How to Write Better Job Descriptions

The heart of your resume is the "Experience" section, in which you describe the jobs you have had in the past, and the one you have now if you are currently employed; your challenge in this section is to provide the reader of your resume a sense not only of what you have done, but how well you have done it. We call this the "evaluative" function of the resume. For a discussion of why this is important, see "Don't Describe—Evaluate". For an example of how to do it, read on.

Here's an example of a lackluster Experience section entry:

Now, this may be a perfectly accurate description of the daily duties of the prep cook in a seafood restaurant, but the statements are short and devoid of any detail that would set them apart. Notice as well the repetition of some of key words: the first two bullets start with the same verb, "Prepared," and "food" is mentioned in each statement.

This kind of repetition is a red flag to readers of resumes: when you repeat yourself, you send the clear message that you are out of new things to say, or that you are trying to cover over a deficiency of some kind. It's best that each key word be unique within each job description.

Beyond the simple issue of repetition, what's also missing here is any evaluative statement. It's clear what this prep cook did, but not how well he did it. The problem is that every prep cook can list these three bullet points, which leaves the hiring manager to choose a winner from a set of nearly identical resumes.

The importance of evaluative statements cannot be overstated: prospective employers need to have a way to differentiate among—and rank—resumes. The best tool that you can give them for this purpose is a strong set of evaluative statements showing that not only did you do the work, you did it in a manner that makes you a strong candidate for the next job.

Here's one possible revision of the job description that incorporates evaluative statements:

Notice what this version does differently:

  • The repetition has been eliminated, with "Prepared" being replaced with "Supported" and "Garnished." These are both more specific, and "Supported" has a bottom-line benefit as well in that it focuses on results (the chefs were able to do a better job because of this support) and not just on job functions.
  • Evaluative statements are present in each bullet item. Note the adverbs efficiently and consistently, which provide a positive spin on what was previously a mundane statement of function.
  • There are positive adjectives everywhere: attractive, orderly, and sanitary are all descriptions that a hiring manager would associate with a winning candidate.
  • Finally, some context is offered to frame the job description: the kitchen is described as "fast-paced," and the importance of "attractive presentation" identifies the restaurant as more refined than the common quick-service establishment. This context helps the hiring manager picture the work environment that this candidate comes from.

This example shows how easy it can be to improve your Experience section by incorporating evaluative statements into your job descriptions. As you review your resume, remember to tell not just "what," but "how well."