How Far Back Should a Resume Go With Experience?
Written by Sarah Edwards, Author • Last updated on June 26, 2024

How far back should a resume go?

Job hunters with more than a decade of experience often wonder how much of their work history they should share on a resume. While there is a general rule of thumb candidates can follow, it is important to consider industry standards and the relevance of early roles. Learn how to strike the right balance between experience and recency.

Consider industry standards

How far back should a resume go? It’s important that you consider the generally accepted norm in your industry. Employers in many industries, such as customer service and hospitality, just want to see that you have enough experience with similar roles to know how to get the job done. In these cases, it’s probably best to limit your work history to one page. 

However, some roles require a more complete work history. For example, when searching for advice on applying for a job with a federal government agency (such as the FBI), you’ll usually find resume examples of between two and five pages. This is because these jobs require applicants to list their entire work history, including part-time jobs, temporary and seasonal positions, internships, and even volunteer roles.

Academia is another industry in which resume templates (often referred to as a curriculum vitae or CV) are typically much longer. Your job history on these documents should present a full synopsis of your academic accomplishments and experience history. 

If you don’t work in either of these sectors, it's highly likely that the role you’re applying for won’t require an extensive document that covers your entire work history. If you’re unsure what is typical for your industry regarding resume length, consider asking colleagues in the same line of work how long their resumes are.

Relevance of past experience 

You’ll want to make sure that your resume paints a complete picture of you as an experienced professional. This is the reason many resume and cover letter articles advise applicants to include only relevant work experience on a resume. This will help the hiring manager more clearly understand how your previous roles have prepared you for the one you’re applying for now.

If you’re having trouble figuring out whether your experience is relevant, first consider whether the role or job title is similar to one you would typically find in your target industry. Then, assess whether your achievements in that role would impress the hiring manager or make you an asset in the role you’re applying for. 

Finally, think about whether the skills you gained in that role align with the required skills listed in the job description. If none of these things apply to the role you’re thinking about including on your resume, it may not be relevant enough to list.

Expert Tip:

If you’re applying for a job in a fast-moving industry like tech, where skill sets are constantly shifting and must evolve with the times, it's often best to keep your resume shorter and focus on recent and more relevant skills.

Balance between experience and freshness

For some people, the question is less about how far back should a resume go and more about how to balance presenting yourself as an experienced professional while highlighting fresh skills. To achieve this, it’s essential that job hunters learn how to prioritize work experience on a resume.

As most resume articles indicate, if your current or most recent role is relevant to the job you’re applying for, you should list it at the top. If you have been out of the industry for some time or are trying to pivot into a new field, it may be best to focus on a past position that required more relevant skills, even if it is further back in your work history. Prioritizing your work experience in this way may require you to try a different resume format. 

While reverse chronological format may work well for those who have been in the same industry for a long time, career changers and job seekers with varied career histories may want to consider using a functional resume format. This format allows you to present your relevant work history at the top and list other jobs further down on the page, thus signaling that they are less important.

“Your resume should paint a complete picture of you as an experienced professional. Consequently, it’s important to include only relevant work experience on your resume.”

10-15 year rule

When it comes to figuring out how far back should a resume go, the 10 to 15-year rule is a commonly cited standard that job seekers with long work histories use to craft their applications. This rule suggests that you should limit the work experience section of your resume to roles you have held in the last 10 to 15 years. If your work experience is not recent enough to discuss in a cover letter, you can likely leave it off of your resume.

The primary advantage to sticking with this rule is that it helps you create a succinct resume, which hiring managers with limited time on their hands often appreciate. This rule usually helps job seekers focus on their most relevant roles and skills and avoid worrying about trying to remember the details of every job held since a person was of legal working age.

Still, the rule isn’t relevant for every industry, as government and academia jobs typically want to see a more complete job history. Additionally, a person with highly relevant experience and achievements that occurred more than 15 years ago could miss out on the opportunity to position themselves as a thought leader or showcase a skill that could land them the job.

What if your experience is less or more than the 10-15 rule?

If your work history spans less than 10 years, you can feel free to list all of your jobs as long as they align with the skills required for the job you are applying for. If you have a work history longer than 15 years and still want to follow this rule, you may find it more challenging to answer the question of how far back should you go on a resume. 

In this case, you will have to take the time to figure out which experiences to prioritize and which to omit (or push further down on the page). The key to creating a compelling resume for job hunters in this category is ensuring that the jobs you focus on are relevant and choosing a functional resume template that focuses less on dates and more on skills.

If you have been working for more than 15 years and still want to use a reverse chronological resume, consider including a “previous experience” section that lists older positions without going into too much detail about them. 

You can also include that previous experience on LinkedIn and tweak your cover letter templates to point the hiring manager to your profile. This way, you can show off your lengthy career history but still keep your resume short.

Tailor according to experience

Ultimately, the question of how many years back should a resume go is best answered individually and not always according to a rule of thumb. For example, if you have a significant career gap that occurred five years ago, you may just want to focus on your job experience from the last five years so that you can omit that gap from your resume. 

If you want to highlight roles that occurred before a career gap, consider including a “previous professional experience” section that doesn’t list dates or use a functional resume. These options can also be helpful for career changers who need to focus on jobs from more than 15 years ago that showcase transferable skills.

A relevant and concise resume is what makes candidates stand out

When it comes to deciding how far back should a resume go for work history, it’s crucial to consider the 10 to 15 rule while keeping two key goals in mind: relevance and conciseness. If you can limit your work history without leaving out important or relevant roles, you should do so. However, if you must include jobs from more than a decade ago, find a way to do so that allows you to keep your resume to one page.

If you’re finding it challenging to decide on a resume length, remember that it may help to seek out resume and cover letter examples for jobs in your industry. Seeing examples of what has brought others success could help you achieve your goal of getting an offer for your dream job.

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Sarah Edwards
Sarah Edwards
A seasoned HR writer with more than a decade of experience, Sarah crafts insightful guides and timely articles that help people grow their skills.

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