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One of the most common questions we are asked is: When writing your resume, how far should it go back? There are differing schools of thought on this. On the one hand, all your work experience has led you to this point. It’s all valid and valuable. On the other hand, if you’ve been working for two decades and have five pages of experience, there are very few recruiters that have the kind of time to review everything you’re trying to share.

So, where is the balance? How much history is enough to get you the job?

Rule #1 Sometimes Less is More

We recommend that your resume doesn’t go back more than a decade; 15-years at the most. With that said, if you’re applying for a c-suite position at a corporation, you could and probably should list all of your relevant work experience no matter how long it makes your resume.

Generally, though, you don’t want to keep all of your work history on a resume. Stick to the most relevant historical career details, which most recruiters would say from about 10-years ago to now. If you’re joining a job in an entry-level position, even 10-years is probably too much information. Even if you’re just starting out in your career, hearing about your college internship at a preschool teaching kindergarten may not be relevant to the role you’re entering.

Each resume should summarize the relevant (the keyword here is “relevant”) experience that pertains to the role you’re applying to. Having enough room on a resume is always a problem. But if you are brutally honest with yourself and look at it from the recruiter’s perspective, you should have no problem cutting out anything that isn’t relevant to the job at hand.

Rule #2 Be Concise

Do not glom up your resume with corporate speak. Keep your sentences short and action filled. Don’t just describe the job title. Share with the recruiter what you accomplished. Try to keep this to no more than two pages if you can. Otherwise, you run the risk of all that work going to waste because the recruiter has 500 other resumes to review today and can spare no more than a glance for each one. Make sure you use keywords from the job ad; remember, not only will keywords help your resume pop up in a database search, the recruiter probably has the job description on one side and your resume on the other.

So how far back should your resume go? We have some rule of thumb ideas that will help guide your resume writing:

  • Up to two years of experience or recent graduates should include their academic, personal, and professional experiences from high school, college, and after. The same rules apply, though; make sure the experience is relevant in some way to the job. If you’re trying to emphasize crossover skills, say that in your cover letter.
  • If you have two to five years of experience, you can dump GPAs, college courses, and awards off your resume. That is unless you had an internship at an impressive big-name company or won a national award that everyone can recognize. You can still list volunteer experiences and affiliations, but generally, your experience is what matters.
  • For those with more than five years of experience, it gets a little simpler because you want to list your work-related experience, again, that is relevant to what you’re applying to. As you add more years under your belt, keep in mind the 10 to 15-year rule to make sure you’re not running too long.

IES is a recruiting firm that works with top employers and candidates at all stages of their professional careers. We would be happy to review your resume and give our best advice. Our service is free to job candidates, and we’d be happy to help. Contact us today.

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