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What is a Work History?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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A work history is a detailed list of jobs that someone has worked in the course of his or her life. Most job applications call for at least a partial list of former jobs, and some require a full list of a person's experiences as an employee. Building up a strong, solid history of work is an important part of applying for jobs and establishing a career, and keeping careful records can make resume writing and similar tasks much easier.

At a minimum, a work history should include the names of all the companies that someone has worked with, along with job titles and the dates of employment. Some companies also ask about compensation and benefits in these lists, and many ask for a description of job duties. Generally, each entry in a work history is short, so that a reviewer can quickly glance at the document to get needed information.

Obviously, a work history should be accurate, since companies can and do check on them. When companies call for references, they will ask about the job position held by the employee and the dates to make sure that the applicant's data matches that of his or her former employer. References also may be asked for more general information about the applicant to determine whether or not he or she would be suitable for the new job.

Gaps in work history should be explainable; otherwise, they make potential employers very suspicious. Gaps are to be expected during college years, but once someone has graduated, unexplained gaps reflect poorly on the applicant. Some people like to include information about their employment gaps, explaining that they were laid off, or that they used savings to travel. Without a clear explanation, a company may assume that a gap reflects a period of employment which did not go well, and it will assume that the applicant has lied about his or her previous employment.

In some cases, a company expects a work history to be less complete, as when a company asks about relevant or applicable employment. For example, someone seeking a position in a medical laboratory would include information about jobs which qualify him or her for the position, but a summer job in a coffee shop might be omitted since this information is not germane to the job. In the case of a resume, it is common practice to tailor work history to specific positions, so that the resume does not become too bulky.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By hangugeo112 — On Dec 06, 2010

What worries me is when a work experience involves bosses who unjustly despise me. Sometimes employers will be suspicious when someone sees that a former employee rated your work as poor, when in fact you were trying your best and this particular boss was upset with you for ulterior reasons. This seems to be the case with a lot of family businesses which foster workplace politics. When going into a job, I want to be sure that I make good connections with honest people and know that there are clear guidelines for what is expected of me.

By anon112349 — On Sep 20, 2010

I recently came across a site where you can post your work history and even have your employer verify and rate your performance. This will save me having to update my cv when I am applying for another job as it will have all of my past and present employment details. I can just send the link with my application, giving me an edge over other applicants.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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