How Far Back Should Your Resume Go?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Generally, experts recommend keeping about 10-15 years of work experience on your resume, but that guidance changes depending on your professional history.

[Featured image] Woman in a yellow shirt and black jacket sits at a table working on her resume. She's looking to her right like she's thinking about something.

Your resume is one of the first things a potential employer sees about you. It is an introduction to your professional experience and the first indication of whether you might be a good fit for a role. As you prepare your resume, you'll have to make several decisions about the best way to present your career history, including the type of resume you'll use, sections to include, and, depending on how long you've been in the workforce, how far back your resume should go.

Should you include that high school job scooping ice cream? Maybe, if you are seeking a customer service role for your first job out of college. It depends on the job role and how much relevant experience you have. 

As you move through your career, the rule of thumb is to include only the most recent 10 to 15 years of job experience. This article will guide you through exactly how far back your resume should reach.

How far back should your resume go based on years of experience? 

What to include in your resume depends on how many years of job experience you have and the type of role you are applying for. It’s important to gauge your experiences based on relevancy to the job. Ultimately, you want every role listed on your resume to help build your case as the ideal candidate.

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Students or recent graduates (0-2 years of experience)

When you are seeking your first internship or an entry-level position, you may include part-time jobs you had in high school, particularly if it is relevant to the position. Perhaps, while scooping ice cream, you also helped the shop owner with their social media platforms or increased sales by suggesting a new flavor. These are great examples of transferable skills if you’re applying for a marketing role. 

If you are in college and have participated in any meaningful extracurricular activities, these are also fair game for adding to your resume. Consider listing any leadership roles you had within clubs, activities or clubs you initiated, and volunteer experiences that show off your dynamism. You should also include any job-related internships.

Learn more: How to Get Your First Job: A Guide

Early or mid-career professionals (2-15 years of experience)

Now that you have a bit more experience, you have more flexibility in crafting the story of your career journey. Each time you revise your resume for a new job, make sure it is relevant to the specific job or industry you’re applying for. It is less important how far back the resume goes since the focus should be on the quality of your contributions to the company. At this point in your career, your resume should only reflect your most recent and relevant work experiences after graduation.

When you have about 10 to 15 years of work experience, you can begin to shed earlier experience. Instead, use the space on your resume to highlight continuing education classes, professional organizations, or a special interests or hobbies section, as this shows an ambitious dedication to developing your technical or workplace skills.

How to handle employment gaps

There are several ways to address gaps in your resume if you are stepping back into employment after a period of time focusing on other areas of life, such as raising children, a long-term injury, taking care of family, or even getting a PhD. You can address this time away in an objective statement at the top of your resume, add a line in your chronological history accounting for the gap, or detail your skills and accomplishments from this period with a creative addition to your work history.

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Late-career professionals (more than 15 years of experience)

By the time you have been working for 15 years, you most likely will have removed some of your earlier work history in favor of expanding on recent and noteworthy accomplishments. With this much work experience, it's acceptable to have a two-page resume. However, the general guidance is still to include only the most recent 10 to 15 years. This will help hiring managers scan your resume quickly, keep your resume focused on your biggest achievements, and may help avoid age discrimination during the job search process.

You may choose to add a section called “Early Work History” that includes early career highlights, such as awards or experiences that remain relevant and impressive.

Learn more: How Many Pages Should a Resume Be? Guide + Tips

What should you include in your resume?

There are several different types of resumes (chronological, functional, and combination) to consider. How far back your resume extends depends on where you are in your career and what type of job you are applying for. Consider the industry, the role, and the seniority of the position. Read over the job description to understand precisely what skills they are looking for, whether your experience matches, and how to reflect that experience in a way that illustrates your credibility.

All in all, it is up to you to include what feels valuable when applying for a job, school, or any new experience. Some resumes, like those in academia, are more descriptive and may span more than two pages. For most jobs, it is best to stay as concise as possible. Most importantly, your resume should reflect the experiences that present you as the best possible candidate.

Learn more: How to Make a Resume: Resume Writing Guide

Next steps

Enhance your resume know-how with a project-centered course in How to Write a Resume from the State University of New York, or demonstrate high-value skills on your resume with a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. Join Coursera for free and start learning today.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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