Everything you need to know about the longest section of your CV
When you're writing a CV, most space will be dedicated to your professional experience. But how is that defined, why is it important, what should you include, how should you present it, and what should you avoid? Read on to find out how to write a compelling Professional Experience section for your CV.
What is professional experience?
What is considered professional experience exactly? For the purposes of a CV, you can include any experience that has enabled you to acquire professional skills. If you've been employed for years, you'll probably have several jobs that you can include in this section. But for those just starting out in their careers, it may be necessary to add unpaid work, work experience, and internships to show that you have the skills, attitude, and experience necessary to thrive in a new role.
Why is professional experience important on a CV?
Work experience is key on a CV because it enables employers to understand what you've done, where your skills lie, what industry experience you have, and whether you're likely to be a good fit for their role. After all, if you've excelled in similar roles, or demonstrated in-demand skills, then you're more likely to succeed than someone who hasn't.
Therefore, when you list professional experience on your CV, it's vital that you align your experience with the requirements of the vacancy and show how you've excelled, so that it's immediately obvious that you're the right person for the job.
How do you write professional experience on your CV?
As professional experience is such an important component of your CV, you want to list it in a way that makes it easy for employers to understand your career at a glance. The most important rule is to write in reverse-chronological order, with your most recent experience first. You should also bear the following guidelines in mind when you list professional experience on your CV:
Start the section with a clear heading, in the same style as the other headers on your CV, stating “Professional Experience,” “Professional Summary,” “Career Summary,” or similar. Then, every role should have its own subheading, including:
Name of employer
Dates of employment (just the month and year will do)
You may also like to explain whether the job was temporary or a short term-contract, and the country you were based in, if you've relocated.
What to include
Identify the main remit and scope of your role, and lead with that. For example, a Warehouse Manager might start with “Leading a team of 20 staff and controlling an annual budget of £1million to achieve efficient, cost-effective operations across 2 warehouses”.
Then, have a think about the main responsibilities of your role and briefly explain them. Quantify whatever you can – this makes it much easier for a potential employer to understand the scope, level, and output of your roles. And remember that there's no need to include every little detail!
If you're finding that you're writing too much, focus on the elements that you particularly enjoy and that you'd want to take forward into a new role, as well as keywords from the advert for your target role.
If you're not writing enough, take a look at your original job description, and profiles similar to yours on LinkedIn, for inspiration.
As a very general guideline, 4-6 sentences or bullet points should be plenty to give the employer a flavour of your role.
For your current role write in the present tense, and for all other roles write in the past tense. It's standard practice for CVs to be written in the silent third person – for example “Selling high-end cars,” rather than “I sell high-end cars.”
Try to echo the keywords used in the job advert wherever possible, particularly in regards to hard and soft skills, and use dynamic vocabulary such as “delivered,” “pioneered,” “increased,” “reduced,” and so on.
The professional experience on your CV should be easy for the hiring manager to read. Like the rest of your CV, that means a sensibly-sized, sans serif font, well-spaced text and consistency. You may choose to present your experience as several bullet points, or alternatively make your achievements pop by writing your experience as a short paragraph and bulleting only your achievements.
While we're on the subject, achievements are a very important part of your professional experience, and it's vital that you list them on your CV. Ideally, you should add a list of achievements to every role in the Professional Experience section to show a strong record of success throughout your career.
What to avoid
So now you know what you should do, what should you avoid when you list professional experience on your CV?
Repetition: Don't repeat the same word over and over, such as “responsible for this, responsible for that” or “managed this, managed that”. Use a variety of vocabulary to make your CV more interesting to read and to show off your excellent writing skills
Irrelevance: Don't get bogged down in so much detail that your main selling points get drowned out!
Wordiness: Recruiters don't have unlimited time, so if you can say something in fewer words then do so. Concise and punchy wins out over waffle every time
Ancient history: Recruiters are most interested in what you've done recently; that's likely to be where your most developed skills and high-level experience are to be found. If your professional experience extends over more than 10 years, you can save yourself and the hiring manager some time by simply summarising your earlier career.
Reason for leaving: It's not considered necessary to include a reason for leaving on your CV any more, simply because it doesn't sell you – especially if you were fired!
Is volunteering professional experience?
You can definitely count volunteering as professional experience on your CV – a role doesn't need to be paid for you to acquire valuable skills. Depending on where you're at in your career, you may choose to give your voluntary experience more or less prominence. For example, a teenager may need to write a CV where volunteering comprises the bulk of their experience, but a senior executive may give it just one line – or even not mention it at all. The weight you give to volunteering depends on how relevant it is to your next steps, so it will vary from CV to CV.
Professional experience examplesTake a look at our two work experience examples, to inspire your own CV:
Student Ambassador Sep 2019 – Jun 2020
Acted as the first point of contact for guests. Responded to visitor enquiries regarding university life and entry requirements. Proactively welcomed and engaged with every visitor and delivered tours and presentations. Contributed as a key member of the team.
Positively represented the university during open days and influenced visitors to apply for courses
Supported and reassured students having trouble settling in and signposted them to further help
Successfully located missing international students, remaining calm under pressure
Operations Manager Feb 2018 - date
Public Transport Co Ltd
Steering operational and financial performance to achieve customer and contractual requirements
Developing operational strategy, implementation plans and risk management controls
Leading and training a team of 550 staff across 2 garages and controlling a budget of £10million
- Spearheading health, safety and accident prevention activities
- Facilitating regular KPI reviews to identify areas for improvement
- Influenced the team to improve their performance by providing constructive feedback, sharing information, setting objectives and conducting reviews
- Challenged standard processes during a national driver shortage, developing innovative ideas including open days, job centre outreach and social media promotion to recruit new staff
- Resolved disputes in a unionised environment, including overcoming objections to contract changes and enabling flexible working to support staff retention
- Secured exceptional results following a recent audit and implemented further improvements based on feedback
So now you have the lowdown on professional experience and how to list it on your CV, your CV is almost complete and your dream job is much closer to becoming a reality.
Of course, if you'd rather spend your time job hunting, honing your interview technique or simply binge-watching that new series, you can outsource your CV to the experts! Submit your CV now for a free review – or even get our professional team to write it for you!