How Far Back Should Your Resume Go? Get the Answer

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By Chrystyna van Lith

Topics: Your Resume

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how-far-back-should-resume-goYour resume is the centerpiece of your job application. It highlights your experience, skills, and qualifications for any potential employer. By glancing through the resume, hiring managers can get a good sense of who you are as an employee.

That’s one reason job seekers are often told to keep their resumes short. Most advice says resumes are ideally one page, although a two page resume is often acceptable. 

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As a result, job seekers with many years in the workforce may need to condense their resumes. This brings up important questions, such as which experiences you should list, or even how far back your resume should go.

A Decade Will Do

Generally speaking, most job seekers have no reason to include work experience that’s more than a decade old. An absolute maximum would be 15 years

There’s a good reason for this. Technology changes so rapidly today that the jobs you were doing 10 or 15 years ago have likely changed radically. Some of them may not even exist anymore. 

The other point here is that the experience itself may be irrelevant. If you have two decades of work experience, you might be applying for a senior position within your own organization, or a new one. The hiring manager probably won’t be interested in knowing about your experience as an intern if you’re applying for the position of Senior Vice President. 

If you’re not applying for a senior role, it may be because you’ve started on a new career path. In that case, you’ll need to critically evaluate whether or not the experience is relevant to your new field/the job you’re applying to.

Resume vs. Curriculum Vitae

One reason job seekers sometimes include too much on their resume is that they believe it should be a survey of everything they’ve done until this point in their careers. A resume isn’t meant to be that lengthy. It’s a quick overview of your recent and most relevant job experience.

A curriculum vitae is a more extensive document, which is supposed to encompass your entire career. It’s often used for positions in education, or senior roles. It also includes volunteer experience and experiences such as chairing conferences, or publishing articles that are relevant to the job.

Most job applicants won’t need to submit a curriculum vitae. Unless a job posting specifically asks for one, you should plan on submitting a resume.

Deciding on Relevant Experience

Job seekers who have significant gaps in their employment history, or who switched careers and now want to switch back, may find the 10 to 15 year timeframe doesn’t work for them. You may end up with a blank resume if you spent the last 15 years as a stay at home parent, for example.

In these cases, job seekers should consider the relevance of the work experience. In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb for anyone, whether they have 5 years in the workforce, or 50 years. If the experience isn’t relevant to the job you’re applying to and it’s older than 10 years, it’s time to drop it from your resume.

If, on the other hand, the experience is relevant, then you may want to include it, even if it is on the older side.

Combating Ageism

Another reason you may want to limit how far your resume goes back is to avoid potential ageism. If you list jobs you’ve held over the last 30 years, a hiring manager may have a good guess at how old you are. A hiring manager may also believe you have too much experience for the role. 

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Chrystyna van Lith

10 + years of Office/Administrative Recruitment experience, 15+ years of Recruitment, Management, Sales and Customer Service experience. Previous District Training Manager and Human Resource Manager in Supply Chain and Logistics.

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