Work Experience and the Job Search

What is work experience?

If you want to define it, experience is the know-how, knowledge, skill, practice that you gain while working in a certain field, or area. In the context of a job, experience is what would tell your prospective employer about how well acquainted with the job you are. It is in one way, a proof of your ability to handle the job.

The importance of experience is manifold with the employer:

  • saves on cost for training
  • saves on productive time that would have otherwise spent on orientation & training
  • saves on possible mishaps that could happen due to lack of experience/ misjudgment
  • ensures quality work
  • ensures high productivity

We have established that experience is a very critical factor from the perspective of an employer. Now, let us see how we can put it across in such a way that it would attract the attention of the employer in such a way that it would make us the best available option.

  • Best impression - In order to make the best impression, you need to mention the most relevant experience where it can be easily seen. This is why, it advisable to have it done in descending order. This would also put the highest last position you held the first to be read.
  • Relevance - In case the most relevant job experience is not the latest, do not change the order to accommodate it, as this will create confusion in the mind of the employer and will reflect adversely on you. What you can do is to give a brief write-up (max 3-4 lines) on the employment experience that is most relevant, stating why you feel that the job is most suited for you, before you describe your whole employment history.
  • Focus - do not spread yourself too thin, even if you did a plethora of jobs before. In that case, you should try to bring about the most relevant aspect of that employment to the job that you are applying for, and converge it with their requirements. It is extremely important that the employer does not see you as a Jack-of-all-and-master-of-none.
  • Possible gaps - Many are tempted to leave out very irrelevant information about their previous jobs, even if that may leave gaps in the employment chronology. While it is indeed wise to have the employer concentrate only on the relevant past experience, leaving large gaps in your employment chain may affect you adversely. Here, you would do better to minimize to the extent possible those jobs that are not relevant while describing those which were. As mentioned in point (3) you should make the effort to seek out some common factors between (even) the non-relevant employment and the vacancy you are applying for. Put yourself in their shoes, would you employ a person who seems to have worked sporadically?
  • Keep it short - I cannot stress enough on the importance of this aspect. The CV has to be short enough to be swept on, at a glance. Keep in mind that the person who is deciding the first short-list would have to go through a good deal of CVs, which makes the task very tiring. Hence, they would normally give it only about 10 seconds. In those 10 seconds, your CV should make a serious enough impression, so you could attract an invitation to an interview. Ideally, your CV should not exceed two pages.
  • Quality over quantity - Though age should not be a bar for consideration, it would not be wise to enlist all that you have done for the last say, 25 years. In this case you may look ancient and entrenched in old beliefs and practices, which will mar your chances for an interview. What you need to focus on is quality. Highlight as cleverly as you can the experience and expertise you gained in the past maximum ten years. If you have more, mention that you started your career as so-and-so and worked your way to the present position.
  • Build credibility - It is excellent if you have gained your experience in 'names to reckon with' companies. This would give a stamp of approval - 'If these companies thought you good, then you must be good!' However, if you did not it is okay. Be sure though that you have good references and the relevance of the past employment is matched carefully to the present requirements.
  • Mixed bag - What would you do if your experience with the 'right' company/ies is back beyond the past ten years? Do not worry; mention first the relevant employment experience. The rest, if any, show as foothold(s) by which you acquired a host of related soft skills. Be brief and to the point. If the experience is totally unrelated, you may like to mention only the designation and period and leave out the unnecessary details without causing a gap in the chronology.
  • Other information - you may keep all other irrelevant information regarding your work ex confined to this heading, at the dire end of the CV. Though many would advise not to mention it at all, please, do not omit anything unless it directly clashes with the job you are applying for. Every work has its lessons, and having 'outside' knowledge should not limit your chances. However, ensure that this does not distract the employer from the relevant stuff. To give an apt example, suppose you are applying for a kindergarten teacher's post, and you have worked some five years ago as a night club dancer, or a sex-talk phone host, the employer may think you would not be the right influence for kids. This information may be omitted.
  • The truth - always present the truth is asked. Put is as diplomatically as you like, but tell the truth. In this way, you will face heart palpitations only once. Otherwise, you tend to get into embarrassing situations just to cover your lies, sooner than later. You may omit certain things from your CV, which you would think are not upto the mark for the present application (such as having been fired, arrested but acquitted, having wild occupations in the past, etc) but if you are asked point-blank, answer truthfully. It is worth it!

The best test for your CV's value is to ask your friends to rate it. If they would say that they would hire you, based on your CV, then you have a good CV. Otherwise, re-work it till you get 'wow, this is great' as a reaction. You read it yourself, and see whether you would trust anyone with such description to handle any crucial stuff in your company. Self-appraisal is one of the best tools; learn to use it wisely to your advantage.