How To Describe Your Past Work Experience On A Resume

written by Joshua Brown  |  September 24, 2018

One of the biggest mistakes I often see in reviewing resumes is the attempt by the author to create a one size fits all resume. Instead, your resume should be unique to each job that you apply for.

Ultimately, the most important part of tailoring your resume is knowing how to describe your past work experience.

Take Inventory Of Your Past Work History

Before you begin to tailor your prior skills to a new resume for a specific employer, you need to write in detail about your past work experience. Think of everything ranging from simple daily tasks to long term accomplishments. Do this for each job you have held.

Don’t hold back – you want to have as much detail from your past experience in the hopes of finding common duties when searching new job listings. You will only keep the best 3 or 4 entries for each job so make sure you have a lot of detail to work with from the start.

Search Job Listings For Job Descriptions

With your past experience written out, you can now start looking for jobs. Although these tips work best if you are seeking employment in a field you’ve had some experience in, you can certainly look into entry level positions if you have some transferable skills.

When searching for jobs, don’t limit yourself to a specific job title. It’s important to realize that different companies may call very similar positions different things. For example, one company may call someone working with customers a “customer service representative”. Another company may instead call that very same role a “customer support specialist”. Now most good job search engines will bring up both results eventually but it’s always a good idea to double check.

One other way to make sure you’re seeing all of the jobs you are qualified for is to search for key skills rather than a job title. Listing specific credentials or certifications you may hold that are crucial to your job can help you find jobs looking for your skills.

Translate Your Past Experience

Once you see a job you like, start to focus on what is listed under both the qualifications and job description headings. Take a look to see if any of the items listed as part of the job description are things you have already written down under your past experience. More likely than not, there won’t be a lot of similarities right away.  That’s why the next step is to read through the job descriptions again and see if they are possibly similar to your past experience, but just worded differently.

This is where most of the work will come in. What you’ll eventually want to do is describe your past experience in such a way that matches what the company is describing.

Now let me clarify – I am not telling you to make up experience you do not have. What I am telling you to do is if you’ve had experience in a field that an employer desires, make sure you explain that experience in language they understand.

Work History Description Example

I’ll use the example of a customer service employee as an example – their job duties are fairly straightforward and most people understand what a customer service representative does.

So let’s say I am looking for a customer service position. Here is one example of some bullet points from a job listing for a retail associate at a discount clothing retailer:

  • Assists customers in any way necessary by cashiering, helping with merchandise and answering questions in a polite and knowledgeable manner.
  • Performs daily recovery to ensure a neat, clean and organized store.
  • Cross-performs in all assigned areas to ensure that merchandise sizing, ticketing and presentation are to company standards.
  • Ability to use all store equipment, including PDTs, registers and PC as required.

After going through the listing, right away there are some key points we want to make sure to include in our resume when applying.

Two of the listings mention having cashier experience, so if possible I’d include that. Any other equipment like PDTs and PC’s mentioned in the last bullet should be addressed as well, if you have the experience.

Regardless of the past experience, I can also include details about being neat, clean, and organized. The listing actually includes this phrase three times – a key phrase with this company – so I better mention it somehow. Maybe I wasn’t directly responsible for cleaning a store, but the work area at my desk had to be organized for daily tasks.

Another good connection to make with these bullet points would be if you have had experience doing a lot of different tasks under one job title. The bullet point lists this ability as cross-performing, but maybe you called it multitasking or ‘wearing a lot of hats.’ Recognize phrases like cross-performs and others like it to try and understand the language of a particular company.

Finishing Up

This won’t be a quick process, but don’t let it drag on too long. You should be able to do this for 4 to 5 job listings a day, which means applying 4 to 5 times a day. Try to think of it as merging two different descriptions together – your past work experience and the job listings’ job description. And remember too that you’ll only need to keep 3 or 4 items per job depending on how many jobs you’ve had.

Make sure to customize each job you’ve had for every job you apply to. Don’t worry, I know you won’t be able to translate each job to the new job listing. But do tailor what you can to the best of your ability.

Closing Tips

Each time you customize a resume for a new job you’re applying for, make sure to save a new copy under a different file name. I recommend that you name the resumes by the name of the company or position title. This way, you can go back and save time by using descriptions you’ve previously written for jobs that are similar.

It will also help you to better understand your skills and to hopefully show you how many different opportunities are out there for you.

As always we have resume templates & resume samples to download for free.