How far back should a compelling resume go?

Published Dec. 22, 2020

What to include and ‘how far back a resume should go’ can be quite a challenging exercise for many job seekers. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or re-entering the job market, having a good resume when going on the job hunt helps you stand out. In fact, did you know that recruiters look at resumes for only 6 seconds on average?

How far back should a compelling resume go?

Writing or updating a resume can be quite tricky as it entails putting together many years of experience into just one or two pages, and catching the hiring manager’s attention at the same time. At MentorCruise, many mentors agree that illustrating a career history through persuasive resume writing can make you stand out from the rest of the job applications.

Your resume is your one-page (or two) sales pitch on why you’re the best option for the job. So exactly how far back should your resume go? The answer will depend on your situation. But there are two important factors: how long you’ve worked and how your experience matches with your current job targets.

In this article, we’ll show you precisely how far back your resume should go and explain why. You’ll learn.

  • How far back should your resume go?
  • Why your resume should go back no more than 10-15 years.
  • When should your resume go back more than 10-15 years?
  • How an earlier experience section works.

How far back should your resume go?

Where are you in your career journey or job hunt? Are you a fresh grad, young professional, mid-level, or experienced professional? Here are the following details to meet your individual needs regarding deciding ‘how far back your resume should go.’

Fresh Grads (2 years experience)

Fresh graduates and young specialists should focus on transferable skills from part-time jobs or internships.

As a recent graduate, you can incorporate your academic, professional, and personal accomplishments from college and high school. Potentially mention relevant post-grad experiences.

But make sure to highlight your transferable skills. Make your personal experiences relevant to the job listing information. Describe how you used collaboration, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and time management abilities in related internships, class projects, volunteer work, sports, leadership roles, passion projects, or part-time jobs.

Being autonomous is an excellent trait to get into entry-level jobs (or at any level position, to be quite frank). At this point, you want to position even the most non-essential information somehow relevant for the entry-level positions you’re applying for.

Young Professionals (2-5 years experience)

Here, you have adequate work experience below your belt to leave GPAs, college courses, awards, and projects off your resume.

Employers are no longer fascinated by your college activities except you had a remarkable long-term job or extremely relevant internship with serious name drop appeal. Here are some resume tips:

  • Stick to your post-graduate experiences.
  • Improve your resume by showing your professional bravery outside of work.
  • Mention your volunteer experiences, side hustles, leadership roles to add personality and not years to your work history.

Mid-Level and Experienced Professionals (>5 Years of Experience)

Once you’ve gone past the 5 years mark, start focusing on relevant roles and responsibilities to heighten your next career move qualifications.

This may involve limiting emphasis on, or even excluding, early-professional and part-time jobs, and upgrading more related work experiences as the main focus.

As you get further into your career, the “10 to 15 years” rule will begin to kick in, and you can employ it as a guide when thinking whether to keep a job on your resume or not.

In summary,

  • You shouldn’t list your entire work history on a resume. Your resume should go back no more than 10 to 15 years.
  • Focus on highlighting your management skills. Ensure that the recruiters know that you’ve had essential past responsibilities.
  • The key to a powerful resume is to include ONLY the experiences most relevant to your current job. This ensures that your resume remains suitable for recruiters and employers.
  • Use detailed bullet points to list your professional accomplishments.
  • Tech positions favor using facts and figures to display the results of past work.

Why your resume should go back no more than 10-15 years.

You may be wondering why you should keep your work experience within 10-15 years. Career coaches and professional resume writers recommend that you keep your focus on the past 10 to 15 years for most industries.

Your resume should be a high-level outline of your most relevant professional achievements, not a discourse of all your jobs/responsibilities since college. Hiring managers want to quickly discern why you’re the best fit for the job.

And your experience in the past 10-15 is most probably the reason. In your extensive career history, it’s okay for your resume to extend to two pages—but more than this will be too long for a recruiter to follow quickly, and they may even skip it entirely.

Also, by keeping your resume between 10-15 years, you might be able to:

Avoid age discrimination

Whether you like this or not, age discrimination exists in the employment game, which could cost you the interview. However, narrowing down your resume to your last 15 years can help alleviate this barrier. You’ll want to show that your most relevant skill is recent and that you’ve put up with modern workforce trends.

Boost relevancy

Hiring managers or recruiters wouldn’t really care about what you did over 10 to 15 years ago. It would therefore be best if this section is left off your resume.

Mind you that your resume is only looked at for a few seconds. Be sure it is clear and concise.

Eliminate clutter

Cluttered resumes often irritate hiring managers or recruiters. And including many years of experience is one way to land the bin.

Your resume must not get to more than two pages. You’ll want to keep it short, brief, and relevant to quickly show the recruiter that you’re the best option for the position.

But what if you genuinely need the 15+years of experience on your resume? Below, here is when and how you can incorporate this information.

We’ll also discuss a few other thumb rules that can act as a guide as you resolve how far back your resume should go.

When should your resume go back more than 10-15 years?

You may feel that an earlier role would add credibility to your professional experience or showcase some extra skill diversity. If that is the case, then it would be good to include this information.

Below are some circumstances when you can incorporate information from more than 15 years of your experience on your resume.

1) High relevance

As we stated earlier, if your past professional experience is truly relevant, then you should keep it on your resume.

Remember that if you have 30 years and above related experience, you should include only the last 10 to 15 years, with the exception of highly relevant past experiences.

If you have so many years of relevant experience, you’re probably applying to a higher position where age may not really matter.

2) Prestigious company or title

If you worked at prestigious companies or held a powerful title or senior position role 15+ years ago, you can list the company name, job title, and the year you served there.

But don’t include details on responsibilities. This will place the knowledge on the sheet without taking up too much space.

Tips for effectively sectioning your resume

If you can’t choose between relevant positions, there are still some ways to retain a two-page resume structure.

Break your work experience into two different sections

  • Related Experience: Here, you want to make relevant and transferable skills at the center of your resume content. So insert the roles and responsibilities strictly related to your job hunt targets with accurate bullets highlighting your achievements.

    If you hold relevant experiences that you want to include out of the last 10-15 years, for instance, if you’re considering a career change, you can list that here.

  • Other Experience: Here, list unrelated roles out of the 10-15 years with no details such that your resume doesn’t have visible gaps.

Identify and synopsize

If your experience from before 15 years improves the story or narrative of your career progress you’ve crafted for your resume, you can do a workaround in these three steps.

  1. Identify: Decide the roles that would advance or reinforce the story you’re trying to narrate.
  2. Synopsize: If possible, try not to include anything other than the name and job title, but if there’s a remarkable achievement, one line is enough to describe the point that makes the role worth including.

A functional resume is one that is relevant.

Don’t show time gaps

Suppose you mention the year of your certification, graduation, or other projects and leave out a substantial amount of experience.

In that case, the hiring manager may think that you’ve time gaps in your resume. So you’ll need to either incorporate your work experience or eliminate other dates.

It is worthy of note that your education does not fall under the 10-15 years rule. And that your degree is always safe to include on your resume no matter the year of obtention. The range is strictly for work experience.

Removing the dates may help prevent age discrimination. But this might render your digital application invalid. So how do you go about it?

Although still searchable by some Application Tracking Systems (ATS), earlier experiences with no dates might not get correctly parsed into a digital applicant profile.

So when you want ATS to parse what you’ve included in this section correctly, you can include the date but change the text color to white. This makes them naked to the human eye at first sight and only uncovered when parsed into an ATS.

Deciding ‘how far back your resume should go’ with MentorCruise

You want your resume to pop out, especially in the 6 seconds that a recruiter glances at it. If at all, your resume even makes it via the dreaded ATS.

Given the high level of competition out there, you wouldn’t want to risk your chances of getting a call back. One way you can guarantee this is to talk to a career coach.

At MentorCruise, our mentors will help you understand how long your resume needs to be and how you can craft a compelling one for your next job applications. You can book a session in minutes.