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How to Format Your Resume's Work Experience Section

by John Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Jun 14, 2009

When reviewing your resume, hiring managers and recruiters will spend most of their time on your work experience section. Once you've written out duty and achievement bullets for all of your positions, it's time to structure that content in the best way possible. There are three basic approaches:

Choose your position layout

  • Paragraph + Bullets. Here you start with a short paragraph on your duties, and then use bullets for your achievements. This is the approach I prefer whenever possible as it allows you to include your duties while focusing the reader on your achievements. And since bullets take much more space than paragraphs, it also allows you to conserve space, which is important if you have a lot of experience.

  • Bullets Only. Here you start with bullets on your duties. Then, if you have any, you list bullets for your achievements. This approach can work well if you're relatively new to the workforce and don't have many positions and/or achievements. Sometimes the act of visually distinguishing duties and achievements isn't necessary. Typically I only use this approach under a given position if I'm going to use it for all positions.

  • Paragraph Only. Here you start the paragraph with your duties. Then, if you have any, you include your achievements in the same paragraph. This should never be used for all of your positions but it can be used effectively for your oldest or least important positions (especially when you have a lot of positions you're including). For those, you'll likely want to include something about them but you don't want to take up a lot of space or draw attention away from your more relevant experience. Paragraphs allow you to do this. And if you're using option 1 as your default, option 3 should be your approach for positions that have no achievements.

The right approach for you depends on a few variables. Here are my recommendations:

  • If you have a lot of positions and have a fair number of achievements ... use a combination of Paragraph + Bullets and Paragraph Only. Use Paragraph + Bullets for your more relevant positions (probably your most recent) and Paragraph Only for your less relevant positions (probably your oldest). See an example of this approach.

  • If you have a fair number of positions and don't have many achievements ... use Bullets Only throughout. It can look awkward to have a stray bullet here or there. This approach can also work if you have a lot of positions and want to keep your content under each brief. See an example of this approach.

  • If you don't have many positions and have a lot of achievements ... use Paragraph + Bullets throughout.

  • As stated earlier, never use Paragraph Only exclusively. You need at least some bullets!

Reorganize your position content

If you chose Bullets Only for your position layout approach, you can skip this step because you already have all of your duties and achievements written in bullet format. If you chose Paragraph + Bullets or a combination of Paragraph + Bullets and Paragraph Only ... you need to do some reorganizing.

Go back through each of your positions and convert your duty bullets into paragraphs. In a few cases, this is as easy as removing line breaks. In most cases, you'll need to do some rewording and rearranging to make the paragraph flow. You should not need to do major editing. In general, achievements should remain in bullet form. However, as mentioned above, for some older positions where you only have one or two achievements, you might include the achievements in the paragraph. And the right answer may depend on how much space you have.