How to describe work experience on a resume [let’s land that interview!]

What is the best way to describe your work experience on a resume? Easy, the STAR method. We will show you how to use the STAR (Situation Task Action Result) method to describe work experience in a way that grabs the hiring manager’s attention and demands she brings you in for a chat.

Describing work experience on your resume can be a bit of a bear. How do you explain years of career progress in just one page of info? Well, maybe you shouldn’t “explain” it at all. The hiring manager already has a basic idea of what you did at your past job; she’s smart, she gets it.

What she’s really after is how you excelled in past positions and how you’ll thrive in the future. To give you a hand, use the STAR method to describe work experience in a way that grabs the hiring manager’s attention and demands she brings you in for a chat.

In a quick nutshell, work experience on your resume should include:

  • Company name, job title, dates and location
  • 3-6 succinct bullet points that outline your impact on the company
  • Results of your hard work by using the STAR writing method
  • Incorporate soft skills and keywords from job description
  • Facts and figures to back up your claims
  • Training and professional development earned on the job
  • Awards or acknowledgements for being fantastic
  • Leadership opportunities

Even if you left a position on a less-than-stellar note, chances are you were more influential than you realize. The STAR method is a writing tool that helps you break down your employment history and pull out the best information for describing work experience on your resume.

Foundation of work experience descriptions

Before we get writing, let’s start with the basics. The best resume template caters to how the eye processes information in a hurry. Choosing an easy-to-read and professional font is just as important as spacing and page layout. Hiring managers need to be able to grab keywords and important highlights in the first pass. When it comes to the work experience section, which makes up the body of your resume, play within this structure to keep things clean and definitive.

1. Strong title line

At the head of each job section, always include your job title, the company’s name, the date range (month and year) and the city where you worked.

2. Number of bullet points for each position

Include anywhere between 3 and 6 bullet points, each with a phrase — not necessarily a full sentence — with results-focused details about your time there.

3. Which positions you should list

If you’ve been a barista, content marketing manager and a teaching artist in the past decade, how on earth do you build a resume that makes sense? Remember, you’re telling a specific story. Unless you’re brand new to the workforce, include what is relevant to the position you want and leave out the rest.

4. Choose the best template for you

Some templates translate better for diving deeper into one position while others benefit from multiple positions broken up. Choose the resume template that most gracefully balances your info.

Some grammatical tips

Consistent grammar demonstrates that you pay attention to detail. Streamline your bullet points by:

  • Sticking to past tense for old jobs and present tense for work you’re still completing
  • Start bullet points with strong verbs whenever appropriate
  • Smaller words like “I” “the” and “a” are not always necessary — use your discretion to make the bullet points readable

Here’s an example to recap:

Human Resources Director, Crestlawn Insurance New York, NY

January 2015-December 2017

  • Recruited top-industry candidates and served as the first point of contact for over 20 new-hires in two years
  • Oversaw and fostered the development of a five-person HR team to better track employee inquiry and problem resolution
  • Acted as liaison between directors and employee during contract negotiations
  • Fostered a work environment of wellness, balance and productivity through innovative practices

Using the STAR method to pinpoint why you rocked at your job

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Here comes the fun part. Following the STAR method of writing out work experience pushes aside all the obvious and distracting dust that gets in the way of what really makes you shine.

Why does this method work? Indeed explains that the STAR method comes from the practice of behavioral questioning in interviews. Managers want to know how you — as a living, breathing, emotionally mature human — handled challenges at your past job. Behavioral questions go beyond “what did you do?” to “how did you do it?”

What does STAR stand for?

Situation: What was the purpose of the job?

Task: What was the job itself?

Action: How did you specifically complete the job?

Result: Specific facts, figures or specifics to depict the outcome of your goal.

Some STAR examples

Our goal here is to find the R in STAR while assuming the hiring manager already assumes the rest. For example, you’re a stellar Events Director for a non-profit.

Situation: What was the job? For three years, you lead the charge for all major events to raise money for a large non-profit theatre company.

Task: What was your goal? You planned the gala, you found silent-auction items and you worked to meet a minimum donation total for each event.

Action: How about your day-to-day? Each event required finding the space, food, entertainment and all related vendors. Your day-to-day required managing invitations, RSVP lists as well as managing budgets, pledges and overall fundraising goals.

Results: So, did you pull it off? You:

  • Planned, designed and executed over 15 large-scale events over three years, raising over $3 million dollars beyond annual goal
  • Coordinated team of international designers and events vendors for annual gala, holiday cabaret and five annual opening night receptions
  • Tracked all event-related donations and attendance of events in Raiser’s Edge

Let’s tackle one more example:

You’re the best Executive Assistant money can buy!

Situation: You supported the CEO in a major public relations firm

Task: Your boss had no time for the nitty gritty of the office. You managed all administrative tasks, managed their calendar and travel plans so they could simply run from one place to the next while feeling supported and prepared.

Action: You managed everything from ordering office supplies to coordinating meeting schedules with major clients. On some days you ordered a catered lunch for 20 executives and on the next, you spoke to a corporate travel agent to send your boss to Australia by Tuesday.

Results:

  • Steered all administrative duties for C-Level executive while managing and training team of three additional assistants
  • Streamlined all international and domestic travel plans including hour-by-hour agendas
  • Tracked office management budget for 50-person company
  • Transformed accounting system to maintain best financial practices

STAR sparks conversation

The STAR method will catch the hiring manager’s eye as they quickly flip through their pile. Your job is to highlight the human experience behind the bullet points. These details provide a realistic snapshot of working for your past companies, instead of simply stating the obvious and making you sound like the rest of the pack.

So remember: focus on what made you different in your position. Include specific numbers to prove how you excelled and speak to the results of why you were so fantastic at your job. Then when you get called in for an interview, you’re already prepared to gush about how you tackled your last position like a champ.

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