We'll help you decide how much of your career to cover on your resume
One of the first questions you're likely to have when you sit down to write your resume is, “How far back should my resume go?” You're in good company, because almost everyone asks that question at some point.
When you get it right, you'll be one step closer to winning the interview. However, get it wrong and you'll be in with those people who are not getting many (or any) responses to job applications.
Spoiler alert: You do not (and should not) list every job you've ever had!
To be frank, recruiters and hiring managers don't want to see your whole work history. The attention-getting resume will go back far enough to showcase your relevant experience thoroughly but succinctly, keeping the emphasis on your more recent work.
So, how far back should a resume go?
It can vary, depending on the person and work history, but there are some basic guidelines that everyone should follow. If you've received a professionally written resume, then these guidelines will also explain why your professional resume writer may have eliminated some of your earliest work experiences.
Don't go back more than 10 to 15 years
The majority of experts agree that a resume should only include the last 10 to 15 years of employment, and there are several good reasons for this.
It combats age discrimination
We may not like to admit it, but the fact remains: age discrimination is a reality in today's job market. By eliminating your earlier work history, or minimizing the details, you shift recruiters' attention away from your age and toward what really matters - which is the value you have to offer a prospective employer through your skills and experience.
It keeps your information relevant to the job
The further along you are in your career, the less relevant your earlier work experience becomes. Employers care most about the details of your recent work that tie back to the position they're currently filling – not the jobs you held 15 or more years ago.
By focusing on the parts of your recent experience that demonstrate your qualifications for the job, you're giving employers exactly what they want, which is the Cliff Notes version of your work history rather than the novel.
Employers can quickly and easily scan your resume
Including too many years of experience can make for a very cluttered resume: small font, tiny margins, too many words.
The average recruiter spends less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before deciding whether an applicant is worth further consideration; a cluttered resume simply requires too much effort for a hiring manager who has possibly hundreds of resumes to review.
It keeps your resume at two pages
Whether you've worked for six years or 26 years, the golden rule of resume writing is to keep it to a maximum of two full pages.
When you only have 10 seconds to make an impression, more than two pages takes too long to scan. Stick to the two-page resume rule by removing the jobs, training courses, or graduation dates that fall outside of the 15-year window.
Not sure how to do this without losing important information? A trained resume writer knows how to keep your resume at this required length without removing relevance.
How far back should a resume go based on where you are in your career?
It stands to reason that your resume will look wildly different from someone else's, depending on where you are in your career. Perhaps you just graduated college and are entering the workforce for the first time. On the other hand, you may be a seasoned executive with decades of experience under your belt. Each instance has a different set of rules.
The key thing to remember is relevancy!
New graduates and entry-level candidates
If you're fresh out of school or barely have any experience, then you won't have an extensive resume with a lot of listings under “Work History.” Employers understand and expect this; after all, they used to be people with no experience, too. When you're in this boat, you can focus your resume on showcasing experience, skills, and achievements through things like academics, special projects, and volunteer work.
You've also likely worked some part-time roles or taken part in an internship as part of your course. These can be great ways to highlight skills. They also help to indicate that you're the type of person who goes above and beyond what's absolutely required of you. In fact, going above and beyond the call of duty is a great soft skill that employers enjoy seeing.
Once you get past five years of experience, and especially as you approach ten years, it's time to start doing away with those older roles that are less and less relevant. Now, you should have enough industry- or job-specific experience that you don't have to lean on soft or transferable skills to win the day.
Read through the job description, dissect the relevant keywords that indicate what the company wants in a new hire, and use that information to write your resume. This is called tailoring your resume.
At this point in your career, you'll probably find that what you write on your resume spills over to two pages. That's perfectly fine. You're getting to the point where you've earned the second page, so use it. But, again, use it wisely. No employer anywhere is going to want you to dump everything you've ever done onto your resume. They only want to know about those things that will make you an asset to their team.
Executive or upper-level professionals
When you hit the 10-15+ years of experience mark, it may become more difficult to determine what to include and what to exclude. You still want to keep your resume relevant and not go too far back on your work history.
As you write out your professional experience section and start to get to the end of the second page, it's time to decide whether you've gone too far back. It's perfectly acceptable to summarize older roles under an “Early Career Experience” header with no bullet points.
How far back your resume should go coupled with what wins interviews
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Is this the thing that's going to get me an interview?” By following these guidelines on what to include in your resume based on where you're at in your career, you'll end up with a document that expertly tells a hiring manager where you are, where you've come from, and how what you know makes you the best candidate for the job. Everything else you can expound on during an interview.
Whether you choose to take on the challenge of eliminating your past experiences yourself or need the guidance of a professional, you should now have a better understanding of what to keep and what to eliminate from your past work experience – and why it's important.
Looking to cut back some of the fluff on your resume but don't know where to start? Our free resume review can help.
This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine. It has since been updated by Lisa Tynan (2021) and Marsha Hebert (2024) to ensure the content is fresh and consistent with the changing tides of resume writing.