5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Describe Your Job Experience Chronologically

You’ve done it.

Your resume passed the test. A recruiter wants to schedule a phone interview to learn more about you. You’re one step closer to your dream job. Hooray!

Take a moment to celebrate. But don’t break out the bubbly quite yet. Patience, young grasshopper.

There’s a lot to think about when preparing for your first conversation with a company. It can be downright overwhelming! Research the organization, identify good questions to ask, brainstorm relevant stories from your past experience, think about how you want to present yourself… Where to even begin?!

The first step you should take is to figure out your answer to the question, “walk me through your resume” because there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll get a question along those lines.

As I’ve already mentioned, when you talk a recruiter through your past experience, you’ll want to assume they’ve never seen your resume before, do something to catch their attention right away, and start with an executive summary.

But there’s something else you can do to stand out even more, to go against the grain just a little bit.

A group of goldfish swimming with one swimming the wrong way

Begin With The End In Mind: Work Backwards

I love The Sound of Music. It was a staple of my childhood. But when Julie Andrews said, “let’s start at the very beginning,” she had it all wrong.

One of the worst phone interviews I’ve ever experienced started with the candidate saying, “I graduated from Rice University where I majored in Economics and Business.”

Ok, not inherently terrible…

But then the candidate proceeded to describe every single position she had held throughout her 15 year career — in detail and in chronological order — for twelve minutes out of a 20 minute phone interview. I had specifically asked for a brief, 2-3 minute description of her background. And I had explicitly mentioned that the interview would only be 20 minutes. I lost track of the number of times she said, “and then….and then….and then.”

Snoozer city.

By minute #4, my eyes had glazed over. She was still talking about experiences from 10+ years ago.

By minute #5, it was clear she hadn’t listened to my request for a 2-3 minute description.

And by minute #7, to be brutally honest, I wasn’t paying attention anymore.

Sure, I could have cut her off, but I learned a lot about her communication style, her inability to read others, and her (lack of) listening skills by letting her continue to talk.

Yes, she went into my reject pile. Did you really have to ask?

To avoid falling into this trap, don’t describe your prior job experience chronologically. Instead, begin with the present day and work backwards from there.

Why? Here are five interrelated reasons.

1. Relevancy

Your most recent job is almost certainly what’s most relevant to the position you’re interviewing for. This is the experience that matters most to me as your hiring manager, so please start here.

And if your current role isn’t what’s most relevant, start somewhere else.

2. Catch (and keep) my attention

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m highly distractible.

The more relevant I find the first few things out of your mouth, the more likely you are to hook me. Making a positive impression quickly is the only way to catch my interest and attention. And that is critical to get to the next round of interviews.

3. Spend time on what’s most relevant

If you’re like 99% of other human beings, you’ll go into the most detail about the first position or two that you mention when you describe your experience. It’s only natural.

This is a problem when you describe your background chronologically because then you’re spending the most time on the things you did the longest ago. No bueno.

4. Stay flexible – and speed up

Starting with what’s most relevant gives you flexibility.

I don’t want more than a 3-5 minute description of your background. (Admittedly this varies between hiring managers). If I have specific questions, I’ll ask you to elaborate.

Telling me first about your most recent position makes sure you can stay within whatever time constraints a recruiter sets and still convey the important information. You then have flexibility to speed up or to go into less detail with every subsequent position you describe.

Consider checking in with your recruiter explicitly as you go. Ask questions like, “Is this too much detail?” or “Do you want me to elaborate more?” That way, you can adapt to what they want on the fly.

5. Stand out from the crowd

95% of job candidates describe their past experience chronologically.

Simply starting from the present day and working backwards will set you apart, which makes you memorable. And that is always a good thing to improve your chance of getting to the next interview.

Or, if you really want to break the mold, don’t take a job-based approach to the description of your background. Instead, talk about your experience thematically. Woah! You rule breaker, you.

The Distracted Goldfish



10 Unconventional Tips For Your Next Resume Tune Up

[Or, alternatively: I’m your recruiter. Don’t make me think!]

The first hurdle in getting your dream job at your dream company is the dreaded resume screen — that moment where a recruiter or a hiring manager spends 30 seconds glancing over your resume before they decide “yes” or “no.”

Most candidates never get past this step. They never get the opportunity to make an impression in-person or over the phone. But you can’t land that dream job if you never  meet face-to-face!

So, take time to polish your resume. The 10 tips below — in no particular order — will help you stand out from the crowd.

goldfish break free escape

1. Remove your address

Would you blast out your home address to a bunch of randos on the internet?

I didn’t think so.

So why would you put it on your resume before submitting said resume into the online job application abyss? After all, you have no idea who’s reading on the other side.

As a recruiter, there is absolutely no reason for me to know where you live. Fun fact: it’s actually illegal for me to ask! Plus, including your address can create negative bias.

“Oo, she lives in an expensive area. She’ll probably expect a high salary. Oo, he would have a really horrible commute. He probably won’t want to commute that much.”

An address also takes up valuable, limited, resume real estate.

And if you’re planning to relocate, know that some recruiters may filter clearly out-of-area resumes by default to avoid the hassle of employee relocation.

2. Include your LinkedIn profile URL

When I’m in an intense phase of recruiting, I practically live in LinkedIn. I eat up LinkedIn profiles like a child scarfs down candy on Halloween. Nom nom.

Because my brain is used to the standard LinkedIn profile format, LI profiles are super quick to digest and compare. And in crazy recruiting land, every minute matters. That’s why I always use LinkedIn as a first screen before I even look at someone’s resume. And sometimes I don’t look at a candidate’s resume at all if it’s clear from LinkedIn that they’re qualified or unqualified for the role. Yes I know that makes you die a little on the inside given how much time you put into crafting the perfect resume.

So, add a link to your LinkedIn profile at the top of your resume. The longer I have to search for your profile, the grumpier I become. The more expletives I spew. And that, my friend, does not bode well for your application.

neon side expletive frustration

3. Add a highlighted skills section

The more brain power I have to use when reviewing your resume, the more likely it is to end up in a pile of rejects. Help yourself by helping me: don’t make me think.

A list of “highlighted skills” at the top of your resume is a fantastic way to prevent me from thinking too much. You tell me what you’re good at instead of me drawing my own conclusions. You help to shape my impression of you.

I love resumes with “highlighted skills” because they allow me to quickly assess whether or not someone has the necessary skills for the job. If I can say “check, check, check,” you’ll fly through into the next round, so be sure to include any and all applicable buzzwords. Relevant keywords are also critical to get through automated resume screening tools which are used by larger companies.

4. Summarize yourself

Ditch the resume objective. It’s a waste of space.

Instead, add a short, 1-2 sentence summary of yourself at the top of your resume.

Why? See the “highlighted skills” section above. Spoon feed me. Pull the themes out of your experience for me. Frame yourself how you want me to see you.

5. Use months and years to show your tenure at each job

Your recruiter isn’t a bad person. But don’t count on them assuming the best or giving you the benefit of the doubt, either. Reduce the number of assumptions they have to make about you. The fewer assumptions I have to make, the lower the risk of a negative assumption. It’s fewer opportunities for my negative biases to creep in.

What’s the worst thing your recruiter will assume when he or she sees a resume with only years to indicate the candidate’s tenure in each position instead of months and years? If you said that the candidate is “hiding one or more significant gaps or short job stints,” you’d be correct.

So, unless you do have several large gaps or short tenures, use month and year to indicate how long you were in each position. Consistency is critical here. Listing some positions by year and some by month makes me raise an eyebrow. It makes me think. And we’ve already established that that is a bad thing in the context of resume review.

If you do have significant gaps in your employment history, don’t panic. As long as you can explain each one, you should be fine. It just may be a more challenging uphill battle to get in front of recruiters and hiring managers in the first place.

calendar day planner

6. Format to pass the “skim test”

What you’ve heard is true. Recruiters and hiring managers spend very little time reviewing each resume. I know this seems like cruel and unusual punishment given the amount of time you spent perfecting the darn thing. Sorry.

So, make it easy for me to take in as much information about you in a short amount of time. A resume that is 95% 12 point Times New Roman font makes me go cross eyed. Where am I supposed to look? What’s important?

Variation in formatting works wonders. Vary your text size. Use bold and italics. (Cautiously) consider using color or even grey on an otherwise black and white resume. Maybe even use all caps (but please don’t scream at me).

Think about what you want to pop out most on the page. Format accordingly.

7. Tell me what you accomplished, not your job description

This is an area where 80+% of resumes need improvement, so take this tip to heart. If the bullet points on your resume give me a description of what you did, it’s time to start over.

Instead, tell me what you accomplished. There’s a difference.

I want to know what you achieved. Quantify the impact you had on your team or the company. Remember that I don’t have the context about your business and team to know why each of your bullet points matters. Use numbers where you can. In other words, tell me why the heck I should care. Hit me over the head with it. I’m going to be a lot more excited about hiring someone whose resume is full of bullet points like “doubled our daily active users over a 6 month period” instead of “owned and improved user engagement on the platform.” Wouldn’t you be too?

While you’re at it, shorten your bullet points. Make them punchy. The longer a bullet point, the more likely I am to stop reading. So, be concise and phrase carefully to put the important stuff first. Break apart longer bullet points to ensure they each get the attention they deserve

Oh, and put your bullet points in past tense. A combination of present and past is a little jarring. If you’re focusing on what you’ve accomplished, this shouldn’t be an issue.

accomplished ice climber

8. Add a company description

If you’ve worked only or mostly for big name companies or organizations where it’s very clear what the company does (e.g. a law firm), you can probably skip this one. But if you’re a start up junkie or are switching industries, pay attention.

Knowing a little bit about the companies you’ve worked for gives me a ton of important context for interpreting the bullet points on your resume. There are a lot of companies out there and I’m way too time crunched to go look up anything about your past companies myself.

Help me out by including a short description of the company, your role, and/or your responsibilities. Tossing in numbers like company and team size is great, too. It instantly gives me a framework to understand how senior you are regardless of title, how your contributions fit in, and the scale you were operating at. It also allows you to skip the “what you did” resume bullet points.

Your company description might look something like this: “ABC Inc.’s global virtual marketplace connects cryptocurrency buyers and sellers digitally. My 9-person team was responsible for the buyer lifecycle on the platform from acquisition and engagement to quality and support.” Doesn’t take much room in a small font.

9. Show me your progress

Have you been promoted at any of the companies where you’ve worked? Show it off!

Resist the temptation to put only your most recent title because it’s the most senior.

Listing multiple titles shows progression and advancement which I love to see. And, if you have to adjust the title a teensy tinsy wee bit to make it understandable to the outside world, I think that’s a-ok. Just don’t go calling yourself a Director if you were actually a Manager.

punch today in the face

10. Eliminate jargon

If you’re job searching in your current industry or get lucky and have a super well-informed hiring manager review your resume, you can get away with jargon.

But most people aren’t that lucky. Remember what I said above about not making me think. Instead, play it safe.

A better approach is to assume that the person reviewing your resume is a clueless junior recruiter who doesn’t know very much about your specific functional area. Don’t assume that said recruiter will know the difference between NPS and NPV. (Sorry junior recruiters, don’t take it personally).

Whew, that’s a lot. And if you’re like most people, you have a lot more “to do’s” on your job search list now.

Happy resume editing!


The Distracted Goldfish