Organizing Experience to Make Resume Writing a Snap

Thursday Feb. 28th, 2013

Last month’s article evaluated professional interests and narrowed job search focus. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of preparation and organization.

Finding employment takes longer and requires more effort. A recent report by the US Department of Labor estimates unemployed job seekers spend an average of 40 weeks looking for work. Add job seekers who are currently employed while looking for their next opportunity and you end up with a lot of resume writing. Most job seekers send out tens, if not hundreds of resumes before landing the next big thing.

The number of resumes increases substantially when you consider the need to customize. You must customize your resume for every job application. This point is nonnegotiable. If you aren’t customizing, you are wasting your time. There is simply too much competition. If your resume smells generic the hiring manager will recognize the lack of effort and move past you to the other 100+ resumes he received.

With so many resumes to write, you need a strategy to make the process manageable. This week we are going to organize your experience. Instead of dreading the resume customization extravaganza, create an Experience Document so resume writing is a snap!

An Experience Document is an organized, comprehensive collection of employment history, education, volunteer experience, and anything else that might support your job search. It includes extensive detailing of job duties, salary history, supervisors, training, leadership roles, and clubs. The Experience Document is a cumulative resource for customizing your resumes and cover letters.

Significantly longer than a resume, your Experience Document is unpolished and all inclusive. It is a resume on steroids, minus the pretty. It will be your savior when you are trying to create a customized resume in less than 20 minutes. The time you invest in creating this document today, will be a major time-saver and headache preventer in the future.

Begin by collecting the basic contact information for every previous and current employer. Use the full company name. Note address, phone, fax, and website of each.

Note your job title and add a full job description at beginning of employment. Most employers give new employees a hard copy of their job description when they are hired. If you do not have this, create one. Note a second job description describing your responsibilities at the end of your tenure in that position (we’ll cover promotions in a moment). The variation in job descriptions from beginning to end of each position is an excellent resource for accomplishments and examples of increased responsibility to highlight in a resume. Indicate your start date and end date, specifying month as well as year.

List the five biggest accomplishments or contributions you made during your tenure. Be wordy so you have a lot of content to draw from when you need to be concise in your resume. Note numbers, facts, and stats for each accomplishment. For example, you developed a process reducing waste by 6%, saving material cost by an average of $250 each week. Or, you reduced the average hold time per call by 25 seconds. If your accomplishments are not quantifiable, detail the “soft” results.

I recommend regularly updating accomplishments, even when you are happily employed. A client spent a week sifting through years of old emails and forms to come up with specific, impactful numbers for his resume. He was lucky he had access to the information. Once you leave a position you may not have access; track results as they happen.

For each promotion, create a beginning job description, ending job description, and accomplishment list. Note month and year of promotions. Indicate starting pay and each pay raise. Explain how you earned pay raises. Document supervisors and their titles. Add a note about your relationship with each supervisor; are they a good source for a reference? While your supervisor’s name won’t go on a resume, you may be required to include it on a job application.

List any training you received, noting month and date completed. Add a short summary of the purpose and benefit, any certifications or licenses earned, and who conducted the training. Think of anything outside standard job training. Equipment, computer programs, CPR, special sales techniques, and safety training are common examples.

Collect performance documentation. While it is generally not feasible to insert a six-page performance review into your Experience Document, note that you have the performance review and keep the hard copy in a file with other performance-related documentation. In addition to reviews, official recognition of performance might include awards, honors, and customer compliments. Informal recognition of performance might include emails from supervisors complimenting performance, verbal endorsements of your work (a flattering quote from a colleague or supervisor), or story-like descriptions of significant contributions to projects that were rewarded by your boss buying lunch for your team.

Spend time collecting performance documentation into one file, and then make a note about each with their corresponding work position in your Experience Document. Performance documentation is a great resource for concrete examples of your value as an employee. Get in the habit of collecting every “kudos” you receive. You’ll thank yourself later.

Once you have completed the details for your work experience, do the same with your education. Note complete name of the school, address, phone, and website. Note your degree(s), major(s), and minor(s). List accomplishments like the Dean’s List and any honors, awards, or special recognition. Indicate when each was received, why, and who presented the honor. Detail extracurricular activities, clubs or teams, and leadership experience. Note your grade point average (or not, if you spent your college years on the slopes instead of the classroom).

I recommend listing everything from high school up in your Experience Document. Though high school rarely goes on a resume once college is complete, many job applications (especially government job applications) ask for it.

Complete a similar process for volunteer experience. For each volunteer experience, list the name of the organization, contact information, supervisor, volunteer job title and responsibilities, dates served, and commitment level (how many times per week, etc.). Describe any significant contributions or special achievements. Often, volunteers are rewarded for their participation. Mention if you have received any honors. Note the organization’s mission. If you are applying for a position with a company whose mission connects with your volunteer experience, you will want to highlight it in your customized resume or cover letter.

The last thing to add to your Experience Document is additional activities. Hobbies that require specific knowledge, competencies, or skills that could be relevant to the type of work you are pursuing should be noted. Include any specialized training or leadership. For example, if you carve model trains and you are applying for a position building custom cabinetry, you can reference your experience refining your carving skills. You will decide if the activities are worth including on a case-by-case basis as you customize your resume.

Commit to creating a comprehensive Experience Document today so tomorrow you are prepared to customize resumes and cover letters more efficiently. Once you go to all the effort, maintain the document throughout your career (or careers). You will use this next month when we begin crafting resume content that sells your value as an employee. And a final reminder, an Experience Document is for your use only. Never send it in place of a resume.

From her barn in Bozeman, Liz Williams helps job seekers land interviews with professionally-written resumes. Learn more at and follow Liz on Facebook at to get more tips on resume writing.