Resume Rescue - Make Sure Your Employment History Is More Interesting Than History Class

by Scott Shane Holt

Employment History

Your employment history is where the reader will spend the bulk of their time (if they get to it!). This is where you provide evidence to back up the bold claims you make about yourself and your capabilities in your career summary section, and where you prove you can do the job that your objective statement says you want.

You want to describe a mix of responsibilities and accomplishments in your job history section. The two most common mistakes are:

  • Listing too much detail -- especially about mundane or negative things -- so that the "wow factor" items get lost.

  • Not describing the results your day-to-day efforts achieved.

These 4 items will demonstrate that you can do the job:

  • Hard skills required to do the job: technical skills, computer systems, software.

  • Experience with those skills: responsibilities, depth and breadth of knowledge.

  • Results: accomplishments, problem-solving, highlights of your performance.

  • Soft skills: communications, teamwork, management, leadership.

The solution is a two-step approach:

First, think of your resume as your "greatest hits," not your "complete anthology." You can be positive and honest without detailing every setback.

One of my clients came to me with a resume that needed revamping after she'd been out of work for several years. Her job experience was extensive and impressive, yet read like a boring laundry list of routine activities that are expected in her type of position. There was nothing to make her stand out from the crowd. And then she had this kiss-of-death statement about one publication she worked for: "Note: magazine ceased publication as of June/July 2000 issue."

I thought she was kidding me! Does that statement paint the candidate in the best light? No! We took that line out and simply stated the dates when she worked there.

There's no need to spell out every gory detail of every job; stay focused on the positive. Your years of hard work still count, even if the project failed, especially if -- as was my client's situation -- the failure wasn't your fault or was beyond your control.

Second, for each item in your Job Experience, ask: "So what?" In other words, describe the benefit of what you did in terms of the impact it had on your department or the company. Was time or money saved? Did you get new customers or keep existing ones happy? And so on.

Asking "So what?" helps you tell a better story. The idea is to make your tasks into stories that show the results you have achieved, which speaks to what you can do for your next boss, department, and company. Here's an example:

  • Before: "Created system for customer service representatives"

  • Question: So what?

  • After: "Created system in MS Access for customer service representatives, allowing calls to be completed faster and with fewer complaints. Worked closely with service reps to ensure usability."

Here's another example, from a client's "before" resume:

  • Sole full-time editorial staff member.

  • Relaunch bimonthly women's service and inspirational title.

  • Completely revamp content, which included developing all new departments and bringing in different writers.

After discussing her experience using the Magnetic Resume process and asking "So what?", we wrote the following blurb to kick off this job description, which tells the reader much more of what she's capable of:

Recruited by publishers to relaunch and reposition the magazine with the goal of increasing readership through a softer, broader appeal, making it more about spirituality and less about religion. Responsible for facilitating and clarifying the publisher's vision; translating the "parent company's formula" into a women's service magazine.

This blurb was followed by a few bullet points that highlighted specific hard and soft skills she used, and showed the breadth of her industry knowledge.

One-Minute Makeover: Is there anything in your job experience section you're not proud of? Take it out or reword to focus on the positive. Then ask, "So what?" and add numbers whenever possible to put your successes into perspective.


Scott Shane Holt has seen it all while hiring over 100 people on Wall Street, in good times and bad, and as an executive coach helping managers and other professionals advance in their careers.

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