When it comes to crafting a resume, the temptation to highlight all your achievements and past positions to emphasize just how perfect you are for a role can be strong, but experts warn a more judicious strategy works better. Since your resume acts as a marketing document, the more focused and concise the document, the more convincing you’ll be to recruiters, who typically spend around six seconds scanning a resume. It doesn’t need to be a complete detailing of your entire career history.
Most experts recommend including 10-15 years of work history on your resume. For the majority of professionals, this allows you to show a comprehensive overview of where you started, how you have grown and where you are now. For some candidates, there might 5-10 positions to list; however, some professionals might have only held one or two positions during the span of those mentioned years.
Deciding if 10 or 15 years is enough time largely depends on the individual's professional goals and how much relevant experience potential employers might be looking for. Some job listings call for applicants to have five years of practical experience while others may require 10-15. Tailoring your resume to suit the particular position you are applying for is a great idea - you want to cut through the noise and catch the eye of the recruiter or hiring manager.
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There are a few reasons why you might not want to include every job you’ve ever had on a resume and you should keep these in mind as you decide what’s best for your resume.
A general rule of thumb is to limit to 10-15 years - that’s the timeframe recruiters and employers perceive as most relevant. Recruiters aren’t interested in your accomplishments as an entry-level employee if you’ve been in the field for 20 years. And even if you’re early in your career, they don’t necessarily need to know about a paper route on a resume.
Your resume should be a high-level summary of your relevant professional accomplishments, not a dissertation of all your jobs and responsibilities since middle school. Recruiters and hiring managers want to quickly see why you’re the right person for this job, and your experience in the past decade or so is most likely the reason. So, think twice before you let non-essential information take up real estate on your resume. Instead use that space to shine a light on applicable achievements, experiences, and positions that more closely align with the jobs you’re targeting.
If you keep your experience contained to the last 10 to 15 years, it’s also easier for recruiters to review your work history with a cursory glance over your resume. As you get further along in your career, it’s OK for your resume to stretch to two pages, but more than that will be too long for a recruiter to take in quickly, and they might even skip it entirely. If possible, we recommend keeping your resume to 1 page.
So, while you may feel a little shortchanged lopping off your years of sweat equity, you’ll be more likely to make it past that first look if you trim your experience timeline.
If you feel that your older experience is compelling enough, that can be a good reason to expand the scope of your resume. This is especially true if your most relevant position is from further back in your career — for example, if you’ve been working in a different role or industry for a while but are applying for a role similar to a position you held 15 years ago, obviously include your most relevant experience. The same can be true if you have a particularly impressive accomplishment from an older position that’s still relevant today.
Here are some best ways to feature older experience:
Gaps in work history are actually pretty common. If you’ve taken a break from your career—to raise kids or care for a loved one, for example—you likely have to go back a little further on your resume. This is OK, but you should explain upfront why your most recent work experience is so far back. You can do this in a cover letter or in a resume summary at the top of the page.
But you should still keep in mind how relevant your past experience is as you decide what to include and leave off. And if you’ve done anything in the meantime, whether that’s a part-time job or a side hustle or something else to keep you up-to-date in your field, be sure to include that as well.
At the end of the day, your resume should tell the story of how your related experiences and accomplishments make you a great candidate for your next position; not the number of work anniversaries you’ve celebrated. Because when it’s all said and done, that’s what’s going to get you hired. If you want to read more about how to make your resume stand out, here is the blog post for you!
Any feedback on what’s worked for you? Let us know!