How Far Back Should You Go On Your Resume?

Robin Schwartz

How Far Back Should You Go On Your Resume?

There is a lot of conflicting information about how much work history to include on a resume. The simple answer is: it depends. That doesn’t make things much clearer. It does very much depend on the job you’re applying for and where you are in your career.

Consider the following guidelines when formatting your resume for consideration.

Entry-Level

When you are just beginning your career, you may not have a lengthy work history to be concerned about. Entry-level job candidates have probably only held hourly positions or internships that go back a few years. At this stage, it’s not as important how far back you go as it is to illustrate an applicable work history. Resumes for early career applicants should include all paid and unpaid positions that showcase your ability to hold a job.

At this point in your career, your resume might also reflect volunteer positions. This includes short-term projects that demonstrate your exposure to a specific career field.

Potential employers aren’t looking as closely at the longevity of an applicant. They are looking at the likelihood you can perform the duties of the job. For that reason, entry-level job seekers should be putting as much experience and history into their resume as possible.

Mid-Career

Once you have about 10-15 years of work experience under your belt, you can consider yourself “mid-career”. It’s at this stage that applicants start to question the format of their resume more often.

More than likely, you have established yourself in a specific career track. That doesn’t mean that you didn’t experience some growing pains before you go there. It’s quite possible that the first position(s) you worked in aren’t as related to the work you’re doing now.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer as to how far you should go back on your resume at this stage. Your work history will still be heavily dependent on the job you are applying for.

You may want to include all of your full-time work experience if you are applying for a management level position that requires 12+ years of related experience.

An entry-level position might need to be on your resume to show that you have the minimum required years of work experience. You will need to use your best judgement to decide if it’s time to remove old work experiences that are no longer relevant.

Entry-level positions might be appropriate to remain on your resume. You can remove any jobs you held while in school. You can also remove any unpaid internship or volunteer opportunities. Mid-career resumes should only highlight relevant, paid work experiences.

Late Career

There may come a point in your career where you have 20, 30 or even 40 years of experience showcased on your resume. At this stage, you are considered “late career” and will generally have to be more selective about what does and doesn’t make your resume.

Those with a wealth of experience will need to be more careful about what is included in their work history. Consider the position you are applying to before removing years of experience from your resume.

If you spent a number of years at the same company, it may be easier to consolidate positions into a simplified date range. This will allow you to include relevant experience while being more concise on your resume.

As a late-career professional, you may also have short-term positions or jobs that aren’t applicable to the work you do now. This includes the position you’re applying for. You can begin to remove these items from your resume if they don’t highlight your strengths.

For example, if you want to be considered for a CFO position, your experience as an accounts payable clerk when you started your career is relevant, but not necessary. The focus is likely going to be on your experience in the last 15-20 years. So if you are trimming down your resume, that’s a safe place to start.

Changing Careers

Those who are attempting to change careers are faced with a bigger dilemma than how far back to go on a resume. Some work experience may be more relevant than others for a position in a new career track.

What you need to be more concerned about is removing any experience you don’t find relevant. Don’t create an employment gap in the process.

It’s important to include positions that will show an employer you are qualified for the job. That might require going back further into your work history.

Instead of removing positions entirely, simplify how they are presented on your resume. This will draw a hiring manger’s focus towards the applicable duties. It also makes sure it doesn’t appear you had significant gaps in full-time employment.

How far back you should go on your resume will depend on the situation and where you are in your career. Even if your work history is long, it can be formatted on your resume so it’s not as overwhelming to look at. You will need to make educated decisions about when it’s appropriate to cut down your resume.

Your ultimate goal is to be noticed for a job you can do, not jobs you used to do.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

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