Resumes & Cover Letters

Q&A: How Far Back Should I Go on My Resume?

February 22, 2021

Knowing how far back to go on your resume can help you highlight your most relevant experiences and professional achievements. Recruiters want to see your most recent work history as it provides more clarity about your skills and accomplishments. Understanding how far back to go on a resume can present you as the perfect fit for a position and improve your chances of getting hired.

In this article, we discuss how far back your career history can go, how to use older experience on your resume and provide tips and examples.

How far back to go on your resume

For most industries, you can list the past 10 to 15 years of your work history on your resume. Limiting your experience and professional achievements to the past 15 years can showcase your most recent capabilities and work contributions to employers.

Including career history beyond 15 years usually shows experience in a lower position, which may not show your most current skill set and abilities. Even if you include the information, recruiters may only focus on your most recent history. However, you can consider including earlier years if it helps you demonstrate career progress and increases your credibility.

The number of years you can go on a resume can also depend on the job requirements. It is important to include only the experiences relevant to the specific position you are applying for. Doing this can provide more space to describe important achievements and responsibilities that show you as an ideal candidate for employers.

Some careers, such as civil service and academia, often require you to provide complete employment history. In technology industries and other fields where skill sets change quickly, keep your resume as short as possible. In most cases, it is often safe to limit your resume work experience to the last 10 to 15 years unless the employer requests a full career history.

Related: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

How to determine how far to go back on your resume

How far to go on your resume depends on several factors such as relevance, job requirements and resume length.

  1. Determine the relevance of each job.
  2. Consider the level of the role.
  3. Check the job description.
  4. Include prominent experience.
  5. Decide on a resume length.

1. Determine the relevance for each job

Relevance is one of the most important factors when deciding how far back to go on a resume. Your recent experience and achievements are the most valuable details hiring managers look for. Before writing your resume, study the job description to identify the key skills and experiences the employer wants. Include as much of your work history if the information increases your chances of getting the position.

2. Consider the level of the role

The level of the position you are applying for can also determine the amount of experience to include on your resume. Senior roles can have up to 15 years of experience or more if the information can boost your candidacy. If you are applying for a mid-level position, a 10-year employment history is ideal. Entry-level positions usually include up to five years of career experience.

3. Check the job description

Employers often include the years of experience they want candidates to have for the position. Before writing your resume, study the job listing for information about the work experience and use that to determine the career history to include in your resume.

4. Include prominent experience

The information in your work experience section can add to your professional prestige when applying for a position. If you worked at a respected organization or held a prestigious title in a previous role, adding such details on your resume can impress hiring managers and set you apart from other candidates. You can also include military experience if the employer offers veterans' preference.

5. Decide on a resume length

The length of your resume can determine how far you can go when describing work experience. If you're an entry- to the mid-level candidate, you can usually fit all of your relevant experience on one page. Candidates with more experience or those applying for government or education roles might need a two-page resume. Keeping yourself to a one-page resume can help you limit how much experience you include.

Related: How Long Should a Resume Be?

How to use older experience on your resume

If you need to include older experience on your resume, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Create an early experience section.
  2. Create a career highlights section.
  3. Mention the information in the resume summary.
  4. Include earlier experience in a separate key achievements or awards section.

1. Create an early experience section

An effective way to include experience older than 15 years in your resume is to have an "Early Experience Section." The section, which you can also call "Previous Professional Experience," allows you to mention the earliest achievements and skills you consider important to the position. However, the roles in this section should only have your title, company and location without the dates.

2. Create a career highlights section

You can also describe your earlier work experience through a career highlights or career notes section. The section will be at the bottom of your current employment history and include short sentences describing your work experience, the company or client you worked for at the beginning of your career.

3. Mention the information in the resume summary

If you have important information related to your earlier experience, you can mention it in your resume summary. Adding notable experience to your summary makes it easy for the hiring manager to scan, making it more likely for them to read the rest of your resume.

Read more: How to Write a Stellar Entry-Level Resume Summary

4. Include earlier experience in a separate key achievements or awards section

If you have several early career accomplishments that give you more credibility, you can list them in a key achievements or awards section below your work history. This can help you conserve space and avoid adding too much work history on your resume.

Tips for how far back to go on your resume

Here are tips to help you determine how far to go on your resume:

Keep it position-relevant

Include only the experiences relevant to the open role. The job description can provide ideas for the key skills, experiences, achievements and responsibilities to describe in your resume. That way, you can add information that keeps the hiring manager interested.

Use reverse-chronological order

When listing experience on your resume, use the reverse-chronological format, meaning you start from your most recent achievements and responsibilities.

Remove dated skills

Remove irrelevant and dated skills that may not be useful in the position you are applying for. Limit your skills to those listed in the job description to keep your resume highly relevant.

Keep earlier experiences short

Detail your most recent experiences and achievements and limit early work history. The goal is to direct the hiring manager's attention to newly acquired responsibilities and abilities.

Use a functional resume

Functional resumes focus more on your skills and abilities than your work history. In a functional resume, you can list your best skills and notable achievements first, then include your work history by adding your title, company and location.

Templates for how far back to go on your resume

Here are templates for listing your experience:

  • Experience exceeding 15 years
  • Different employers with similar experience
  • Different positions with the same employer

Experience exceeding 15 years

Here's a template for adding older experience to your resume:

[Job title]
[Company name]
[Employment dates (optional)]

  • [Summarize all duties/accomplishments in one bullet point.]

Different employers with similar experience

If you had the same job with similar responsibilities with different employers, here's how you can list experience:

[Job title]
[Company names]
[Employment dates]

  • [Use one or two bullet points to summarize main duties.]

Different positions with the same employer

If you received promotions with the same company, here's a template for listing this experience:

[Company name]
[Job titles and dates held]

  • [Add one or two bullet points to detail accomplishments or highlight responsibilities.]

Examples for how far back to go on your resume

Here are examples of how to include earlier experience on your resume:

  • Experience exceeding 15 years
  • Different employers with similar experience
  • Different positions with the same employer

Experience exceeding 15 years

Use this example to add experience older than 15 years:

Project director
Pear, Inc.
1998–2000

  • Oversaw 50+ technological projects with some budgets over $1 million.

Different employers with similar experience

Use this example as a guide for detailing similar experience for different companies:

Executive assistant
Dewey and Rothstein, Capicola Meats, Georgia Brands
2002–2007

  • Managed schedules, booked travel accommodations, fielded phone calls and emails, prepared correspondence

Different positions with the same employer

Here's how you can show career progression with one business on your resume:

Fleet Makers

Customer service representative: 2003–2004, Customer service lead: 2004–2006, Customer service director: 2006–2010

  • Received promotions to manage 30+ employees,
  • Created and led onboarding training programs; increased customer satisfaction by 12% in the first six months as director

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