How Far back Should A Resume Go?

December 08, 2021

For job seekers, building a resume can be a source of both hope and stress. While it’s the key to finding the perfect job, you always wonder whether your resume is just right or if there’s an aspect of it that might repel prospective employers. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and decisions that have to be made with regards to your resume, and there aren’t always clear answers out there for job seekers. Today, we’re going to answer one of the most pressing inquiries applicants tend to have: How far back should a resume go?

Should I put my entire work history on a resume?

We can sometimes assume that more is better when it comes to listing their work history. After all, the more experience you have, the more qualified you are for the position, right? Well, not necessarily.

Our team has learned that listing decades of work history on your resume won’t necessarily convince prospective employers that you’re the right fit for the position, and it may actually work against you for a few reasons. When reviewing resumes with excessive work experience, hiring managers may be concerned that the bulk of the applicant’s experience is dated, irrelevant, or “spotty”.

Since recruiters and hiring managers have an enormous number of resumes to review, they typically only review each resume for a matter of seconds before making a decision. This means your lengthy work history will likely not even be read in full, and its presence may actually move your resume into the rejection pile.

How Far Back Should I Go on My Resume?

So, we know now that listing decades of work experience on your resume isn’t necessarily beneficial. What’s the magic number, then, when it comes to the time period covered in your resume? The answer to this question is determined by a few other questions:

  • What type of job are you looking for?
  • How many years were you at your last job?
  • How recent is your most relevant experience?

How many years of work experience should be on a resume?

According to Indeed, “most experts recommend including 10-15 years of work history on your resume.” This applies to most job seekers in most fields, but there are a few exceptions.

Are you applying for a position in a technology field?

In fields that deal heavily with advanced technology, like IT companies, you’ll want your job history to be even shorter, going back no more than 10 years. In rapidly changing technical industries, work history that goes back more than 10 years is considered dated and could make your experience appear irrelevant.

Were you at your last job for more than 15 years?

When your most recent work experience spans back more than 15 years at the same job, you obviously can’t keep your work experience under 15 years. If this is the case, list the experience and be sure to highlight responsibilities and achievements in that position that address the common concerns hiring managers may have with your resume (latest achievements first).

  • Mention responsibilities that highlight your skill in modern and relevant areas of the industry.
  • Discuss what new projects or processes you learned or implemented to highlight your trainability.

How to scale back your resume

If you find that your resume has more than 10-15 years of work experience listed, you’ll need to scale back the information you’re providing in order to stay relevant in the eyes of recruiters.

Use bulleted lists

Like anyone else, recruiters are skimmers, so if there is any way to make a lengthy resume more readable, a bulleted list can do it. Instead of a lengthy paragraph discussing your duties and achievements at a past workplace, consider listing those items in bullet form so your resume is easier on the eyes and more likely to be noticed.

Remove dated information

If you currently have a lot of work experience listed on your resume from the days of old, your best bet is to simply remove it. If it’s dated experience, it won’t impress recruiters. Some examples of dated information would be:

  • Employers from more than 15 years ago
  • Qualifications and skills that are no longer relevant in your field
  • Work experience in a field you’re no longer pursuing
  • And, yes, that job you had at the mall when you were 15 should definitely go bye bye

Similarly, if your earned degree, or other relevant education and training, is more than 15 years old, it may not be as impressive to a recruiter. In this instance, it’s ok to simply leave off the year in which the degree was completed. You can simply list the name of the institution and the title of the degree or certification.

Focus on relevant experience

While you’re snipping out that dated information, make sure you’re beefing up any work experience that is relevant to the type of work you’re looking for. Those sections in your work history section should be the focal point of your resume.

Be sure you’re making relevant work experience both visually eye-catching and packed full of applicable skills that you acquired while working there. This will help recruiters to see your pertinent qualifications prominently, see you as a good fit for the position, and move your resume on for next steps.

Use other sections for long-past work experience

There’s a question you’ve probably been wondering about. What if you have relevant qualifications gained at a job you had more than 15 years ago? It’s an excellent question since you don’t want to highlight such dated work experience but you also don’t want to leave applicable skills and experience off of your resume.

This is a good time to utilize some other sections on your resume, and you can take a few different approaches for this strategy:

  • Highlight those abilities in the “skills” section. There’s no denying that, even if you had a particular job long ago, you still gained skills from that work experience. For example, if you managed a shift schedule at a job more than 15 years ago, you can simply add “scheduling” to your list of skills.
  • Mention your older experience in your resume summary or cover letter. The resume summary section is at the top of your resume and it’s often the first thing recruiters read outside of your cover letter. Mention the experience from an old job in one of these places by stating, for example, that you have, “more than 15 years of management experience.”
  • Use the “awards and achievements” section. If you have relevant achievements at an older job, you could mention them in your awards section by saying something like, “Salesperson of the Year Award.”

Address employment gaps appropriately

With all of the resume trimming you’ll be doing, it’s possible that you may decide to omit a past job that is irrelevant to the field that you are job seeking for. If your trimming results in significant gaps between relevant jobs, make sure you’re addressing those properly.

You can do this by simply listing the job where it fits in chronologically in your work experience. List it only as the company, job title, and dates employed, and don’t add any description of duties. This will make it clear to a recruiter that you were employed during this time but that your other listed positions are more relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Is it OK to have a 2 page resume?

When it comes to the ideal length of your resume, you’ve probably heard that it’s best to fit everything on a single page. The logic behind this philosophy is that with only one page, you’ll ensure that:

  • Your skills, achievements, and work history include only relevant information
  • You’ll limit the amount of “fluff” that recruiters tend to be unimpressed by
  • Recruiters can skim your resume quickly and easily

While it’s best to have a single-page resume, two-page resumes aren’t necessarily forbidden. For example, if you have more than 10 years of relevant work experience, it’s understandable that your resume will be two pages long.

However, make sure your resume isn’t long simply because you have excess items or content taking up space. As long as your 2-page resume still appears clean, clear, and relevant, it will still catch the eye of a recruiter or hiring manager.

Your resume can make or break your job hunt, but if you keep in mind its purpose as an employment tool, it can mean the difference between an offer letter and a rejection. The most important aspect of your resume is that it sells you to a recruiter or hiring manager not just as an applicant, but as the right candidate for the specific job you’re applying for. That’s why it’s so important make sure your resume highlights all the ways that you’re the perfect fit. Building your resume isn’t an easy task, but if you have the right information on display, it can be an enticing document that employers will take notice of.

If you’re feeling a bit self-conscious about your resume, snatch up our Filters are for Coffee Card and get your free Self Confidence Guide. It’ll give you the self-loving boost you need to reach for the career-advancing stars.

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