One of the most common questions job seekers have is “how far back should a resume go?”
A lot of people include decades of experience on a resume, which could be the reason why their resumes don’t get any callbacks or interview requests.
This article will show you exactly how far back your resume should go, as discussed by hiring experts.
President, Aquinas Consulting
Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer to the question, “How far back should a resume go.” The answer depends on many factors including the job being applied for, the applicant’s job track, their age, and their years of relevant experience.
When human resources screen and evaluates resumes, they are trained to look at an applicant’s “job track.”
In every resume, it is important to demonstrate a continuity of employment in some roles
A resume needs to go back as far as needed to show at least one long-duration job, hopefully, an applicant can demonstrate two.
Resumes also need to go back far enough to demonstrate some career progression, and must also demonstrate all the skills that are relevant to the position being applied for.
In some cases, it makes sense to include some older jobs that may demonstrate functional/industry knowledge or some other skill that may be relevant to a particular role.
With all that said, most hiring decisions are based strictly on an applicant’s last 3 jobs.
So it is not generally necessary to include much detail on jobs that are older than that. Age discrimination is a real issue in employment, and when working with a candidate who is over the age of 50, I also counsel them to utilize techniques that make them appear to be younger.
Shortening the resume to show only 10-20 years of experiencing, removing undergraduate graduation dates and showing the date a master’s degree may have been secured if it was later in life, are all techniques that make it harder to determine the age.
Counseling applicants to shorten their linked-in profiles is also important as most managers will review LinkedIn as part of the applicant review process. For younger applicants, we often recommend excluding jobs before college graduation unless they are particularly relevant.
I offer job seekers comprehensive advice that would take pages to detail, but from a high level, these are the key factors to think about when considering resume length.
Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)
Much as I try to avoid using this phrase, the most appropriate answer is, “It depends!”
In my opinion, job-seekers gathering material for their resumes are wise to consider the following:
The number and types of full-time jobs that they’ve held, their length of tenure in each job, and whether a long-ago job has any real relevance to the type of job they’re currently seeking.
While all current job-related certifications are important, when they were initially earned is not. Job-seekers need only provide the expiration date for each certification that they list.
Obviously a listing of one’s college degree(s) along with majors and minors must be included, but most other school-related details are rarely necessary.
The types of any volunteer work that they’ve done in the past are often important –especially if it’s somehow related to their current occupation.
If their work experience is scant, they should consider including important achievements from their school years, such as:
- Being their high school’s valedictorian or salutatorian.
- Earning significant scholarships (e.g., a National Merit Scholarship).
- Completing multiple degree-related internships (which can count as work experience).
- Studying abroad for a semester or more in a country where English isn’t widely spoken.
- Being elected the president (or VP) of the student council in high school or college.
- Being elected the captain (or co-captain) of a varsity team in high school or college.
- Being the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper or yearbook.
- Holding a major leadership position in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts as a teenager.
Related: How & Where to List Latin Honors
So what’s the bottom line? As I previously stated, “It depends!”
If, for example, job-seekers have been in the workforce for 20+ years and have held six full-time jobs – but the first two were year-long stints doing menial work which is unrelated to their current occupations – leaving those early jobs off their resumes is definitely acceptable. But if the third job was the entry-level position that led to their current occupation, omitting it probably would be unwise.
As a hiring manager, I liked to see every applicant’s progression to his or her current position because it gave me a better picture of their overall careers. That initial entry didn’t need to include a great deal of detail, but I still preferred seeing it.
And if they did volunteer work in the community, that interested me as well. But (in my mind, at least), including details from their school activities seldom served any purpose for folks in this category.
At the other end of the “experience spectrum” are the recent graduates who rarely possess much full-time work experience at all. Yet as a hiring manager, I wanted to see whatever work experience that they did possess.
So, in my opinion, those folks should list nearly all of their summer jobs– and any part-time jobs that they maintained during the school year.
Most details related to their job-duties were seldom important to me; but I wanted to see that these applicants knew something about what employers expected from their workers day in and day out.
However, with such limited work experience, these applicants won’t stand out unless they include a few noteworthy achievements from their school days (as outlined in Item 5 above).
So when building a resume, job-seekers need not tell the entire story of their lives!
But folks do need to go back far enough to build a solid case regarding their suitability for the specific position that they now seek.
During the screening process, hiring managers need enough information to justify the time, energy, and expense that’s normally expended during the subsequent steps in the hiring process.
And in my experience, an applicant’s resume is one of the key tools that hiring managers use to gather that vital information.
Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D.
Resume Writer | Career Consultant | Small Business & HR Consultant | CEO, D. Boyer Consulting
Realistically, the resume only needs to go back 10-15 years
Most industry ‘experts’ have subject matter expertise at 10,000 hours – or five years and change. So if you have these many years of experience in any specific type of generalized work, then that should be sufficient.
If you are trying to showcase your diversity of background, experience, education, and skill sets, then 10-15 years should be able to showcase and demonstrate what you have achieved and your capabilities for a ‘variety’ of types of work.
What you do not want to do is showcase or ‘provide dates for’ any work experience that shows you have been in the field or employed more than 20 years. This could backfire in some recruiters seeing ‘old folks’ or ‘age bias.’
I always advise my resume clients – if you want to emphasize more than 20 years of work, then just note “20+ years” versus 25, 30, or more.
Matthew Warzel, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer | Certified Internet Recruiter | President, MJW Careers, LLC
A good rule of thumb is 10 years
This is for the sake of relevance. Hiring managers and recruiters like to see candidates who have been doing the same functions that they’re in need of, and more importantly, most recently.
In some cases, you can utilize older transferable accomplishments or skills so you do not have to lose out on all the wonderful achievements from the 2000’s and older, but most of your proficiencies should be dealing with recent and relevant work experience.
If the company’s ideal candidate is someone coming from a competitor doing the exact job they have an opening for, they are willing to nudge from there to find their ideal candidate, but someone who has no relevance towards that opening since prior to 10 years may not even get to the decision-maker.
Go brush up on your skills, read relevant news or publications, continue to learn the new nuances, and collect set pieces for your resume and overall candidate message.
Adam Goulston, MBA, MS, MISD, CPRW
Global Marketing Adviser | Certified Professional Resume Writer, IntResume
Relevance over history
Resumes should always emphasize skills, and specific evidence of those skills, over chronological history. This is why the question of how far back to go is the wrong question to ask.
The reason you shouldn’t list your place of birth, elementary school, or high school clubs on a resume is because they’re irrelevant to the job for which you’re applying.
A job you did early in your career may or may not be relevant for the job to which you’re applying – so that’s the first consideration in “how far back” you go. Especially if you’re changing careers or industries, your jobs from two or three decades ago may be relevant – so, DO go back that far.
As a general rule for my clients who’ve worked under 15 years: include all professional jobs, but if they’re not relevant, limit their description to the employer, dates, job title, location, and a line or two on key results and responsibilities.
For those who have worked longer, consider the relevance of jobs 15+ years ago.
For the irrelevant ones, just give the employer, dates, title, and location. Give a couple of lines of detail for the older yet currently relevant ones.
All my clients have at least earned an undergraduate degree, so the only de facto cut-off point is work started after they graduated. If, however, they had miliary service, impressive internships, or anything else relevant in college, we may try and work that in.
Global Management Expert | Director, Fresh Results Institute
Your resume isn’t essentially your biography. Hiring managers have too much stashed their desks to enjoyably read through an entire novel of your life with a nice cup of coffee in hand.
For someone just starting their professional lives, crafting their resume shouldn’t be that difficult, as it would be primarily brief.
However, for those who have been long into their professional lives (say over 31 years), squeezing everything into a 2-page resume is surely going to take a lot. Sure, you can’t talk about the finest details all through your work life.
Related: How Long Should Your Resume Be
It is essential to focus on your greatest hits
The truth is, hiring managers want to focus on the relevancy (or freshness) of your skills. They would be paying keener attention to your professional escapades within the last 4-7 years.
I always tell senior professionals to reduce the details as the job gets older
Necessarily for those who have worked decades, only your last 3-5 jobs should have detailed bullets points. For the jobs preceding that, simply document them with just your company name, start and end dates (when you worked for them), and of course, the job title. The only exception would be is if you did something in these jobs that were undoubtedly remarkable.
Relax, abbreviating details on older jobs wouldn’t necessarily hurt your professional competitiveness.
If the hiring manager is interested in the details, he would ask you more about them in the interview. Maximize subheadings to add that freshness and neatness to your resume, demarcating your career journey.
Greg Githens, PMP
Executive & Leadership Coach, Strategic Thinking | Author, “How to Think Strategically: Sharpen Your Mind. Develop Your Competency. Contribute to Success.“
You should emphasize recent accomplishments and not rest on your laurels
Your resume tells your audience that you have a track record in sensing the organization’s issues and taking action on them.
Recent accomplishments are much more relevant than those of the distant past. For the distant past, only list promotions or highly-significant accomplishments.
Your goal is advancement in your career. Interestingly, my research shows that strategic thinking is rare and valuable. People who demonstrate competent strategic thinking are more likely to get hired or to be promoted. My book, How to Think Strategically, provides practical information for building your personal brand to highlight your ability to be a “competent strategic thinker.
Don’t present a boring litany of positions held and responsibilities of that position.
Instead, describe the major accomplishments of your career. Did you close a big sale, win a prize, launch a new product, open a new market?
I find that the best resumes are framed in terms of stories, accomplishments, and benefits.
One of the tools described in my book is the strategic thinking micro skill of storytelling. The STAR acronym is helpful: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
- What was the situation you were in?
- What were you tasked to do?
- What action did you take?
- What was the result?
“I was in a situation where my employer had a tremendous growth opportunity for new business development.
I joined the team and was tasked with leading the proposal development effort.
I recruited a team and organized winning proposals that lead to several hundred million dollars of new contracts.
The result was that the company was transformed into a much more powerful competitor.”
Director of Operations, MyCorporation.com
Your resume’s relevance to the job you’re applying for is more important
I think it’s important to remember — first and foremost — that professional etiquette states your resume should only be one page long. This single page also needs to include your educational background, skills, and contact information.
Your professional career may span the decades, but you can’t write about every job you’ve ever held in your lifetime on it.
My advice is not necessarily to think about how far back your resume should go. Rather, tailor your resume to go back as far as needed for the position you’re applying for.
Look at the opening, then review your background. Share positions that are most relevant to the job and its responsibilities and duties. Make sure to include a link to your LinkedIn profile, too. You may include as many of your former jobs on LinkedIn as you like and allow HR to scroll through your profile for more information about your background!
Keep your overall resume, however, short and relevant for the position you’d like to be hired to do.
Executive Recruiter |Content Writer
While resumes can be as unique as the individuals who they represent, there are certain elements all successful resumes must include, the way they are crafted can be unique.
The most important criterion in any resume is to make it visually appealing. Meaning, it should be only be written on an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper that is either white or slightly off-white in color. Trying to make your resume stand out from the clutter by using bright rainbow colors is a clear no-no and must be avoided.
The font ought to be no smaller than 11-point and no larger than 14. It is essential that the formatting is perfectly aligned throughout the entire document with the same amount of indentation on each block, the identical icon to separate the various bullet points, a variety of action-verb oriented accomplishments written with no punctuation in a fragmented-sentence style.
Avoid using the word, “I”. Never have more than two easy-to-read columns. Never include a photo. In recent years, the only necessary contact information you need to incorporate is your name, Email address, and cellphone number—no street address is necessary.
Finally, never try to cover up the dates of unemployment by stretching your end date of one job with the start date of your next.
Regarding how far back in one’s career a resume should go is truly subjective.
A person’s experience is dictated by the relevancy of that work in which they want to share.
Often times, more senior-level executive put their first 10 years or so under the headline “Other Notable Experience” or something of that nature. Again, there are no hard and fast rules.
However, all resume should share at least the last 8 years of experience. Before that, can be blanketed around “other notable experience” or something of that nature.
In short, resumes have a lot of commonalities but also have a lot flexibilities.
Amy Cann, SHRM-SCP, SMS
Managing Partner, HR ROI Consulting
10-15 years maximum
As a professional who has interviewed and hired for more than a thousand jobs over the past 24 years, I recommend that candidates keep their resume to ten to fifteen years maximum.
Anything further is really not relevant as it’s too dated to be applicable to a future position and it risks age discrimination, which is unfortunately still a reality.
If you cannot break off your work history right at ten or fifteen years because your position was long-term, be mindful, and finalize your work history in a logical place.
There is no need to list educational completion dates for high school, college, or graduate degrees. However, balance the lack of dates with recent certifications, training, and other continuous education.
What an employer really wants to know (and really needs to know) is that you are staying current and engaged in your career.
Co-Founder, Authority Hacker
Sifting through resumes is a tiresome task. In fact, a recent listing we posted amassed over 300 applications and as a small business, going through these efficiently and quickly as possible is very important.
To answer your question on how far resumes should go back, it’s more important to consider relevance than time
If you’re applying for a job in marketing, for example, it’s highly unlikely the employer is going to need to know that you were a bus boy at a restaurant one summer when you were 16 years old.
That said, let’s say you went on work experience for a restaurant’s marketing department one summer at that age instead. This is far more relevant and something I would urge you to include.
If you’re worried about leaving gaps in your resume where there is no relevant information, instead, consider including an abridged version of your work history. You can simply enter the job, dates worked, and leave it at that. No need to expand or pad out your resume in these sections.
That way, you ensure you have all the relevant historical information without fluffing up your resume and making it difficult for people to read through and decipher what experience you have!
CEO & Founder, The Job Sauce
A resume should go back 10 years or as far as the experience is relevant
A resume should go as far back as necessary to make a recruiter or hiring manager want to interview you. If a work experience will make them imagine you working at their company, you should include it.
Most employers prioritize the last 10 years, but this varies depending on the role and industry. When in doubt, don’t include relevant experience that’s more than 20 years old.
Ultimately, your most recent accomplishments will make the greatest impact on recruiters and hiring managers. Especially in fast-moving industries, “what have you done for me lately?” should guide your resume.
While a demonstrated ability to evolve with technology is valuable, most employers just want to make sure you can achieve desired results today. And if you’re over 50, drawing attention to your age may have a negative impact.
Focus the majority of your resume on recent relevant accomplishments, then steadily decrease how much content you include in roles as they get older and less relevant.
Managing Partner, Fox Manning Group
Shape your resume to deliver a logical employment narrative
A resume should primarily reflect the direct experience you have in the area you are looking to work in. As a secondary layer, you should include details that relate to transferable skills or useful experiences gained.
The mistake most people make when adding to their CV is not to edit previous roles. This can lead to a job you left 10 years ago featuring as prominently as your most recent experience.
Editing and shaping your CV to deliver a logical narrative will help potential employers to quickly understand your journey to date.
Two other factors that will influence how you shape your CV are time and volume of positions.
If you went through a 5 years period where you held 12 jobs, it is advisable to abbreviate these in order to avoid a lengthy novel of a CV.
Likewise, if you have 25 years under your belt, it is unlikely your early roles will hold any relevance. It is perfectly acceptable to include 10-15 years of relevant experience and omit the time you spent waiting tables whilst auditioning for TV roles in the 80s.
Ultimately, your CV is an introduction to your working life and as such, should lead the reader to quickly being able to see who you are, what you have done, and how your experience will bring benefit to their business.
Any muddying of the water will lead to confusion and probably exclusion from that recruitment process.
Vice-President, People | Co-Founder, Zety
Consider the experience’s relevance rather than when it took place in time
This especially applies to those professionals that have more than ten years of experience and are advised against listing every possible job over the years.
If that’s the case, look at the job you are after right now and list all major work experiences you had that could work in your favor and make your application more appealing.
Perhaps your first job straight after college was in marketing, and now you are applying for a managerial role that requires “some” marketing experience. List that experience and describe the marketing skills you gained at that time and marketing-related achievements.
It is okay for those with less than ten years of work experience to list every work experience. You can skip describing entirely irrelevant jobs, but it’s advisable to list them still to avoid any gaps on a resume.
Founder, Search Pros
As a general rule of thumb, 10 years of prior experience is sufficient to give the employer an idea of the person they are interviewing.
In some cases, people can go as far back as 15 years of experience to give their employer a better idea of who they are. However this is not always the case, interviewees have the option to show the only experience that is vital to the position they are applying for.
When making a resume, it is important to remember to go back from the most recent job.
HR Manager, ResumeLab
Generally, it all depends on how much work experience you have under your belt
If you’re looking for a senior position, you need to show you have lots of professional experience that’s relevant to the job. Hence, when filling out the experience section on your senior resume, you can go as far back as 15 years.
That said, if you have your eyes set on a mid-level vacancy, a 10-year career history is ideal.
Lastly, if you’re an entry-level candidate with little to no professional experience, you may want to list both paid and volunteer work that you’ve done in the past. If you’ve done an internship, part-time jobs, or freelancing, that should go on your resume as well.
Senior Recruitment Specialist, Adria Solutions, Ltd.
A resume needs to be relevant and concise so always include up to date jobs and skills
CVs that go back 30 years will most probably not have the applicable skills to the job you are applying for today. You should focus on what will sell you best to a future employer.
Your CV is there to get you to the interview stage, focus on your personal profile, and your relevant jobs. If you want to list the none applicable jobs you’ve had, do so but with a very short description. However, circumstances may change if an older job demonstrates certain skills that are required for the position you are applying for.
Your resume is just one tool recruiters and employers will be looking at. In today’s market, the candidate’s social presence and profile, such as LinkedIn, are equally as important.
Melissa Cadwallader, MBA, PHR
Human Resources, Zen Business
10 – 15 years
It is generally expected that you will include the last 10 to 15 years of work experience on your resume; incorporating details of company roles, internships, and volunteer experiences.
However, there is some variation across industries; with some candidates opting to go back further in order to highlight the depth of experience and credibility.
You are advised to focus on the most relevant experience; no matter whether it was gained at high school or in your last full-time job. Such experience can be referred to during the interview, giving you a chance to highlight your ability to achieve exceptional performance.
The majority of employers will only take a few seconds to scan through your resume; so it must be clear and concise. If you’ve worked for one business for a considerable amount of time then you may split the resume focusing on the most relevant positions.
There may be a temptation to restrict the number of years covered in your resume so that there is no need to explain gaps in your working history. However, it would be worth considering what you learned and achieved during these periods.
As an example, you might have had to care for a loved one, showing your ability to cope with emotional demands and balance your priorities. Such experience may effectively differentiate you from the other candidates.
Marketing Coordinator, Jobscan
Age discrimination is one of those biases that is the hardest to block in the job search because you’re relying on dates and previous experience when dealing with resumes.
It can be difficult to leave anything off for an applicant with a deep body of work, but it is one of the primary strategies for combating age discrimination.
From a recruiter’s perspective, anything greater than 10-15 years is irrelevant unless changing career
If you’re starting out your resume or LinkedIn profile with “seasoned professional with 20+ years of experience”, drop that right away and just talk about what is relevant.
If you’re really wanting to list a job that happened more than 15 years ago because it’s relevant or something you’re proud of, list it in a “Previous Experience” section and leave off any dates.
One of the best things an older candidate can do is to appear younger is to know how to edit their experience. It’s no longer seen as a bad thing to leave off a job from the resume.
It’s ok to just go back 15 years and to concentrate on the skills that they are asking for in order to get past the first gatekeepers.
How far back a resume should go depends on how much experience the candidate has
However, what should absolutely be removed is anything that is from 2005 and earlier.
The reason is twofold – hiring managers and recruiters can be consciously or unconsciously ageist, so it’s best not to make it obvious that you’re most certainly above a certain age.
The second reason is that your earlier jobs are more junior if you’ve shown great career progression, and so you want to focus most of the space on your resume on your 2-3 most recent job experiences. This will position you as more experienced and guarantee you the most responses for the best jobs.
I look into the relevance of work experience to the position that they are applying for
In this regard, it’s acceptable for me to read job experiences as far as 10 years as long as these have something to do with the work that they are applying for.
I also look into those who can manage their personal brands well and how effective it translates into their resume as evidenced by their adaptability to critical situations.
Finally, I look into those who have taken recent training to upskill. This is very important to reflect on how eager they are to pursue lifelong learning. Candidates should highlight these traits and experiences throughout the interview process.
Tom De Spiegelaere
Founder, Tom Spicky
The details may reach to 15 years back at maximum if you already had working experiences that long
There are no strict rules of what details to put in your resume as long as you think they can contribute to your being hired but particulars exceeding further than that long might just be ignored or paid less attention.
However, it’s more important to consider the relevance of your past responsibilities to the job you are currently seeking. If there are duties way back that you think are more crucial to the job you’re applying, include it on the first lines.
Hiring usually really depends on the person’s skills and determination to work in a company, and not just to how much is his or her experience in the past years.
We all look for how can one be essential in the business and how far can one go to satisfy the company’s need for qualified workers.
It depends on where you are in your career
Assuming that you are a more experienced job seeker, I suggest only to present the 2-3 most relevant positions for the specific job that you are applying for.
For the additional roles, you should only mention the title, company, and duration. By doing so, you will have more room to showcase your achievements and expertise that is relevant for the given position.
With that said, it does not make sense to go too far back if you have many jobs under your belt. It is better to remove a few of the old positions to present a more detailed description of your recent jobs.
HR Partner, MyPerfectResume
Resumes should only include the most relevant work experiences
If a former position is not applicable and does not add value to your resume, it’s wise not to include it at all.
On the other hand, if you stayed within the same industry, it makes sense to share your full career arc and highlight the expertise and know-how you’ve gained over the years.
So there is no rule of thumb, for how far back your resume should go. That said, once you’ve graduated college focus on only including your full-time roles only (as opposed to listing summer internships), no matter if you’re aiming to change career paths or stay in the same industry.
How far back a resume should go depends on the job you’re applying to and what each company is looking for
Resumes should always be optimized for every application and job descriptions will tell you what they want to see.
If you’re applying to a role that asks for 7+ years of experience then make sure your resume shows seven years. The same goes for more entry-level positions, if they’re asking for 1-2 years of experience then only show what’s relevant to the position.
Employers and recruiters don’t need to know what you did in high school for an entry-level role after graduation. The purpose of a resume is not to show your entire life experience, but give employers a sneak peek that entices them to reach out for an interview.
Co-Founder & CEO, Chargebacks911
It’s a matter of relevancy when deciding how far back to go and what to include on your resume
You should take into account the position you’re applying for and highlight past job experiences that show your competency and expertise.
For example, if you include something you did during college that is more relevant than more recent experiences, it can still add to your qualifications. Always try to be aware of the lessons you learned through certain experiences, and how they apply to the position you’re currently seeking.
Director of Operations, WikiLawn
So many job seekers add every job they’ve ever had to their resume, presenting two or even three-page packets that are hideously formatted and sure to turn off any hiring manager.
I think it’s obvious you should curate your work history, but I don’t believe just providing the last 3-5 years is the way to do it.
Look at the job you’re applying for, look at the specifications, and select your work history that highlights those skills
Include those jobs, no matter how far back they are, and just eliminate the rest from your resume. If they want a complete work history, you can always provide it later.