One of the most common questions our team of professional resume writers gets from job seekers is, "How far back should a resume go?" Or this similar question: how many jobs should you list on a resume?
When you have spent many years building your career, you have a lot of experience you want to include on your resume. Many people include decades of experience on a resume, and it could be the reason why their resumes aren't getting any callbacks or interview requests!
The fact is that you don’t need to list every position you’ve ever held on your resume!
Your resume can – and should – be a selective document tailored for a specific job. That means you only need to include your skills, experience, and qualifications that will help you get that position. You don't need to include a comprehensive list of your professional life: only what is professionally relevant to the role you want.
In this article, we'll help you decide how far back your resume should go and explain why.
Deciding how far back your resume should go
As a general rule, your resume should go back no more than a maximum of 10 to 15 years of work experience. By focusing on your most current jobs and experience, you can ensure that your resume content is relevant for employers and recruiters.
But what if you really need those years of experience on your resume?
In most instances, this situation only presents itself when you are seeking higher-level management positions. If that’s the case, then you can definitely consider including an even more detailed work history, up to approximately 25 years of experience.
However, even then, you’d provide bulleted details to the roles that are about 15 years old, putting the rest into an “Early Career Experience” section that simply lists the positions.
Why shouldn't you add all your years of experience to your resume?
Your resume's experience section should always be able to pass the "6-second resume test" when it comes to relevance.
As you write your resume, put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter or hiring manager. Look over the information and determine whether your experience is relevant to the job opening and if the hiring manager will be impressed with it.
Here are the reasons for including only 10 to 15 years of work experience on a resume:
1. It helps you avoid age discrimination
Yes, age discrimination does happen, and it could be costing you interview offers. If your resume goes back 20 or 30 years, it's easy for the hiring manager to guess your age range.
In the event that they're looking for a younger candidate, that knowledge may cause them to dismiss your resume. Of course, they still may be able to guess your age if they call you in for an interview and actually meet you - but at least you will have the chance to prove your worth.
For more information, check out our post on 7 resume tips for older workers.
2. Increases relevancy
Most hiring managers won't care what you did more than 10 to 15 years ago. Usually, your more recent experience offers greater insight into your potential value, so those older jobs are better left off your resume. Moreover, each resume is only looked at for a few seconds, so you want to ensure that your resume is as clear and concise as possible. Irrelevant information on a resume will usually result in it getting rejected.
3. Removes clutter
Another thing that annoys hiring managers is a cluttered resume. Including many years of experience usually does that. Your resume should never be longer than two pages. Keep it short, concise, and relevant to quickly show the employer that you're the best match for the position.
Your career level dictates how far back your resume should go
There are exceptions to every rule, but, for the most part, where you are in your career will be the key to deciding how far back your resume should go.
When you have very little experience (0-2 years), thinking about adding relevant experience becomes a bit problematic. Whether you are just starting out in your career or switching to a different career, chances are that you won’t have much experience in your chosen industry.
If that’s the case, you should focus on relevant experiences that utilize the right skills or transferable abilities. These details can include not only prior jobs but also internships, volunteer work, freelancing, and similar endeavors. Again, focus on the skills you possess more than the positions you’ve held.
Mid-level career experience
When you hit the five-year mark, and especially as you approach 10 years of experience, it’s time to start talking about how your career has progressed. This means that things you’ve done as a volunteer or in school won’t carry as much weight on your resume. Therefore, the process of deciding how far back your resume should go means figuring out which items are best left off.
If your experience is relevant to the role you’re applying to, then leave it on your resume. If an experience won’t help an employer know what you’ll bring to the table for their team, then take it off your resume.
When you have decades of experience under your belt, deciding how far back your resume should go can cause some true headaches. Even when you have 30+ years of relevant experience, it’s still advisable to include details about the last 10 to 15 years.
Yes, there are likely things from 20 years ago that you consider accomplishments that will impress current employers. However, instead of wasting valuable resume real estate giving those roles a lot of attention, it’s best to simply list those positions under a header called “Early Career Experience.”
Doing this allows you to call some attention to those past experiences in a way that opens the door for you to talk about any relevant accomplishments during an interview.
Tips you need to know when listing experience
As the economy has changed in recent decades, job seekers have had to adjust their resume strategies to accommodate new workplace experiences. Sometimes, that can make it difficult to identify the best way to list experiences. The following tips can help you figure out how to handle some of the most common challenges candidates experience.
When you've only worked at one company for many years
If you only worked at one company for many years, then it could be difficult to leave the years off your resume. There is a way around this, depending on the situation.
If you've held different positions at the company, you could split up your work experience depending on the years you've held the title. This allows you to list more relevant positions at the top of your resume and even remove some that aren't really relevant.
For example, say Anna was looking for an accounting position, and she worked at XYZ Corp. for the last 22 years. During that time, she held the following positions:
Accountant: 6 Years (2015 to 2022)
Bookkeeper: 6 Years (2009 to 2015)
Customer Service Representative: 10 Years (1999 to 2009)
Anna could list the relevant bookkeeping and accounting positions separately with the years worked and omit the customer service representative position from 12 years ago.
Listing gig economy experience
According to some estimates, roughly a third of American workers have some experience in the so-called gig economy. That can include freelance work, short-term independent projects, or similar jobs. Of course, the obvious question is how you can include that experience in your resume in a compelling way. One way to do that is to focus attention on the skills you used for those positions rather than the company names or job titles. If you choose that option, you may also want to opt for a hybrid resume more suited for highlighting skills.
Carefully consider the role you’re seeking
Always take the time to consider the nature of the job you are trying to land. Think about the job requirements, the seniority of the position, and the skills and talents needed to be effective in that role. How does your work experience relate to this position, and which skills need to be highlighted to convey to an employer that you are the best person for the job?
Prestigious title or company
If you held a high-level title or worked at a prestigious company, then you should probably leave it on your resume. Chances are that these types of positions will be relevant to your current job search anyway since they typically demonstrate the types of skills employers are looking for during most hiring efforts.
Explains a gap
If you list the year of your graduation, certification, license, or other projects and leave off a substantial amount of experience, it may make the hiring manager think you have a gap in your resume. In that case, you need to either include your work experience or remove other dates.
Whether or not you need to remove the dates depends on what you have listed; however, keep in mind that you don't need to list your graduation year.
By the way, your education doesn't fall under the 10-15-year rule – degrees are usually safe to include on your resume no matter when you earned them. Our 10-15-year range is only for work experience. So, how far back should a resume go for education? As far back as you need. Just remember that adding your graduation years to those details could point to your age.
Recent work history is what wins interviews
While it can be tempting to include all of your work experience on your resume, hiring managers care more about your recent work history than what you did fifteen or twenty years ago. So, when deciding how far back your resume should go or how many jobs you should list on a resume, just remember to keep everything relevant, concise, and clutter-free by including only your most recent work experience.
Good luck with your job search!
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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.