What Format is Best for Work and Project Dates on a Resume and How Can I Improve My Resume Document?

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Robert from Springfield College asks:

“When putting end dates on a resume, would you put the end of a contract date or put the date you stopped working at the establishment if they are different dates?”

Thanks for your question, Robert.  As you probably already know, today’s job market is great as indicated by the lowest unemployment numbers in nearly two decades.  But, it isn’t easy to land a great job.

Today’s job market is extremely competitive, even for entry-level, full-time opportunities.  In fact, statistics indicate that 250 resumes are received for every corporate job opening.  It is important to recognize the competitive nature of the job market.  Once you realize this, you can start putting together your plan to find the right opportunity for you.

To attain any goal, it takes a solid plan along combined with consistent effort to achieve the goal and realize the successful outcome for which you are looking.  And, one key component of your plan includes having a powerful, value-based resume.

Your question is a good one, but try not to get too embroiled with minor details.  Yes, you’ll want to have a perfect, error-free document, but don’t let “paralysis by analysis” occur.  Focus more on the big picture of how to improve the overall quality of the resume by including more accomplishments and outcomes.  Highlighting your performance outcomes has high-impact value and will help separate you from your competition.

Below are some suggestions on how to handle dates on your resume along with how to improve your resume document to land more interviews.

Listing Dates on Your Resume for Jobs, Projects, and Volunteer Initiatives

Our career center conducts regular surveys with our employer partners to gain insight on a variety of topics including resume preferences.  During this academic year, we polled over 100 area employers to learn their specific resume preferences. Through this survey, we found that employers overwhelmingly prefer to see dates listed in a month and year to month and year format.

For example, if a student worked at a job from September 2016 to May 2018, then the employer would prefer to see this listed as, “September 2016 – May 2018”.  Interestingly, employers don’t like when candidates list the months in a numerical format (example: 09/2016) and/or abbreviate the month (i.e. Sept. instead of September).

Regarding your specific question, I’d advise you to list the end date using the date you stopped working at the employer.  Let’s assume you stopped working in June 2017, but the contract ended in September 2017.  If this is the case, then use “June 2017” as the close date on your resume.  You’ll want your references and/or employment verifications to closely match what you provided to the prospective employer.  While employers will likely forgive a short time frame differential, but may be less forgiving for a longer time frame discrepancy.  I’d never want anyone to compromise their standing with a prospective employer for any employment opportunity.

Lastly, make sure to list your dates in a consistent format both in terms of how you choose to list the dates and where you place the dates within the resume.  The resume should be consistent throughout, but especially when it comes to the dates.

Resume Improvement Suggestions

I’m guessing you are engaged in an active job search, so it is imperative that your resume is at its absolute best to clearly outline your value proposition to prospective employers.  Remember that the goal of your resume is to land you more interviews.

Also, it is important to know that employers evaluate resumes considering whether the candidate is worthy of an interview.  More simply said, they are reviewing if the candidate possesses the skills, experience, education, and successes relevant to their specific hiring need.  It is that simple.  As a result, you’ll want to make it easy for a prospective employer to determine that you possess what it is that they desire in a candidate.

Below are a few things to review (and update) to ensure your resume is selling you as best it can:

  • Contact Information – Include your name, phone number, e-mail address, and location at a minimum. If you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, then I suggest that you include your profile URL in this section.  If you have a portfolio or other online site featuring work samples, you can include the link here.
  • Targeted Job Title – Underneath your contact information, detail the targeted job title (title of the job to which you are applying). For example, if you are applying for a job titled, Sales Executive, then put Sales Executive.  The employer will know clearly that your resume is for their specific position.  Again, don’t hope an employer figures out why they are reading your resume because they won’t.
  • Summary/Profile – Summarize your ability to be successful within the targeted role by creating a short summary/profile statement. This can be in a paragraph format and between two to four lines in length and appears under the targeted job title.  For example, for me, if I were applying for another career coach position, then I might put something like: “Highly skilled, award winning career coach with over 10 years’ experience accompanied by a passion to partner with clients guiding them to achieve employment goals.  Multi-credentialed coach with industry recognized certifications as Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, Employment Interview Coach, Motivational and Empowerment Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Certified Workforce Professional”.
  • Skills – Highlight the relevant skills you possess that match the employer’s specific needs. For example, if you were targeting a sales position, then you might include skills like:  Consultative Sales, Territory Management, Sales Presentations, Negotiations, etc.  You can also highlight your software expertise if it is relevant to the targeted job.
  • Experience – Include your jobs, internships, and other relevant experience in this section. Make sure to detail the employer name, location (city and state), job title, and employment dates.
  • Use “Good Content Formula” – Use a bulleted format for the job details to make it easier to read. Also, use the “good content formula”, which is:  strong action verb + task (what you did) + result (what did the work result in? what performance improvements resulted?).  You’ll want to highlight what your impact was within the role.  Did you help improve the company’s performance measures?  If so, by how much?  Example 1: Tutored 8th grade student in geometry using teacher curriculum, which resulted in student grade improving from C to B+ during school year. Example 2:  Increased sales revenues by 25% ($150k) year over year by aggressively re-establishing contact with dormant accounts.
  • Leadership/Volunteer Initiatives – Include campus activities, clubs, especially those where you held a leadership role. Also, highlight current and/or recent volunteer initiatives in this section.
  • Carefully Proofread Your Resume Document – Proofread your resume document carefully and have others you trust do the same. Sometimes spell check misses usage errors (i.e. “Manager” misspelled as “manger”).  The resume should be a perfect document (error-free).

Think of your job search as your own personal sales and marketing campaign.  You are the product so you need to know all of the features, values, and benefits you can offer to a prospective employer.  Personally, I don’t like the term “job search”, as it sounds like you are lifting up rocks to “find” something.  Mentally reposition the search while thinking of it as a campaign.  You are connecting with people, especially prospective employers and decision makers to highlight your value proposition (what you can do for them) detailing how you can solve their problems.  Also, you will sell to the buyer – in this case, the hiring manager.  This is the person who has the power to hire you.  Focus your efforts primarily on the hiring manager.

To support this campaign, you need a great personal marketing document, your resume.  It needs to be the best it can possibly be to build your case that you are a candidate worthy of an interview.

Contact Your Career Center for Resume Assistance

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to current students at no additional cost.  Simply put, students and alumni should leverage their career center as it is a valuable resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Your university’s career center can likely provide some further insight into your job search goal to help you include additional strategies within your personal marketing campaign (job search).  Furthermore, your career center will likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alumni featuring jobs and internships posted with the institution. Make contact and set up an appointment soon.

Putting It All Together

Your resume is a key part of your personal sales and marketing campaign (job search), so you’ll want it to be the best it can possibly be.  Once you have built your winning, value-based resume, make sure to proactively market your resume to prospective employers for suitable opportunities.

A great resume marketed poorly will still net poor results.  However, a great resume that is marketed using excellent job search methods always will prevail and garner more interviews.  Many students feel that having a great resume is all they need to do to get a job, so they don’t consider the job search methods they are utilizing.  This is a critical part of job search so make sure to be proactive in your campaign.

List the dates in a month/year to month/year format making sure to spell out the month name.  Lastly, bulk up your resume by highlighting your performance results as these will move the needle with prospective employers to separate you from your competition.  You’ve got this, Robert!

Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

Posted in: Ask the Coach, Get Your Foot in the Door, Job Search Advice, Resume Advice
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