How much work experience should I include on my CV?

How many years’ past experience is necessary on a CV? If you have multiple industry experience how would you tailor your CV taking into consideration some of it might be years ago?

A lot depends on the career you’ve had and what you want to do now.

If you’ve always been in the same line of work, it’s usual to include career history going back about ten years. This is because experience tends to build, so there is little benefit in including early examples of what you’re doing today. Professions also move on over time, making some experience obsolete. Including this can ‘date’ you, especially if you are an older candidate.

If there are valuable nuggets of information within your previous experience – for instance, an apprenticeship or internship that underpinned your career; a particular company or job title you want to include – you can list the job titles and companies under a separate heading: ‘previous experience’. Limit this to one line per significant job. Adding all the dates if they were more than ten years ago is not necessary.

Minding the gap

People are often worried about leaving out any work experience: ‘surely you shouldn’t have gaps in your CV?’ The real answer to this is that you should be able to account for all your working years if you’re asked to do so. Some application forms ask you to do exactly this, and some HR professionals may ask for a full account, especially if security is important, but it’s not necessary to include the whole of your work experience on your CV.

That said, it is one thing to show a complete decade with no gaps (which is what I’m suggesting) and quite another to present a ‘spotty’ decade with gaps that employers could worry about. If you do have a ‘gap’ say what happened – from having children to taking a sabbatical to being unemployed, all an employer really wants to know is that you are consistent and trustworthy, and don’t have anything sinister to hide.

Organising your industry experience

If it would be a benefit to show you’ve had experience in several industries, separate these with headings, one per industry, and date each heading, like this: ‘Experience in Learning and Development, 1992-1999’. Then summarise what you did, for whom and any key achievements. Watch out for indications of scale that would seem odd today – for instance, a budget of £2m might have been a lot then, but would that seem like a lot today?

Grouping experience by industry or trade is also useful if you’ve only managed to work some of your career in something you really enjoy and want to go back to. For example, if you like working for environmental causes, and are now applying for an environmental job then group your experience in environmental work together as the first part of your work experience, under a heading ‘Career in environmental roles’, and then list the remaining jobs under ‘Work in other industries’.

Keep what’s strong

Be careful not to dismiss that ‘other work experience’ too briefly. Your key transferable skills may have come from any job, and these skills should be prominent on the front page of your CV whichever industry you gained them in. For completeness, the job you gained or built them in should then be mentioned somewhere within your work experience.

November 16th, 2009 | Category: CV, gap, industries, work experience | No Comments »

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