If you’ve been working for a long time and are in the market for a new job, you might wonder how far back you should go on your resume. In general, your resume should reflect your past 10 to 15 years of work experience, but exactly what to include will vary. Here’s how to determine what makes sense for you.
Why Not List My Entire Work History?
You might assume that it’s best to list all of your jobs, but there are several reasons not to do this. These include:
- Relevancy: The world of work changes quickly, and even if you held a similar job title 20 years ago, today’s tasks are likely to be very different. If you’re in a different field than you were back then, those positions take on even less relevancy. The employer wants to know what you’ve been doing recently and how that work can translate to the new position.
- Age discrimination: Unfortunately, age discrimination is alive and well in the working world. You don’t want a potential employer to prejudge you as out of touch, too expensive, or unable to keep up with the pace of the job.
- Brevity: Hiring managers are busy, and they tend to spend just seconds deciding whether to follow up on someone’s resume. Make every word count by focusing only on what they most want to know—whether your recent experience makes you a good fit.
What to Include
Exactly what to include on your resume depends on where you are in your career. Recent grads with no more than two years of post-grad work experience can include jobs, volunteer work, and leadership roles held in both high school and college. Focus on projects that highlight your skills, such as leadership, communication, and problem-solving, even if they weren’t traditional paid experiences.
If you have two to five years of professional work experience, it’s time to drop both high school and college from your resume. In addition to paid work, you can also include post-grad side hustles and volunteer work, as well as listing any professional organizations you’re a member of.
With more than five years of professional experience under your belt, it’s time to start being choosy about what you include. Focus on roles that show your readiness to move up in your field or, if you’re changing fields, your ability to adapt to the new responsibilities.
The Exception to the Rule
If you’ve been out of the workforce for several years, most or all of your experience may be more than 15 years in the past. In this case, it’s okay to make an exception. You should still focus on the most relevant positions and skills when deciding what to include. Offer an up-front explanation in your cover letter or resume summary that explains why you’ve been out of the workforce and how you’ve kept your skills up to date.
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