effect on the business e.g. ‘… increasing profits by €30,000’)
Or if you’re talking about management, give some tangible results:
- Instead of – Managed team of 10
- Try – In my management of team of 10, I reduced absence by 40% and increased team productivity by 56%
And finally, don’t forget some of the most basic things:
- 100% attendance?
- 100% punctuality?
- Elected by your colleagues to represent them?
- Put forward for an award or recognition by your manager?
These are all things that show a hiring manager that you can be a trusted and valued member of a team. Discussing facts like those is far more powerful that declaring yourself to be a “good team player” somewhere else on your CV. The key here – SHOW them, don’t TELL them.
Hopefully this has given you some fresh ideas for writing the Work Experience section of your CV.
This really is an extremely important area of your CV and if you’re changing industries, it’s not an area to shy away from. It can definitely sell you and your skills to a hiring manger if written correctly.
Just remember to:
- Focus on transferable skills
- Adapt this section for every application
- Add details to really make your achievements come alive
Any questions? Drop us a comment below!