How Far Back Should A Resume Go?

By Heidi Cope - Apr. 18, 2021
Articles In Resume Guide

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Whether you are working on your very first resume ever or trying to figure out how to write a new resume after many years under your belt, resume writing is an intimidating task, and it’s okay to feel a bit apprehensive.

What should you include? What should you not include? What is saying too much, and can being overly concise cost you the job because you said too little?

These are some of the many questions resume writers face when staring at a blank screen.

Here’s the deal:

  • Resumes should be industry-specific and include work history related to the job application for the past 10 years, which can include internships and pertinent volunteer experiences (especially for those recent college graduates).

  • Resumes should go back about 10 years. Past that point, only include relevant work history that will improve your qualifications for the job.

  • Resumes should be as succinct as possible and generally no longer than one page.

Still have questions?

You might be asking yourself what to include if you’ve been out of work for a longer period of time, have been doing untraditional work like being a stay-at-home parent, caring for a family member, or going back to school.

What is the best way to present this information? Are there specific rules to follow?

Keep reading for a resume guide that will put you at ease while writing your new resume.

How Long Should a Resume Be?

It is important to note that a resume and a CV (Curriculum Vitae) are not the same things. In some countries and in some professions, a CV is the norm for job applications. But for most job positions, employers just want to see a standard resume.

A resume is a lot shorter than a CV.

A CV is a document that shows all of your accomplishments, positions, publications, appearances, etc. If you were applying for a professorship or a research position, as an example, your CV may be several pages long.

A resume is a short and sweet version of a CV: it is a document that showcases the most important aspects of your work history, education, and accomplishments in one page.

Yes, a recruiter is going to expect a single-page document for a resume. This length is especially true for recent college graduates and those with under ten years of experience.

But what about those with extensive work experience? Those who have over 15 years of work experience?

If you are unable to keep your resume at one page because of important and relevant work history due to decades of experience, then it is acceptable to have a longer resume — but two pages is the maximum, in general.

Remember, employers are going to skim resumes for the most important details. A concise, relevant, and visually appealing (meaning no 8-point fonts) will do better than a long-winded account of every position you’ve had since high school.

How Far Back Should a Resume Go?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question — the truth is that the answer changes depending on how old you are and what stage of your career you’re in.

With that in mind, we’ll answer how far back your resume should go for each situation:

  • Recent graduate/Entry-level. You can go as far back as high school if you have some especially nice achievements from those days. You can also include those summer jobs and part-time gigs you worked throughout your teen years into your early 20s.

    If your professional history is a bit light, you can certainly beef up your education section with noteworthy projects, accomplishments, and research you were involved with, as well as extra-curriculars that relate to the job in some way.

    The main thing is that you focus on transferable skills. Think about how you’ve demonstrated good collaborative abilities, strong communication skills, and excellent problem-solving when you were involved in volunteering, internships, or seasonal jobs.

  • Young professionals. Once you have 3-5 years of professional, full-time experience under your belt, you can stop inlcuding those part-time gigs from your high school and college years (unless they’re genuinely impressive).

    You can also start to cut the fluff from your education section — hiring managers and recruiters stop caring about that stuff once you’ve got real-world experience to show.

    If your resume is starting to look a little short without those older experiences, try adding a greater diversity of personality through out-of-work experiences like volunteering, contract work, leadership positions, and professional organizations you’re a member of.

  • Mid-/High-level professionals. Once you’ve got a wealth of professional experience to choose from, how far back you go is somewhat up to you.

    Although we recommend always stopping at the 10-15 year mark, you may even decide to cut off everything older than 6-9 years old, depending on how impressive your most recent achievements are.

    At this point, you get to pick and choose which assets you’d like to show off more, which is good news when you’re meant to tailor your resume for each and every job application.

    If you really want to show off the older experience, consider adding an “Additional Experience” section where you simply list the company names and positions without listing dates or bullet points describing your role.

    You can simply add “Additional information available upon request” at the bottom to let hiring managers know you haven’t had any gaps in your employment while not wasting valuable space on irrelevant information.

Tips for How Far Back to Go With Your Resume Work History

If you have a long work history, work to keep our resume as concise as possible. Just make sure you do not leave off important work experience related to the position, just because you near the one-page mark.

Here is some advice to keep in mind:

  1. Use chronological order. Resumes are written in chronological order, so focus on work history done in the past 10 years. Employers want to know what you have been up to lately, not so much what you did in the 90s.

  2. Give brief descriptions for relevant work experience. Include all relevant work experience, but keep the descriptions brief for positions over 10 years old.

  3. Only include the most relevant work experience if older than 10 years. All work experience that is older than 10 years and is not relevant to the job position, keep off the resume. But do include it on an online resume like LinkedIn.

  4. It’s okay to go over a page, but not over two pages. Don’t be afraid of going over one page, but do keep it to two pages or less.

What to Put on a Resume

Resumes are essentially an elevator pitch of your work history and education, but paper edition.

Employers don’t look long at resumes, so it needs to be easy to read while displaying the most important information you want to convey to the employer.

You should not submit generic resumes — they should be uniquely tailored for each and every job you apply for. Make sure to include the most relevant keywords your industry is looking for — sometimes resumes are read by applicant tracking systems before they reach a human reader.

Don’t let a computer throw you out of the race just because your resume is generic.

Also, avoid putting everything you’ve ever done on a resume. Employers don’t have time to be reading a detailed account of everything you’ve done since high school. Keep experiences relevant and make your resume showcase you as the best possible candidate for the job.

For example, if you want to work in an education field and you have five work experiences, but you can only fit four on the resume, include the four that are most relevant to teaching.

If you have been out of work, as you chose to stay home to parent, for example, and have a gap in employment, you can highlight translational skills you acquired during that gap period.

Did you take continuing education courses or volunteer somewhere? If you homeschooled your children, did they have special needs which made you able to easily navigate diverse populations? Did you help them on major projects that have been successful?

Your resume is unique to you. Think about what makes you different than the hundreds of other people applying for the position and have your resume showcase that.

Why You Shouldn’t Go Too Far Back on Your Resume

There are a few reasons why going back through your entire work history can work against you rather than help you.

  • Irrelevant. The most significant reason it’s unwise to go back further than 10-15 years on your resume is that whatever you were doing a decade ago probably doesn’t matter much for the job you hope to have right now.

    Sure, those experiences snowballed into the career you have today, but your achievements from way back then don’t have as much value to potential employers.

    The benefit of a resume, from the employer’s perspective, is that they get a high-level view of why you’d be able to perform a job well based on your most relevant experiences.

  • Unnecessarily long. Brevity isn’t just the soul of wit; it’s also the only way to keep people’s attention in the 21st century. You want someone to be able to glance at your resume (because that’s what hiring managers do — glance) and immediately recognize your most impressive attributes.

    When you start including every bit of information from 15+ years ago, your really relevant stuff gets lost in a sea of what is essentially meaningless fluff.

    When you compare the effectiveness of two advertisements, do you ever confuse length with quality? Of course not — in fact, we’re willing to wager you prefer short ads that get to the point. Your resume is an advertisement for you — get to the point.

  • Age discrimination. Ageism is a real thing in corporate America, and folks may fear that hiring someone with 20 years of experience is too much of a burden.

    Maybe this person will have a tough time adapting to a new work environment or will be resistant to training. Or they’ll be stuck in their antiquated way of doing things and be less efficient.

    Don’t let hiring managers even begin to form these thoughts by including professional history from the 90s. It’s not always so sinister as that though; some hiring managers will simply worry that with all your years of experience, your salary requirements will be too high for their budget.

    Get past the application stage to the interview process, and you can put all their anxieties to rest.

Final Thoughts

Resume writing can be incredibly difficult. It can be hard to streamline a person’s entire career into a page or two, especially if they have decades of work experience.

The main question you should be asking yourself is, “if this employer only looked at my resume for 15-20 seconds, what would I want them to see?”

The hard truth of resume writing is, most employers only give a brief glance at your resume. Employers will pick the candidates that stand out.

You can have all the best work history, but if your resume is typed in small text or is just a page filled in with a bunch of text about everything you’ve ever done, they probably will move onto the next resume.

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Heidi Cope

Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

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