How Far Back Should Your Resume Go?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

How far back is too far back when it comes to writing your resume?

[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 initial introduction to your career experiences and the first indication of whether you might be a good fit. Depending on how long you’ve been in the workforce, you might have to decide what to include in your resume—and how far back it should go.

Should you include that high school job scooping ice cream? Maybe, if you are seeking a customer service-oriented role for your first job out of university. It depends on the job role and how much relevant job 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. Would including an experience build your case as the ideal candidate?

If you are a student or recent graduate (0-2 years of experience)

When you are seeking your first internship or an entry-level position, you may include a job experience you had in high school, particularly if you can make it relevant. 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 job 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.

Any job-related internships should definitely be included.

If you are an early or mid-career professional (2-15 years of experience)

Now that you have a bit more experience, it is time to begin crafting the story of your career trajectory. 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 contribution to the job. At this point in your career, your resume should only reflect your earliest and most relevant work experiences after graduation.

Later on, when you have about 10 to 15 years of work experience, you can begin to shed earlier career experiences. Continuing education classes can be added to a section devoted to special interests or hobbies toward the bottom of your resume, as this shows an ambitious dedication to developing your technical or workplace skills.

How to handle gaps in resume

If you are stepping back into employment after a long gap, such as raising children, a long-term injury, taking care of family, or even getting a PhD, you can address this in a brief summary at the top of your resume. While it may feel uncomfortable to be so upfront, being honest about the gap can garner respect and mitigate the risk of the employer seeing it as a red flag.

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If you are a late-career professional (more than 15 years of experience)

By the time you have been working for 15 years, you will most likely have removed some of your earliest job experiences in favor of expanding on recent and noteworthy accomplishments. Again, include only the most recent 10 to 15 years. It is best to stick to one or two pages for your resume.

You may choose to add a section called “Early Work History” that includes awards or experiences that are especially relevant and impressive. If you feel uneasy about omitting older or irrelevant job experiences, perhaps it would be helpful to jot them down separately and be open to opportunities to mention them. 

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 intuitive 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.

Next steps

Enhance your resume know-how with a course in how to write a resume. If English is a second or third language, then maybe this specialization in interviewing and resume writing in English may be right for you. If you’re ready to add Coursera credentials to your resume, read more about how to make them shine.

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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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