How Far Back Should a Resume Go in Your Application?
How far back should a resume go? Knowing how far back to go on your resume can help you highlight your most relevant experiences and professional achievements. This article provides you with everything you need to make a perfect impression.
Recruiters want to see your most recent work history, as it provides more clarity about your skills and accomplishments.
Understanding how far back to go on a resume can present you as the perfect fit for a position and improve your chances of getting hired.
How Far Back to Go on Your Resume
For most industries, you can list the past 10 to 15 years of your work history on your resume.
Limiting your experience and professional achievements over the past 15 years can showcase your most recent capabilities and work contributions to employers.
Including career history beyond 15 years usually shows experience in a lower position, which may not show your most current skill set and abilities.
Even if you include the information, recruiters may only focus on your most recent history. However, you can consider including earlier years if it helps you demonstrate career progress and increases your credibility.
The number of years you can go on a resume can also depend on the job requirements. It is important to include only the experiences relevant to the specific position you are applying for.
Doing this can provide more space to describe important achievements and responsibilities that show you as an ideal candidate for employers.
Some careers, such as civil service and academia, often require you to provide complete employment history. In technology industries and other fields where skill sets change quickly, keep your resume as short as possible.
In most cases, it is often safe to limit your resume work experience to the last 10 to 15 years unless the employer requests a full career history.
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How to Determine How Far to Go Back on Your Resume
How far to go on your resume depends on several factors such as relevance, job requirements, and resume length.
‣ Determine the relevance of each job.
‣ Consider the level of the role.
‣ Check the job description.
‣ Include prominent experience.
‣ Decide on a resume length.
1. Determine the Relevance of Each Job
Relevance is one of the most important factors when deciding how far back to go on a resume. Your recent experience and achievements are the most valuable details for hiring managers to look for.
Before writing your resume, study the job description to identify the key skills and experiences the employer wants. Include as much of your work history if the information increases your chances of getting the position.
2. Consider the Level of the Role
The level of the position you are applying for can also determine the amount of experience to include on your resume. Senior roles can have up to 15 years of experience or more if the information can boost your candidacy.
If you are applying for a mid-level position, a 10-year employment history is ideal. Entry-level positions usually include up to five years of career experience.
3. Check the Job Description
Employers often include the years of experience they want candidates to have for the position. Before writing your resume, study the job listing for information about the work experience and use that to determine the career history to include in your resume.
4. Include Prominent Experience
The information in your work experience section can add to your professional prestige when applying for a position.
If you worked at a respected organization or held a prestigious title in a previous role, adding such details to your resume can impress hiring managers and set you apart from other candidates.
You can also include military experience if the employer offers veterans’ preference.
5. Decide on a Resume Length
The length of your resume can determine how far you can go when describing work experience. If you’re an entry- to the mid-level candidate, you can usually fit all of your relevant experience on one page.
Candidates with more experience or those applying for government or education roles might need a two-page resume. Keeping yourself to a one-page resume can help you limit how much experience you include.
How to Use Older Experience on Your Resume
If you need to include older experience on your resume, here are some steps you can take:
‣ Create an early experience section.
‣ Create a career highlights section.
‣ Mention the information in the resume summary.
‣ Include earlier experience in a separate key achievements or awards section.
1. Create an Early Experience Section
An effective way to include experience older than 15 years in your resume is to have an “Early Experience Section.”
The section, which you can also call “Previous Professional Experience,” allows you to mention the earliest achievements and skills you consider important to the position.
However, the roles in this section should only have your title, company and location without the dates.
2. Create a Career Highlights Section
You can also describe your earlier work experience through a career highlights or career notes section.
The section will be at the bottom of your current employment history and include short sentences describing your work experience, the company or client you worked for at the beginning of your career.
3. Mention the Information in the Resume Summary
If you have important information related to your earlier experience, you can mention it in your resume summary.
Adding notable experience to your summary makes it easy for the hiring manager to scan, making it more likely for them to read the rest of your resume.
4. Include Earlier Experience in a Separate Key Achievements or Awards Section
If you have several early career accomplishments that give you more credibility, you can list them in a key achievements or awards section below your work history.
This can help you conserve space and avoid adding too much work history on your resume.
Tips for How Far Back to go on Your Resume
Here are tips to help you determine how far to go on your resume:
1. Keep it Position-Relevant
Include only the experiences relevant to the open role. The job description can provide ideas for the key skills, experiences, achievements and responsibilities to describe in your resume.
That way, you can add information that keeps the hiring manager interested.
2. Use Reverse-Chronological Order
When listing experience on your resume, use the reverse-chronological format, meaning you start from your most recent achievements and responsibilities.
3. Remove Dated Skills
Remove irrelevant and dated skills that may not be useful in the position you are applying for. Limit your skills to those listed in the job description to keep your resume highly relevant.
4. Keep Earlier Experiences Short
Detail your most recent experiences and achievements and limit early work history. The goal is to direct the hiring manager’s attention to newly acquired responsibilities and abilities.
5. Use a Functional Resume
Functional resumes focus more on your skills and abilities than your work history. In a functional resume, you can list your best skills and notable achievements first, then include your work history by adding your title, company and location.
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When to Go Back 5-10 Years
The most common reason to limit your work history to less than 10 years is a significant career change.
As an example, suppose you graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and found a job as an executive assistant.
Over the next eight years, you maintained an excellent performance record and worked for two successful employers. However, as the years passed, you realized that working as an executive assistant was not as rewarding as you hoped it would be. You decide to pursue a career in nursing instead.
Over the next five years, you go back to school, earn a nursing degree and complete a nursing internship.
When you begin applying for nursing jobs, you could decide to only include information on your resume that pertains to nursing.
Only including your last five years of experience limits the discussion to the subject of nursing and can help you to avoid questions about your age or your commitment to the field.
If you believe the earlier years of your career journey to be irrelevant to your current goals or interests, it may benefit you to omit them from your resume.
If you choose this option, be sure to fill out your resume with other types of information, such as skills or awards.
You should also be prepared to answer in-depth questions about your work experience if you reach the interviewing stage of the hiring process.
When to Go Back 10-15 Years
Most experts recommend including 10-15 years of work history on your resume. For the majority of professionals, this includes between three and five different jobs.
For instance, if you are a 30-year-old elementary school teacher, 10 years of work experience includes the four years it took to earn your bachelor’s degree, one year of assistant teaching, three years of work for your first employer, and two years working in your current position.
Ideally, including 10-15 years of experience allows you to show a comprehensive overview of where you started, how you have grown and where you are now.
For many, 10-15 years can cover everything from their college graduation to their most recent promotion. However, some more experienced professionals might have only held one or two positions during the span of 10-15 years.
Deciding if 10 or 15 years is enough time largely depends on the individual’s professional goals and how much relevant experience potential employers might be looking for.
Some job listings call for applicants to have five years of practical experience while others may require 10-15.
Tailoring your resume to suit the particular position you are applying for often helps you to seem more qualified and can persuade the hiring manager that you would be a good fit for the job.
When to Go Back Further Than 15 Years
Including more than 15 years of experience on a resume is a rare occurrence in today’s job market. Typically, hiring managers are only interested in knowing the last 15 years of your work history.
Anything that happened more than 15 years in the past has the potential to be irrelevant. For example, suppose you worked for a marketing agency for five years as a graphic designer.
Then, you were offered the position of creative director at another company where you stayed for the next 12 years.
When updating your resume, it would probably be a good idea to omit your five years as a graphic designer in favor of including more information about what you accomplished as a creative director.
Potential employers and clients would typically be more interested in what you have achieved in your most recent position rather than in where you worked more than 12 years in the past.
The exception to this rule would be if you held the same job for 15 years or more. In that case, your endurance, experience, and commitment could make you a more appealing candidate.
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When Should Your Resume Go Back More Than 10 Years?
There are exceptions to every rule. Here are three situations where you can include information from more than 15 years ago on your resume.
1. High Relevancy
As we mentioned above, if your experience is really relevant then you should leave it on your resume. Keep in mind that if you have 30+ years of relevant experience, include only the last 10 to 15 years.
Unless the other positions show different aspects of your work and accomplishments on your resume.
Also, if you have years of relevant experience you’re most likely applying to a higher level position where age may not really matter.
2. Prestigious Title or Company
If you held a high title or worked at a prestigious company then you should probably leave it on your resume. Again, this would pass the ‘who cares’ test as it would capture the attention of a hiring manager.
3. 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 to 15-year rule–degrees are usually safe to include on your resume no matter when you earned them. Our 10 to the 15-year range is only for work experience.
What if 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.
Of those years 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 leave off the customer service representative position from 12 years ago.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
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