The Experience Section

Each item in your Experience section should answer the five Ws:

  • who you worked for (i.e., the name of your employer)
  • what you did (your job title and duties)
  • where you worked (city and state)
  • when you worked there (if you’re still working there, you can write, for example, July 2016–Present)
  • why the adcom should care (most important if your duties were menial)

The whole will look something like this:

University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Adjunct Professor | 8/2011–5/2012

  • Designed and taught two sections of CW:4745, The Sentence: Strategies for Writing.
  • Received excellent evaluations as well as positive feedback through the Center for Teaching.

Tips

1. Explain what the company or institution does.

You don’t have to explain a company like CocaCola or Penguin Random House, but you should add a descriptive sentence for companies that the admissions readers may not know about.

The Iowa Youth Writing Project
Volunteer Coordinator | 8/2014–5/2015

  • Helped establish a one-year-old nonprofit organization that put on literacy and creative writing workshops for underserved youth.
  • Managed 10 volunteers and interns.

Alternatively, you can describe the institution on the second line:

The Iowa Youth Writing Project
The IYWS is a one-year-old nonprofit organization that puts on literacy and creative writing workshops for underserved youth.
Volunteer Coordinator | 8/2014–5/2015

  • Managed 10 volunteers and interns.

2. List major responsibilities and accomplishments in bullet-point form.

Note anything that you did to save or earn money for the company.

  • Wrote grant that secured four million dollars from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
    You should also note management experience.
  • Oversaw three copywriters.

If you didn’t manage anyone, make money for the company, or accomplish anything major, say what you did in plain language:

  • Evaluated manuscripts.

But you don’t have to, and shouldn’t, list every responsibility, which brings us to…

3. Don’t list menial tasks.

If, for example, you interned at a law office, you shouldn’t write that you fetched the mail. Don’t try to dress up your responsibilities, either: handled and processed intake of all correspondence. Yuk.

Most interns, in fact, don’t get to do anything interesting. Fortunately, you’re also allowed to…

4. List what you learned or why you took a position in the first place.

A few examples:

  • Learned about the difference between America’s and Belgium’s healthcare system.
  • Learned to work on tight deadlines in a fast-paced environment.
  • Took internship to gain experience at an environmental nonprofit.

5. Use numbers.

Quantifying your accomplishments makes them more memorable and specific:

  • Managed four volunteers.
  • Saved company $1.5 million in energy costs.
  • Oversaw blog that attracts 75,000 monthly visitors.

6. List promotions and raises.

Remember to give context. If you know that you were promoted or given a raise more quickly than usual, say so:

  • Received $2,000 raise after only three months, compared to company average of a year.

7. Highlight legal issues that you learned about.

A couple examples:

  • Researched legal memoranda on foreign direct investment and financing transactions.
  • Learned about torts and real property issues.

8. Put a positive spin on unemployment.
Admissions officers will be curious about any gaps in your employment history. Head them off at the pass by explaining what happened and how you’re using your time constructively.

  • Took time off to care for diabetic sister.
  • Seeking work after company X downsized for budgetary reasons. Using time to finish novel and network.

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