Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, and Business Owner
If you’re reading this article, then chances are you’re looking for a new job and want to whip your resume into shape. But lots of questions can arise as you begin to do that. After all, most of us aren’t career coaches or resume experts. Job hunters frequently ask one common question: how far back should a resume go? As in, should you list all of your work history – even if it stretches on for years – or should you be more selective?
It’s good that you’re looking for an answer to this question because the length of your resume matters – a lot. Plus, it’s also important to keep your work experience relevant to the role you’re trying to obtain and limit what you display to help curb age discrimination. So read on to learn more about how far back your resume should go. Rest assured, your resume will be better for it.
Why Not Include the Entire Work History on a Resume?
It might be tempting to put every job you’ve ever held in reverse chronological order on your resume and call it a day, but honestly, this isn’t necessarily a good idea. There are several reasons why it’s better to limit the number of jobs you put on your resume. Let’s break down exactly why you should be thoughtful as you decide which former jobs to highlight.
- Relevancy Matters. That’s right. Think of your resume as prime real estate. There’s only so much space on it (usually one page). You should maximize that space and not fill it with jobs and other experiences that won’t matter to the recruiter or HR rep. Instead, it is to your benefit to showcase the skills and accomplishments that relate to your desired role.
- Age Discrimination Happens. Yes, it’s illegal, yet ageism in recruitment is still alive and well. While this is unfortunate, it’s something that you can help prevent by restricting the amount of work experience you put on your resume (to the past decade or so). Additionally, watch how you display older dates (i.e., graduation dates).
- Brevity is Key. Recruiters and HR reps look at tons of resumes every day. The last thing you want is to have your resume thrown in the discard pile because it’s long and unwieldy. The goal should be to keep it to one page (two pages max if you have lots of experience), and one way to do this is to not cite every single job you’ve ever held. Instead, be purposeful and selective.
How Far Back Should a Resume Go?
The rule of thumb is to put 10 to 15 years (or three to five jobs) of work history on your resume. It’s generally a good idea to avoid including jobs that you had longer than 15 years ago.
Perspective: Different Stages of the Career
There are times, however, when you might want to include either more or less than the recommended 10 to 15 years of work history. Let’s discuss different career stages and explore how the stage you’re in can impact how much work experience you should display on your resume.
Still in College
If you are still in college, it’s going to be challenging to put 10 or more years of work experience on your resume – because you don’t have it yet! In this case, fill the experience section of your resume with internships, volunteer work, relevant class projects, and any applicable work experience you have.
As a recent grad, you likely don’t have 10 to 15 years of work experience to put on your resume or CV – even if you wanted to put this much information on your resume! A more realistic expectation is a few years of experience from high school and college. Just be sure to emphasize your skills (like communication, time management, leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving).
If you fall into the young professional category, you might have between two and five years of work history under your belt so far. Showcase your post-grad experience, and don’t hesitate to accentuate non-work activities (like volunteering, side hustles, and memberships to industry groups) to compensate for lacking a ton of work experience.
You probably have plenty of work history to put on your resume at this point in your career. So now you need to focus on being selective. Instead of listing absolutely everything you’ve ever done, only include the jobs and experiences that are relevant to the role you’re trying to get.
Two-page resumes are sometimes warranted at this stage in your career. However, given all your experience, be sure to only include the most impressive and relevant aspects of your work history. This is especially important if you apply for high-level roles, such as an executive. You should aim to keep your resume as concise and targeted as possible. Also, try not to list jobs that are older than 15 years.
Perspective: As the Situation Demands
There are always exceptions to every rule, and certain situations may demand that you ignore the general rule of thumb (10 to 15 years). Let’s talk more about these particular situations.
When to Go 5-10 Years?
This will be the case if you’re a young professional with only a few years of work experience. It also applies to folks who are switching careers. In this instance, it’s generally best to only include work experience related to your new industry (leave out an older, non-applicable job history).
When to Go 10-15 Years?
Most professionals fall into this category. This length of work history (generally three to five jobs) usually shows career progression without unnecessarily implying that you’re “too experienced.” It goes without saying that you should still highlight the experience that is relevant to your desired job.
When to Go 15+ Years?
Going back further than 15 years on your resume isn’t usually advisable. One exception might be if you’ve worked the same job for that length of time and want to put your loyalty and progression within the company on display. But, beyond that, it’s usually a good idea to focus on your most recent work experience.
How Do I Determine How Far to Go Back on Which Case?
This can understandably get confusing! From resume length to what jobs to include, crafting a resume is stressful. Just use this table as a rule of thumb to condense and summarize the information above.
|<10 years||Recent graduates, career changers, |
and young professionals
|10-15 years||Mid-level and senior|
|Mid-, Senior-level jobs|
|>15 years||NOT ADVISABLE |
|Senior-level jobs (if exceptions apply)|
What if You’re Coming Back to Work After a Long Gap?
Another common scenario that might result in someone putting more than 15 years of work experience on their resume is if they were out of the workforce for an extended period (perhaps to raise children). In this instance, it’s acceptable to put older experience on your resume. Just keep in mind that it should still be relevant to the role. If you’ve done anything during the gap that shows transferable skills or an attempt to stay educated in your field, like volunteer work or a side hustle, include these on your resume too.
It’s also a good idea to explain why the work experience on your resume goes back so far. This can be done in a well-crafted cover letter or at the top of your resume in a summary section.
Highlight Your Former Achievements in a New Way, Rather
If you have an accomplishment or two from 15+ years ago that you’re dying to show a potential employer, you might wonder if you can still put that on your resume. You can – particularly if it’s something like a patent or industry award – work it into your resume in a way that draws attention to the achievement and not to its age. You can do this by including it in a separate category with other notable mentions (like Awards & Achievements, Career Highlights, or Patents), or you can mention it in a summary statement at the top of your resume. Don’t leave a relevant and notable accomplishment off your resume. Just incorporate it in a smart, savvy way.
How Many Jobs Should You List on Your Resume?
People usually include between three and seven jobs in the work experience section of their resume, although some experts think it’s best not to list more than five. In reality, it’s not the number of jobs that matters – it’s their relevance to the role you’re trying to obtain. Listing lots of work experiences won’t do you any good unless they all relate to the position at hand. So, as you decide which jobs to include on your resume, keep relevance top of mind.
Focus on Making the Experience Section Relevant Instead of Lengthy
It’s crucial that you are intentional about which jobs you choose to highlight on your resume. More than anything, they should show why you’re the best candidate for the role. If they aren’t relevant, they should be left off.
There are several reasons why you probably shouldn’t include all of your past jobs on your resume:
- Age Discrimination. If you list everything, including the internship you had 25 years ago, the interviewer might start to worry that you’re too old. Though illegal, it doesn’t mean age discrimination doesn’t happen. So, when possible, avoid broadcasting your age on your resume. Don’t encourage HR to knock you out of the running for a job because they think you’ll be too expensive, overqualified, or close to retirement.
- Resume Length. Another reason to leave some jobs off your resume is to keep the document concise, to the point, and limited to one or two pages. If you list all 15 jobs you’ve previously held, you might end up with a three- or four-page resume (too long!)
- Too Broad. Tailoring everything on your resume to the role you’re trying to land is important. If you put all your earlier work experience on your resume, you run the chance of your background being too general. As much as possible, use pointed language that showcases relevant experience so the recruiter sees – plain as day – why you’re the best choice for the job.
Resume Writing General Best Practices
Below are some tips to keep in mind when creating your resume:
- Keep your resume concise (one to two pages max). Recruiters spend very little time scanning your resume. If you make it too long, they’ll miss the important details. Be selective and only add relevant experience and skills so your resume stays between one and two pages.
- Make your resume easy to read. Spell out your qualifications so the person viewing your resume can easily see why they should hire you.
- Tailor the language on your resume to your target job. Note the skills and keywords repeatedly mentioned in the job description. Then, mirror them in your resume.
- Use quantifiable language. Numbers (like percentages) stand out and quickly show HR the impact you’ve had at prior jobs. When possible, use numbers in your bullet language.
- Start your job bullets with action verbs. Like numbers, powerful action verbs will give your resume an edge over others. Start your bullets with words like “forged,” “orchestrated,” and “leveraged” instead of weak verbs like “performed,” “helped,” and “worked with.”
- Proofread to ensure there are no errors. Ask a trusted friend or mentor to review your resume before sending it anywhere. Fix any grammatical errors or typos, so your resume looks polished and professional.
Should I put all my jobs on my resume?
Not necessarily. It makes sense to leave jobs off your resume if they aren’t applicable to the role you’re interested in obtaining. Ideally, you should only include relevant work experience on your resume.
Should you put a two-month job on your resume?
The question to ask yourself here is: did you make a valuable contribution during that job and/or is it relevant to the current position you’re trying to get? If so, then yes, include it. Just be sure to use strong action verbs to highlight your achievements and be ready to answer questions about why your tenure was so short.
How far back should your CV go?
The general rule of thumb is to include 10 to 15 years of work experience on your CV unless you don’t have enough experience or have switched careers in recent years.
How far back should an academic CV go?
Since an academic CV is the same as a CV, this answer mimics the one above: 10 to 15 years is the ideal amount of work history to include on your CV, which typically is about three to five jobs.
How far back should job references go?
While it may be tempting to list your favorite manager from 15 years ago as a job reference, it’s generally recommended that you only provide more recent references (from the past five or six years of your career max).
The big takeaway is that most professionals should list about 10 to 15 years of work experience (or three to five jobs) on their resume. However, there are times when it’s advantageous to include either less or more work history. Most important, though, is to ensure everything you include on your resume is relevant and tailored to the job ad. Do that – along with keeping your resume concise – and it’s just a matter of time before employers start knocking down your door!