How Far Back Should a Resume Go? Everything You Need to Know

How Far Back Should Your Resume Go? An Expert Guide
When crafting or updating your resume, an important question to consider is: how many years of experience should I include? On one hand, you want to provide a comprehensive picture of your career history and accomplishments. But on the other, you don‘t want to overwhelm hiring managers with irrelevant details from jobs in the distant past.

The general rule of thumb is that a resume should go back no more than 10-15 years. However, this advice can vary depending on your career level and the types of positions you‘re targeting.

Let‘s break it down further based on where you are in your career journey:

Entry-Level Applicants
If you‘re a recent graduate or early in your career, you likely don‘t have extensive work history to draw from yet. In this case, it‘s appropriate and helpful to include:

  • Internships
  • Part-time jobs
  • Summer jobs
  • Volunteer work
  • Relevant academic coursework or projects
  • Extracurricular activities/leadership positions

When you‘re just entering the workforce, hiring managers understand you may not have a ton of full-time experience under your belt. Show them that you‘ve been productive and developed valuable skills through these other experiences during your school years. Internships in particular can go a long way in demonstrating your qualifications for an entry-level role.

Mid-Career Professionals
After about 5-10 years in your field, your resume should begin to take shape with several relevant work experiences that demonstrate your professional growth. At this point, start being more selective about what you include. The summer retail job you had during college or the work-study library position you held freshman year will no longer be relevant. Keep your focus on showcasing the most important accomplishments and skills that will help you land your next opportunity.

However, if you changed careers or went back to school in recent years, you may need to reach back a bit further to paint a cohesive picture. Just be sure to tie it all together with a clear narrative in your summary or objective statement at the top of your resume.

Senior-Level Candidates
For those with 10+ years of experience, your resume should be carefully curated to tell the story of your career progression and highlight your most impressive accomplishments. The positions you held more than 15 years ago, even if they were relevant at the time, will likely be too outdated to include. Stick to detailing about the last 10-15 years, focusing heavily on the past 5-7 years.

One caveat is if you‘ve worked for the same company for many years or held a particularly influential role early on that you want to showcase. In that case, it‘s okay to include an "Early Career" or "Additional Experience" section that simply lists your older job titles, companies and years without bullets.

The other risk of reaching back too far in your work history is exposing yourself to potential age discrimination. Even though it‘s illegal, some companies may make judgements about your age based on your graduation year or dates of employment. Limiting your resume to the most recent 10-15 years helps you control your narrative.

What About Gig Work?
In today‘s economy, many professionals are supplementing traditional full-time jobs with "gigs" like freelancing, consulting or participating in the sharing economy (Uber, Instacart, etc.). If your side hustle is relevant to your career goals or you‘ve gained transferable skills, then absolutely include this experience on your resume.

Treat your self-employment ventures as you would any other position – give yourself a title that fits the work you did, list the company as "Self-employed" and include your key responsibilities and accomplishments in bullet points. This shows hiring managers that you take initiative and are adaptable.

Graduation Dates and GPAs
Once you‘ve been in the workforce for a few years, remove the graduation years from your Education section. Again, this helps mitigate potential age bias. You can also omit your GPA at this point, as employers will be much more interested in your professional experience.

Formatting for Readability
Regardless of your career stage, it‘s crucial that your resume is concise and easy to read. Recruiters are often sorting through hundreds of applications, so they should be able to scan your resume and quickly identify your qualifications and fit for the role.

Some best practices:

  • Stick to 1-2 pages maximum. If you‘re early career, keep it to a single page.
  • Use clear section headings and bullet points rather than long paragraphs.
  • Make sure there is sufficient white space – don‘t crowd the page with text.
  • Put the most important information towards the top where it will get noticed.
  • Focus on accomplishments and metrics rather than listing out all of your day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Tailor the resume for each job and use language from the job description.

Remember, your resume is a marketing document, not your complete biography. Think carefully about how to craft your personal brand and tell a compelling story that positions you as the ideal candidate.

Every situation is unique, but in general, limiting the work experience on your resume to the past 10-15 years is a good guideline. This strategy allows you to showcase your most relevant qualifications while avoiding information overload or outdated details. Keep your resume concise, targeted and easy to skim, and you‘ll be on your way to landing your next interview!