How many years should you go back on your resume?
Your resume should go back 10 to 15 years. However, if you’re trying to showcase other job-related skills or are applying somewhere that is looking for veteran applicants, it can go back further.
Yet for most people, listing over 15+ years of experience means you’ll either come off as A.) overqualified, or B.) unorganized (filling your resume with irrelevant work experience).
Writing a great resume usually means keeping it short and to-the-point. But as your career progresses, you’ll notice that it becomes more difficult to squeeze all of your work experience onto one or two pages. You’ll need to decide which jobs to list, and which ones to leave off.
Why your resume should only go back 15 years
There are two main reasons your resume should only go back 15 years:
1. Recent experience is more relevant
Hiring managers are only interested in your most recent jobs. Your most up-to-date work experience indicates your current levels of responsibility, skill, and experience, whereas older positions are likely entry-level positions, or even jobs in another industry.
2. You want to avoid age discrimination
Many hiring managers — subconsciously or not — discriminate against older candidates. Providing 20 years or more of work experience on your resume is a giveaway of your age.
Use older experience only if it’s relevant
Job ads list most skills hiring managers are seeking in candidates. Refer to the job posting to see which particular skills are called for. If you notice a skill listed on the ad that you haven’t used since the 1990s, you can and should still fit that skill (and the job where you used it) onto your resume.
For example, if the job ad calls for experience writing in the COBOL programming language, it’s fine to include a role from two decades ago:
PROGRAMMER, SFJ Software Inc., 1999–2003
- Created 47 COBOL transaction-processing programs tailored for individual financial institutions.
As you can see from this example, such mentions can include just one bullet point that showcases the skill from the job ad. There’s no need to list other responsibilities linked to the old position unless they also directly relate to the job posting.
How many jobs should you list on a resume?
You should list two to four jobs on a resume. However, it really comes down to the job you’re applying for and your own career history.
How far back to go on a resume for senior positions
If you’re applying for a role as a departmental manager or even a C-suite officer, you don’t need to list your entry-level jobs. Because your management skills are what count, list and flesh out the managerial roles you’ve held in the past 10–15 years.
No matter how many positions you’ve had in the past, it’s important to keep things recent — even Elon Musk’s resume only includes the past 20 years of his experience.
Other roles shouldn’t be fully omitted though. Instead, keep those jobs on one line. Just indicate the dates and company location so that you don’t have any questionable gaps on your resume.
How many previous jobs to list for mid-level positions
If you have several years of work experience, you should include entry-level jobs on your resume.
If you’ve only ever worked at one company, list your different job titles and responsibilities there to showcase your career progression.
On the other hand, if you’ve had 7 jobs in the past 15 years, only include bullet points under the jobs relevant to the role you’re applying for. You can just provide the title, company, and dates for the less relevant positions. Including the less relevant jobs:
- helps illustrate your career growth to employers
- reassures them you still have room to progress as a professional
Work history on an entry-level resume
Finding enough work experience to list on an entry-level resume is a headache.
Fill your entry-level resume with valuable information for employers. For example, adding volunteer work to your resume as well as internships you’ve completed can make it more compelling. You can also include relevant coursework on your resume — just make sure your bullet points are related to the job opening.
You can also list things like internship experience if you have any. Simply having something relevant in your experience section will make your entry-level resume stronger, even if you have to go as far back as college to pinpoint it.