If you are preparing your resume for a job search, you will be focused on showcasing all of your skills, experience, and achievements gained in your career to date. However, you can sometimes fall into the trap of information overload. In 2023, how far back should a resume go?
Your resume is your sales pitch for a job. As such, it needs to be direct, succinct, and impactful in order to make a great first impression. Recruiters spend less than six or seven seconds scanning a resume, so it makes sense to follow a focused and succinct approach that won’t make the hiring manager zone out.
In this article we explore:
How far back should your resume go?
Streamlining older experience
Showcasing your achievements
How far back should your resume go?
The general consensus from career coaches and professional resume writers is to only include the past 10 to 15 years across the majority of industries. There are exceptions to this rule, such as roles in the government or academia, where a full and complete work history is usually a requirement.
A good approach to assessing how far back your resume should go is to consider:
The length of time you have been in the workforce
Whether your experience aligns with the role you are targeting
Whether your qualifications align to the job opportunity
Essentially, if a past role shows proof of skills and experience relevant to the job target, then you should include this in your resume (with focus on more recent experience).
Here is some guidance according to experience level.
If you are applying for senior positions, employers will be expecting to see a fair amount of experience detailed on your resume. However, going back too far and detailing junior-level roles is best avoided.
Don’t go back further than 15 years in terms of work experience. (This helps avoid age-related job discrimination.)
Check out the job posting for the expected years of experience and use this as a guide.
If you are looking for a mid-level position then your resume should cover a career history of approximately 10 years, with 5 to 10 years being the typical time period covered.
Expand on recent jobs and remove any internships or college experiences.
Check the job advertisement for any guidance on the number of years experience required for the job opening.
When you have little or no experience in the workplace it can be trickier to create your resume and know which resume format to use. The best approach is to detail all paid and voluntary work that you have completed and try to make this as relatable as possible to the specific job opening.
Focus on transferable skills and accomplishments that meet the job description.
Include any internships, part-time jobs, freelancing contracts, and/or specialist projects.
Highlight your academic studies if these are relevant to the job opening. This could include any projects, placements, awards, or excellent grades for example.
If you are returning to work after a large gap in your career, such as raising a family or due to travel overseas, you will likely have to go back further on your resume.
Explain why your most recent work experience is further back in your cover letter or resume summary.
Include any recent freelancing work, part-time jobs, and/or academic studies.
Go into detail on your top two or three jobs and then include less information as you move back chronologically in your career.
Include more than seven job listings. The usual amount of jobs included on a resume is between three and seven.
Streamline older experience
Focus on your most recent experience and achievements as these will be of most interest to a recruiter. These sections can be more detailed. You then need to scale back the amount of information as you work backwards chronologically on your resume.
If you have an earlier role that you would be likely to impress a recruiter, but this was over 15 years ago, then including an “Earlier Work Experience” section is a good option. Here you can simply list the job title, company name, and location. There is no need to include any dates.
Another option is to have a career notes section at the end of your work experience section that summarizes your relevant experience from an earlier career. For example, “Additional experience as Project Manager & Six Sigma Black Belt with ABC Company.”
Showcase your achievements
You may have an achievement from 20 years ago that is relevant to your job application, but due to the fact this was two decades ago you think it’s best to leave this out of your resume. This could be a patent you secured, an industry award, or the turnaround of a failing project.
One way to highlight this and other past achievements is to include a “Career Highlights” section at the beginning of the resume. This can follow the professional profile and core skill area and be formatted as a bulleted list (without dates if more than 15 years old) to make your accomplishments stand out.
Another option is to use the “Earlier Work Experience” section mentioned above to include employment information (again without dates if longer than 15 years ago) and a key accomplishment under each role. You don't need to include every role, just the ones with significant achievements.
Drop the dates of your academic studies if you have been in the workplace for some time. You may be subject to age discrimination or a hiring manager may wonder about any gaps between graduation and securing employment.
Keep your resume direct, succinct, and impactful. Select relevant work experience and avoid going back more than 15 years if you are a more experienced professional.
Streamline older experience on your resume as you work back chronologically. If earlier roles are relevant you can make reference to these in a separate section, leaving off dates as appropriate.
Ensure you include any achievements in your career to date on your resume as these will be of great interest to a hiring manager.
Don’t include graduation dates if it was more than 15 years ago.