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How Far Back Should a Resume Go?

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Your college internship, that retail job you worked in high school, your personal side project from a few years ago — do all of these go on your resume? What’s considered outdated? How are you supposed to know how back your resume should go? 

We spoke to experts to ensure your resume is as up-to-date as possible and appropriate for where you are in your career. Although resume length differs based on your industry and experience level, there is a general rule of thumb most experts agree on. Jen Heller Meservey and Aisha Spearman, both resume writers, say that going back 10 years is the standard.

But if you haven’t been in the workforce that long, your resume might vary. These guidelines are not set in stone. How far back your resume goes also depends on other factors.

Here is what you need to know: 

Resumes by Experience Level

Your years of experience in the professional world are a big factor in determining how far back a resume should go. 

Still in College

You may need a resume during your college years if you are applying for internships and part-time jobs. If you’re in the early years of your college experience, putting work experiences from high school may be necessary. 

Recruiters for internships catered towards college students are typically understanding of the lack of experience you may have — don’t sweat it! Hone in on the limited experience you’ve had so far and consider what skills you have picked up in your education thus far.  

Not everything can be considered proper work experience though. Only internships and part-time jobs should be listed under your “work experience” section. Be sure to differentiate between work experiences, volunteer experiences, and any other categories that may appear on your resume. 

Recent Graduate with Experience

If you just graduated from college and are making a professional resume for your first full-time position, you want to try to only include experiences from college (or the last four years). You might think you’re starting with zero years of experience, but a lot of college activities can count as experience on your resume. 

For instance, you should list internships, part-time jobs, and volunteer work on your resume. Less obvious college experiences that can fill your resume include leadership positions within organizations, student clubs, and even impressive coursework or research projects. 

If you are a recent high school graduate who is not attending college and entering the workforce, you should include your last four years of experience. 

Recent Graduates with No Experience 

If you don’t have much work experience, the relevancy of your experience holds more weight than how long ago it took place. Therefore, if you have relevant skills you learned from high school, you can include them along with any skills you might have picked up in college.

Spearman, who has 10 years of experience as a resume writer, advises, “If you’re just starting out, you’re going to want to focus on a functional resume. You’re going to highlight more of your skill sets.”

If you are struggling to fill your resume, consider setting aside time to take online courses to improve your skills or even learn completely new ones. (Forage offers free virtual work experiences that you can complete and showcase on your resume.) 

These certifications prove to employers that you hold the proper skills and the motivation to do well in a career. 

Mid-Level Professionals

Once you have moved past entry-level, you’ll have a greater number of years of experience to consider including on your resume. After about three years in the workforce, you’ll want to expand on your recent jobs and take off much of the college experiences. Keep your previous roles chronological, so employers know how recently you’ve learned or used some of the skills listed on your resume. 

Spearman stresses the number of years to include on your resume may be different depending on the industry or job title. Be sure to check the job description for the position you are applying for to see if it provides any guidance. 

Senior Level Professionals

When reaching manager or supervisor levels, guidelines are not as set in stone. “If you have some relevant experience from up to 15 years ago, and it doesn’t make your resume go over two pages, go ahead and include it,” Meservey said.

Dated Experience vs. Relevancy 

In terms of what should be listed on your resume, related jobs and projects are more important than what time period you completed them in. Spearman said, “Focus on what’s most relevant for your particular career.” 

Relevancy tends to be paramount. Employers are looking for skills relevant to the job you’re applying for; therefore, you want to choose experiences that reflect you have the skills for the job. Remember you need to practice skills to keep them relevant. For example,  a course you took on SEO years ago won’t translate well to current day.

This does not apply to those switching industries or career paths completely. If you’re looking to make a career switch, be sure to be actively working on the skills the recruiter is looking for. (Learn more about hard skills vs. soft skills.) 

Why You Shouldn’t Include All Experiences

No matter how long you have been working, you should be intentional with the work experience you include on your resume. Unless you have just enough experience to hit a full page on your resume, adding all of it may not help you get hired.

Here are some of the reasons why you shouldn’t include all of your work experience on your resume:

Too General

Catering to your audience is crucial to landing the job of your dreams. If you include too many non-relevant experiences on your resume, it may be a red flag to the hiring manager because it shows you don’t have enough applicable skills to fill an entire resume

Choosing work experiences that best reflect your qualifications for the position show that you are invested in the role and ultimately, will help you land it. 

Age Discrimination 

If you have 20 plus years in experience and you include all of it on your resume, it could leave you open to age discrimination. Although illegal, it does happen, so you want to protect yourself. 

In general, your resume should be free of any signs of your age, as it may make recruiters think you are overqualified, too close to retirement, or too expensive for the company. Be sure to protect yourself by limiting the years of experience you include.

Length of Your Resume  

If you list all your work experiences from part-time positions to volunteer work to internships to full-time jobs, you are going to run out of space on your resume. Keeping your resume an ideal length is a crucial component of landing a job. You want the recruiter to be able to quickly look over your resume with ease.

The Takeaways About How Far Back a Resume Should Go

  • Try not to go back further than about 10 years on your resume.
  • A job’s relevancy trumps how long ago it occurred. 
  • Don’t include all of the experiences you’ve ever had.
  • Most importantly, make sure your experience level and how far back your resume goes match up.

 

 

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