When listing work experience in your resume, it can be difficult to know exactly how far back you should go.
You can list anywhere between 1-20 years of experience on your resume, but how much you personally decide to include will depend on how much experience you have, and how relevant it is to the jobs you are applying for.
This guide will help you determine how far back to take your resume in order to ensure it is appealing to recruiters and employers.
Do I have to include every job on my resume?
Think of your resume as a piece of advertising – you’re in total control as to what you want to display to a potential employer.
While you can choose to include every job you’ve ever had since you turned 16, you could equally only focus on the most important and relevant roles you’ve had (e.g. the ones that are relevant to your target jobs)
If you have a lot of work experience, it’s better to only highlight experience which will directly translate into the new job you’re applying for. Focus on these roles, and positions you held for extended periods of time.
You can skip over shorter periods in a role or a job that has little to do with what you’re applying for if you feel you have more important jobs to demonstrate.
The only exception to this rule is if you don’t have much experience. This is normally the case if you’re younger, have just finished university, or are looking to make a start in the job world. In that case, it’s good to show any experiences you’ve had in the past – no matter how small!
Focus on the latest 1-3 years
When constructing the job history section of your resume, you should start with your most recent role. You can then work backwards in reverse chronological order, moving backwards to older jobs.
By ordering your job history in this format, you’ll be placing emphasis on your recent work history. A potential employer will be more interested in what you’ve been doing over the past few recent years, rather than what you did as a part time job when you were 16.
How to structure recent jobs
You should also take your time to expand upon your responsibilities in your recent roles, and structure them in a way that is easy for recruiters to digest.
You should break recent jobs down into these four sections:
- Dates, duration, employer name, and job title – Head the role with your title, the company name, and the time period you were in the job.
- Outline – A small 1-2 sentence paragraph where you summarize where you are within a department; detail who you work for, and what the purpose of your role was.
- Key Responsibilities – A bullet pointed list of the main tasks you continually carried out within your role.
- Key Achievements – Quantifiable data which demonstrates the impact you had in the role, include facts/figures/numbers.
Summarise old jobs
Because recruiters will become less interested in jobs, the longer ago they occurred, You should reduce older jobs to a few select bullet points, or even just a brief outline. Most employers will have less interest in jobs that you left many years ago also, so there’s no need to write too much about them.
In older job descriptions, just include the dates (left or right aligned) duration, employer name, job title, and an outline of the role. Within this outline, you can choose to highlight an achievement if you have some standout information to give.
Leave off very old or irrelevant jobs
While many jobs have transferable skills, some of your work history will be more relatable than other parts. If you have experience in a field that has nothing to do with what you’re applying for, then it’s best to leave it off your resume.
This especially goes for older jobs. If you have an extended history in the field you’re applying to, then make sure to use the space on your resume to discuss that, rather than giving space to an unrelated job you’ve had.
If it doesn’t apply, don’t include it.
Should you explain gaps in your resume?
When unexplained, gaps in your resume can make it look like you weren’t doing anything during that period. Due to this, it’s better to explain any gaps larger than a month in your resume.
You can turn these gaps into positives by focusing on one of the following areas:
- Volunteering or personal projects – Detail a project you worked on and the skills you gained from it.
- Travel – Every travel trip needs a great deal of planning, organization, and interpersonal communication; emphasize your skills in these areas.
- Studying – Qualifications make your resume look richer; time spent working towards them is not time wasted.
If you have gaps from a long time ago, these will be less pressing to a potential employer. You should focus on explaining recent gaps in the last 1-3 years, while gaps further in the past can be ignored.
Don’t worry if you had to take time off due to personal reasons like a serious illness. Employers cannot discriminate against you for illness. Explain the gap in light detail and then move on to other areas where you have performed well.
How long should my resume be?
In most cases, your resume should be around 2 pages long. This will give you enough room to do justice to your past experiences, while not overwhelming your potential employers.
That said, your resume length can vary based on your experience. If you’re only just starting out in the working world, it’s completely acceptable to have a one-page resume. It’s better to have a concise resume rather than trying to over expand on smaller experiences.
Similarly, if you have 10-20+ years of experience in an industry, you can push onto a third page if needed. Try and cap yourself at 3 pages, as at that point you will start to overwhelm readers. It’s unlikely a hiring manager will continue reading if your resume is more than 3 pages.
The final word
An effective work history on your resume should be in reverse chronological order, listing the most relevant jobs and your achievements during them. Your level of experience will be the determining factor in how far back on your resume will need to go.
The most important thing is focusing heavily on the last 1-3 years, highlighting the many positions in which you brought value to a company.
With this structure, you’re more likely to appeal to hiring managers and secure an interview.