How Far Back Should a Resume Go?

Jun 25, 2020 | Resumes

A title graphic featuring a timeline and the article's title: "How Far Back Should a Resume Go?"

Are you wondering “how far back should my resume go?” Instead of looking for a hard-and-fast cut-off year, read these guidelines based on relevance.

By: Matt Dupee | Resume Writer for Let’s Eat, Grandma

As a resume writer, I get asked a lot of tricky questions.

One that folks always struggle with and I get asked almost every day is, “how far back should a resume go?” 

While most job seekers know that recent experience is most important, many still think they should pad their resume with older jobs to show more experience. Some folks with two-page resumes even just want to fill white space when they don’t quite fill the last half of page two. 

Like most things on your resume, there is no one, hard-and-fast rule on how far back your resume should go. Every resume is based on the job search it represents, and every job search is different.

However, you should very seriously consider not listing your jobs that are 15-20 years old (and almost certainly remove the dates if you do include them.) There are differing opinions among voices in the industry about where the “cut-off” point is, but everyone will agree that jobs past 15 years can be cut for two reasons:

1) Ageism: Age discrimination is alive and well in the hiring process. Including older jobs can reveal your age and give employers a reason to skip over your resume in the initial screening process.

2) Relevance: These older jobs don’t add much to your resume, anyway. Hiring managers are more concerned with your most recent positions than seeing all the details of a lengthy career history. Even if you want to show the depth of your experience, your resume can have a lifespan as short as six seconds, so making it longer is not the way to do so.

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SO, rather than looking for a year limit, you should consider these two factors and first look at the relevance of the job. Will that role you held back in the 90’s influence your next role? The answer is almost always no, especially if you’re in a quickly-changing field like technology. 

Other Situations That Influence How Far Back Your Resume Should Go

—What if the only relevant experience you have is old?

Let’s say you have had a mixed career path, like many modern professionals. What if you held a job back in 2000 that’s super relevant to the job you’re applying to now? Or what if you’re changing careers again, and that old job is the most relevant experience you have for your upcoming change? 

In these cases, you should list the old job because it’s relevant, but either without dates or as part of a non-chronological functional resume. (And make sure you highlight the transferable skills to show why your experience is relevant.)

An image of an alarm clock

If you must add a job from 15 years ago or older for its relevance, consider using a functional resume or adding it without dates.

—Avoid looking like a “Job Hopper”

If you held multiple roles lasting one to two years each, removing roles outside the 15-year window will shorten your resume and eliminate the chance of you being perceived as a job hopper. This is often the case for sales and marketing applicants who might have held more than eight roles at eight different companies during a 15-year career. 

How about longer resumes?

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to include an older job, think about your resume length in general as well. If your older jobs are pushing the resume onto an extra page, take them out! (Especially if they’re spilling onto a third page — that’s a no-brainer.)

It’s crucial that your resume is as short as possible, and you can always list those “on the fence” jobs on LinkedIn if you really feel you need to.

—How about using an “Early Career” section?

Check out my previous blog that discusses adding an Early Career section on your resume. You’ll see how I reduce resume length, minimize the potential for age discrimination or being seen as a job hopper, and still include that valuable role you held “back in the day.”

The Bottom Line 

Never list a job just for the sake of listing it. Remember that you don’t need to add old jobs just to show longevity, especially if they are irrelevant to where you’re applying. Focus on the past 10-15 years, and your resume will be on its way to the top of the pile.

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