how far back should your resume go?

A reader writes:

I’ve been going through the resume topic on your site recently, and while you’ve discussed resume length, I didn’t see anything on how much time a resume should encompass.

Generally, how far back should a resume go? As far back as will fit, or is there an amount of time hiring managers prefer to see?

For me, I’m looking to change careers. Some of my older jobs were at organizations dedicated to issues that tend to inspire strong feelings one way or another. If I leave those older jobs off my resume and focus on my more recent jobs, is that okay or will it look weird?

In general, your resume only needs to go back about 10-15 years. It’s rare that anything older than that will strengthen your credentials as much as the more recent stuff.

And in fact, most resumes will be stronger if you cut them off around that point because for most people, going back further than that means you’re adding a lot more text, which waters down the impact of the more important/more recent jobs. Most hiring managers will just quickly scan your resume — spending maybe a minute on it the first time they see it and often less. If you give them 1100 words, they’re going to read much less of the whole than if you give them 600 words. (600 words doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a two-page resume with reasonable margins and a reasonable font size.)

However, there are exceptions to this. If you’ve been at your current job for that entire 10-15 years, then you’d need to go further back so that you don’t just have one lone job listed. Or if you did something incredibly impressive before that, it might make sense to list it.

But for most people, 10-15 years is the right cut-off. Whether it should be closer to 10 or closer to 15 depends on how many jobs, and which jobs, that’ll leave you with.

So, in your case, should you leave those older jobs off? It depends on how long ago they were. If they’re older than 10 years, sure, go for it. (And of course, keep in mind that you never have to include any particular job on your resume if you think your resume would be stronger without it. It’s just a judgment call about whether you’d rather potentially be asked about the gap or not.)

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. MommyMD*

    I’m not thinking of leaving my position but if I did would it be proper to list only one employer? My hospital group of the last 20 years? I have impressive skills to list on my CV but is one employer enough? My previous emergency physicians group is now defunct. The hospital remains but the group broke up. I’ve only had the two.

    1. Czhorat*

      When I’ve had longish tenures I’ve listed separate jobs at those as distinct line items. That makes you appear less static.

        1. Cameron*

          What should you do if your responsibilities have changed/evolved over the course of 6 years, but your official title has not actually changed?

          1. WellRed*

            This is my problem. On paper, one promotion, but there was a second big step up a few years back, more responsibility and $, same title.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s not a big deal to have one title for six years; it would be less ideal if it were 20 years. (Still nothing you could do about it, though.)

            1. Going anonymous for this one 2019*

              Sometimes the job itself changes over 20 years. The only difference in title is going from junior to senior in that time period: “Junior Llama Wrangler”, “Llama Wrangler”, “Senior Llama Wrangler”.
              There are at least five different aspects of wrangling that took my focus in different periods of time…I’m stumped figuring out how to flag that out.

              1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

                I would do something like:

                Teapots, Inc, 2010-present
                Junior Llama Wrangler, (2010 – 2012)
                -Assisted in wrangling llamas
                Llama Wrangler (2012-2014)
                -Wrangled llamas
                – Wrangled Alpacas
                Senior Llama Wrangler (2014-present)
                -Wrangled Llamas, Alpacas, and Junior Llama Wranglers

                1. Eleanor Shellstrop*

                  I have something similar on my resume, but it is in reverse chronological order so the most senior stuff is on the top in case they stop reading after a few lines.

            2. just a random teacher*

              This is also field-dependent, I think. For an extreme example, a public k-12 teacher in my state will be hired into their first teaching job job with the job title of “Teacher” and will probably have that identical job title when they retire 30-40 years later. I’ve never seen a school district use any kind of junior/senior language for their teacher positions, either. (This may be different in non-union states, but teacher pay in my state is negotiated into the union contract, and it’s a chart with years of experience down the side and number of graduate credits across the top. Your placement on the grid determines your salary, but you aren’t considered to have the job title of “D4 Teacher” or whatever just because that’s the cell on the salary table.)

              1. ItsAllFunAndGames*

                Or, for many anything in the public sector will be like that.

                You get hired as a Llama Analyst II and can be that for 20 years, specially if the agency that you analyze Llamas for has not a lot of depth or upward mobility.

              2. Clisby*

                That’s how the teaching salary schedule works in my school district, although it has nothing to do with a union (this is SC). It’s number of years’ experience + degree, like bachelors, masters, masters+15, doctorate.

          3. Grapey*

            I’d say chunk achievements over time periods if they are discrete enough. Something like:

            Associate Teapot Wrangler at Llama Designs LLC (2013-current)
            2017-current: Increased assembly line throughput by 50% during extensive NewTech implementation project.
            2013-2016: Started initiative to help new employee onboarding, implemented new QA policies with Wrangler Lead etc.

        2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          What do you do if you were promoted, but then the companies “realigns” titles and you end up with one that sounds as if you moved into a lower-level sounding job?

          1. TardyTardis*

            State higher grade responsibilities for the lower-level sounding job, and make it clear that it really was a step up.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep, I had 9 years at my last company, but four different jobs in that time (I was a contractor for part of it and they kept moving me to different teams). I break them all out as separate positions and now that I’ve been at a new company for two years, I’m starting to reduce them to much more brief line listings.

    2. Jane Austin Texas*

      Hi! I work in academic med* and I see MDs who have had long tenures (like the one you describe above) at the same place. Typically, we need to see everything dating back to medical school and residency, so I would tell you to keep everything on your resume, even if it goes over a few pages,** because we need to verify the information. Good luck to you!

      *Caveat: I generally work with CVs, not resumes
      **Assuming you’re staying in medicine and not looking for a career switch.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        If the career switch is from academia to industry, candidates quickly learn the hiring processes in industry and academia are completely different. Industry wants the candidate to “tell me what I need to know”. Academia wants the candidate to “tell me everything”. Many scientists I know deal with this by having both a resume and a CV. I’ve helped many of them distill a 30-page CV into a 2-page resume, since it’s very hard for a career academic to cut out so much after years of being asked to provide every detail of their professional life.

        1. Jane Austin Texas*

          ^ 100% this. If MommyMD is looking to leap in to industry, disregard me entirely!

    3. RandomU...*

      I’ve been with my company for what seems like eons, but I think I’m on track for having my 5-7 different careers. So I’ve taken to updating my resume as listing all them out like I would separate jobs at different companies. I figure the point is to show career progression and show off what I achieved in each position, the only real difference is it’s been with one company (technically it’s been about 5 companies because we’ve changed hands so much).

      Acme Co
      Product Manager, Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator 2015-Present

      Explosives Expert 2009-2015

      Bird Sitter 2006-2009

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

        Can I just say, I love the reference there! I’m hearing it in Martian’s voice too…
        “Oh noooo that creature has stolen the Illudium Q36 Explosive Space Mod-u-la-torrrr!” (Acme also manufactures earthquake pills, as experienced by Wylie Cayote and verified by Road Runner.)

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I interviewed a person who was with the same employer their entire career. They broke their resume down by position throughout their time there. They started as an intern, were hired into marketing, then they went to sales and then to another department. It was really easy to see their growth and skillset that way, despite it all being listed as Same Company.

      For medical based jobs, I’ve always seen them request an entire employment history, like it’s mentioned about academia above. So you want to include even defunct groups because they can still trace it back and want to confirm where you’ve been each and every step since you exited the womb, mostly for background check purposes.

      I have a couple former employers that I still list, despite the fact they don’t exist anymore. I can still pull tax records if they want actual proof they existed but mostly, it just shows consistency when people are digging into your history for gaps they want to understand.

  2. LaVida Loca*

    I have heard that jobs 10+ years old should be kept on the resume with titles only – no accomplishments. I’m interested to hear what other commenters think about this, as I’m nearing the 10+ years of work history mark and updating my resume!

    (AG – It is so funny that you posted this – I was searching this site today for information on this exact topic!)

    1. MommyMD*

      I’ve only had two. Does that look good or bad? I’m 20 years at current position.

      1. Book Lover*

        We wouldn’t care. We would ask why you were interested in the position we were hiring for, but that is about it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s fine to do it that way too, but sometimes it’s not necessary and you can cut it entirely. Depends on what will most strengthen your resume.

    3. designbot*

      I like this, because it solves a problem I’ve had. I’m in an industry that strongly prizes experience, but left off a couple of early jobs because I felt they weren’t bringing much to the table. But now my employer thinks I only have 14 years of experience instead of 17 years of experience, and this occasionally matters to them in a way I did not expect—I hear things like “well he does have more experience than you, so…” when discussing leveling issues. Using just title and dates would let me represent my full experience without it taking up much of the valuable space.

      1. LaVida Loca*

        Me too. I often see postings in my industry that require X years of experience so I want to be able to represent all of them! Also, I’m very sensitive about potentially creating gaps in my work experience where there are none…

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It helps to keep everything in there because it shows your consistency in having job history. So it’s not like you just landed here 10 years ago with all those accomplishments.

      This is what I do with my oldest jobs so that it shows where I got my original “training” and skillset from. Since it’s weird to say “Yeah I have no degree but sure, I’ve been doing business/accounting for at least 10 years.” there’s too many “how did you get there tho?” questions in my specific case at least. If I keep my oldest jobs on there, they see that it’s more deep than just dropping down from the moon.

  3. Angwyshaunce*

    “If you’ve been at your current job for that entire 10-15 years, then you’d need to go further back so that you don’t just have one lone job listed.”

    Question about this: If 15 years at that one job was the entirety of professional experience (assuming large advancements in that job), would that raise any flags?

      1. librarienne*

        What if you have a long tenure at a job like, as someone mentioned above, a teacher, or in my field, a librarian–where your job title remains the same? I know people who have taught at one school, in one position, since they graduated– over a decade ago. If they want to change careers, how would they go about doing their resume?

        1. Clorinda*

          Anyone hiring an ex teacher would be aware that this is how a teacher’s resume looks. Also, there’s stuff on your resume. If you’ve taught for 20 years, you’ve probably picked up another degree along the way with all the required professional development classes you took; you’ve served on committees, some of which sound more thrilling than they really are (curriculum development, or really anything with the word development in it); you’ve taken the lead on special projects or activities.

    1. 8DaysAWeek*

      It would raise flags if you had very few accomplishments in that time period.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Even if it does, what can you do about it? You’ve already done it now. Interviewers will definitely ask why you’re leaving, why now, and why for this particular position. They will dig into your history at the other place and try to understand what’s really going on now for you there. We’ve hired people after long tenures that stay a couple years then go back to their “home” company. That’s a concern, for sure.

  4. AnotherAlison*

    I see a lot of resumes in my field that go back to college graduation. These are people with 30 years experience and are managers/directors/VPs, so I should not really care about the 10 years they spent out of college at Utility XYZ, but sometimes there are nuggets in their early experience that make them a better fit than just their recent experience. I think it could work either way, as long as it’s relevant.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I had two versions of my resume – one with experience going back 15 years with grad school + company I’d been at for 12 years in several different roles, and one with almost all my jobs since college. Because those early jobs were at big name places and showed unique experience (broader than my more recent experience), I was advised to keep them on. Since I could still keep it to 2 pages, I just made it a judgment call for each application which resume I thought would have the better chance of catching someone’s eye due to how I was framing my fit for the role.

    2. Kiki*

      Yeah, I definitely think relevance is the key factor. If your older jobs are very similar to jobs you’ve had in the last decade or completely irrelevant to the jobs you’re applying for, it probably doesn’t do much to include many details (or include them at all). If your first job in high school was in the Taco Bell kitchen and you are now applying to a corporate job at Taco Bell, it would make sense to include that particular role in the resume for that particular job.

      1. Boba Feta*

        This is a helpful way to frame it, thanks! (I posted something below that is more similar to what you’re addressing here).

        To expand past your Taco Bell example, what if the current application is not directly for the same industry as the old experience, but the old experience is meant to demonstrate versatility / ability to adapt to the work environment? I wonder if it would just look random rather than potentially relevant, like the “fit nuggets” that AnotherAlison mentions above?

        1. The New Wanderer*

          I had my old experience on there to demonstrate versatility for some jobs and used my cover letter to tie it in with what I had to offer the job I was applying for. Doesn’t always work if nobody reads (or even sees) the cover letter but that was my best attempt to show relevance.

        2. Kiki*

          You always risk someone not getting why you listed it, but hopefully you can explain its relevance in a cover letter or interview. My partner listed his bartending experience on his resume when he applied to his current job. It was a technical role that requires software engineering experience (which he has), but it also entails dealing with a greater variety of people than most software engineering roles. He thought his history of working in fast-paced, customer-facing roles would help him stand out from a pack of people who often do not have that type of experience. He got the job, so it may have worked (it’s not known if his bartending experience was a deciding factor).

  5. clarissa doesn’t know all*

    Great timing on this question. A woman I work with at the hospital has worked here 20 years and is looking to do the same job at another hospital (very toxic department here and they are losing their most valuable employee for sure).

    She is absolutely bewildered at everything from resume formatting, automated rejections and cover letters after being out of the game so long. Would it be smart for her to just have this job on her resume or should she go further back? I know you answered this but she has been promoted within our hospital (Teapot Maker to Teapot Maker Lead with specialized trainings along the way – i.e. she is the only Teapot Maker trained in Pouring Techniques), so what I guess I am really asking is if she should list those as separate positions and not bother with the stuff before her 20 years here. I’d appreciate any insight from anyone, esp people who have looked for a new job after being with one organization so long. I am more in the middle of my career and in a separate field (Teapot Research) with different expectations (a CV rather than a resume) so I am little help outside a cover letter (and even then…)

    1. Venus*

      I agree that it looks like she has had at least two jobs (teapot maker, and lead teapot maker). Even if many of the roles overlap, I would try to focus on more of the ‘lead’ specific parts in that job description.

      If the jobs from 20+ years ago aren’t relevant, then I wouldn’t list them. I usually put 3-4 points for each job, so in this case I would suggest putting 5-7 points for each of those two jobs, although I don’t have much experience with hiring so I’m offering a suggestion more than solid advice. Having a section which describes technical skills would be useful, in order to highlight that training.

      Good luck to her! It’s good to get away from a toxic job

    2. Kiwiii*

      Regarding automatic rejections — a lot of applications/resumes get pulled through a filter that looks specifically for things listed in the “Necessary Skills/Qualifications” section of the listing/PD and less so the actual duties of the position. Even if she’s saying she has the experience (or if a human person could make the connection that it’s relevant), if she doesn’t say it blatantly enough or in a similar enough way, the filter might not necessarily pick up that it’s there.

      I remember in my first support role in my current industry, I went to an analyst for help because I hadn’t ever had a position where they put much emphasis on the resume (everything had been applications — I was very young) and he literally took the exact phrasing from the listing and put it in my resume if I could truthfully spin that I had that experience. I don’t do exactly this anymore because I got interviews for lots of positions I wasn’t reasonably qualified for, but I would rather have that than the other way.

  6. Llamalawyer*

    I just saw a lawyer’s resume today listing a foundation position that the guy held from 1976-1979.

    1. 8DaysAWeek*

      That is fantastic!!
      I have a copy of my dad’s resume from the late 60’s and they listed their Social Security numbers and their health status back then!!!

      1. Sara*

        I’ve mentioned this before on here but I work at a business school and we have copies of our MBAs’ resumes dating back to the mid-70s. The things that use to be standard to put on resumes is wild.

      2. alacrity*

        I worked in a university archive, and one of my accessioning projects involved processing what seemed like a billion CVs from the 1960s. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, except that they all had their social security numbers listed on the front page, so I spent a lot of time unstapling, copying that page, using a marker to black out the SSN, photocopying the blacked out page (because the number would show through the marker), and reassembling. It was awful.

      3. irene adler*

        Yep- my Dad’s has that stuff too. In fact, he gave a physical description (height, weight, eye and hair color) and listed visual scars on his body (from childhood surgery). AND, listed both parents names, birth dates and stated “no longer living” for both.

      4. Doc in a Box*

        I collaborate with a lot of people in Europe, and it’s absolutely standard to put marital status on a CV there. I saw one that also listed kids’ names and birthdates.

        Back when SSN was used solely for employment/pension purposes, listing it on a resume or CV made perfect sense. It’s the morph into a personal identification number that’s the problem.

      5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This bums me out that my parents never needed resumes so I don’t have it to look back on and chuckle at the OTT overshares. I just have my dad’s stories about how he just got hired places, without doing anything but walking in the door and saying “You need help? I’m here to work!” kind of gumption stories, so at least there’s that, lol.

      6. Cat Meowmy Admin*

        Amazing isn’t it?! When I started working (3 days after graduating high school), always in Admin roles (because that was the “thing”), my peers and I didn’t use resumes – applications were completed when you showed up unannounced at a potential employer’s establishment with all your glorious gumption! I did used to keep a list of my work experience, to expedite filling out applications, and eventually that became the foundation for my resume many years later. I’ll never forget those days lol! (And advising younger family members to “Run, Forest, Runnnn!” if anyone talks about the need to display ‘gumption’!

        1. Not Yet Looking*

          Oh, I remember having that piece of paper in my wallet with my job listings too, it was still a thing in the 80s.

  7. Ista*

    I’ve actually been wondering about listing an older job in order to show you have experience in a certain industry. I go back and forth, as the con would be making it very easy to identify that I’m an older candidate. But listing those first couple of jobs can backup my claim of understanding a niche field that I haven’t been in for a good while.

    1. BlackBelt Jones*

      What about combining some of the skills from the old position with the skills from a newer one (assuming that you’re still using those skills). Then, just omit the older job entirely.

    2. Zephy*

      That would also highlight that you’ve been out of that niche industry for X years. I guess if you’ve been keeping up with developments in the field and can demonstrate that somehow (cover letter maybe?), it’d be worth including, but you’re also right about the age thing.

  8. Letter Writer on the Rockport Limited*

    Thank you so much for the response Alison! This is the first time I’ve ever really had to think about leaving things off or maybe doing a two page resume (shorter seasonal stays are common in my field so I have slightly more jobs than is probably average for the length of time in question) and for some reason it was really stymieing me! I know there’s no one universal ideal but figured there had to be some norms. This is super helpful. :)

    1. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      Just make sure to leave off any mysterious train disappearances!
      (Joke based on LW’s name from The Adventure Zone podcast, if anyone’s confused.)

    2. merp*

      I’ve got a bad feeling you should, uh, get off the rockport limited. Maybe soon. There might be another dimension that could help you out?

      1. Letter Writer on the Rockport Limited*

        But my grandpa is going to take me to a magic trick!

  9. Chocoholic*

    I have listed my current and past 2 or 3 positions with duties, but toward the bottom I had just listed the company, position and dates without any responsibilities. Just to show that I had a work history. Is that unnecessary?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I think the advice is it’s not *required* to list the full work history if it’s more than 15 years long. Once I stopped listing my college dates, I dropped my early years in retail mgmt from most applications, though I keep them on my ‘master resume’ in case I want to apply for a position in management.

      My field is rife with ageism, unfortunately.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        The key for me was that I didn’t have to worry about employment gaps once I dropped the college dates – I could just also drop the first post-college that have nothing to do with my desired career path. I usually start back with the late 90s tech start-up, just because I’ve been in my current position a few years too long.

  10. Elle Kay*

    This advice seems a little… dated? In the past 10 years I’ve worked in 4 companies +2 years of grad school. In a lot of places contracts don’t last 10-15 years so I run up against length issues for my resume b/c I’ve been at most places from 6 months to 2 years.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you might be reading it wrong. I’m not suggesting jobs normally last 10-15 years. I’m saying that’s the amount of employment history that generally makes sense to include on your resume.

      1. InsufficentlySubordinate*

        I have 25 years on mine, but it’s all related (industries differ but the job progressed – technical track kinda). There’s only 6 companies on there, though so it doesn’t take up as much space. The recruiters tell me having that steady progression is helpful. But I’ll probably drop the first one on that if/after the current (#7 ).

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, it’s 10-15 years of employment history, not 10-15 years in one job. I graduated 16 years ago and everything since uni is still on my CV (I’m in the UK and I know that CVs here are slightly different from US resumes) but I keep it all on there because it’s all industry-relevant and it shows my career progression.

      I recently compressed the clusterfudge that was 2008 (I moved to a new job, was made redundant 6 months later, freelanced a bit, spent 3 months in another relevant role and went back to the company that had made me redundant…) because I figured it was more than 10 years ago and it was annoying still having to answer questions about it in interviews. So I now just leave out the redundancy/short-term stint elsewhere and fold the whole thing into my (basically) 6 years at the one company.

      For my entry-level job I just have a line or two explaining that during my time at the company I was promoted from receptionist to assistant editor, then for my other jobs I have bullet points listing the things I was responsible for and the achievements I made in the role. It’s only four companies in total so it’s easy enough to fit it all into two pages.

  11. Boba Feta*

    This question is directly relevant to my current dilemma: I’ve spent the last 15 years in academia (grad school followed by various teaching stints), with my last pure “office” job held way back in 2004 in an entirely different field (temp work while waiting for the academic year to kick in). In trying to escape the adjunct life, it feels impossible to overcome the “over-educated” hurdle in lateral or even down-level moves when literally everything I’ve done for over a decade is so niche and betrays a very particular career track that I’m getting increasingly desperate to move away from.

    What sucks is I had some really killer accomplishments at that temp job that I also think demonstrates my versatility and ability to adapt to almost any work environment, but I do wonder how weird it looks that my “relevant” experience is so (relatively) ancient.

    1. Venus*

      I wonder if it might be useful to include that experience in a cover letter, rather than on the resume? It might seem weird to refer to something in a cover letter which isn’t on the resume / CV, so I don’t know if this is a good suggestion, but I would think that listing Temp Job on resume would be a bit weird, whereas “I was able to prove my versatility and adaptability which relates to your expectation of X competency, when I worked for some years ago” (obviously this needs to be fixed up, but I think if you could prove a specific skill then it would be worth mentioning?

      1. Boba Feta*

        Yes, that’s been my strategy. Depending on the job to which I’m applying, old but related jobs go in a top level “relevant experience” resume section, lower “other experience” section gets the more recent but academic stuff, and letter strives to explain the mix and usefulness for that role. But zero interviews are making me wonder how all that’s getting received on the other end.

    2. Combinatorialist*

      Have you checked out The Professor Is In? They have several experts and blog posts specifically dedicated to helping people escape academia. I love AAM and it has truly excellent general advice, but the Out-Ac experts over there might have more specific advice.

      1. Boba Feta*

        Not recently but thanks for the reminder. I need to make that site a more core part of my escape plan!

    3. Kiki*

      I think listing that experience and emphasizing it would make sense in this case! I’m sure there are transferrable skills from being an adjunct too(versatility, working with bureaucracy, dealing with a diverse array of people). I would emphasize those on your resume and cover letter. And maybe de-emphasize the stuff that’s important in academia, but less so outside of it, if you need space or don’t want to push that temp experience too far to the bottom of your resume. For example, you probably don’t need to list every paper you’ve published or every course you’ve taught.

      1. Boba Feta*

        Kiki, exactly. My resume is a highly curated (but still two pages) collection of (what I think are) the most relevant bits from my CV. No publications or talks unless that’s listed as a preferred quality, etc. But I am left to wonder whether I am accurately deciding what is actually useful or relevant info for those doing the hiring or making the interview decisions.

  12. Claire*

    The last time I got laid off, I had 30+ years experience in the field. The employment bureau suggested I include only the past 7-10 years, with a three page limit, and a single line that said “Further work history available upon request.” This limited the length of the resume to the most recent and relevant jobs, and it avoided any unconscious age bias.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      7 years is too little with a 30-year history. 10 at a minimum. And two pages, never more! The unemployment agencies, unfortunately, tend to give pretty bad advice.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Available upon request” should never appear anywhere on your resume. Ever. *screams inside*

      We already know we can request additional information, be that work history or references. More bad advice from an unemployment department advisor, not shocked at all.

      1. Blue Horizon*

        That doesn’t mean they are right. Maybe you just get lots of interviews because you’re awesome.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right. Lots of people have terrible resumes and still get jobs. The issue, though, is that you could be getting more interviews for more of the jobs you want, giving yourself more options.

  13. Dana Lynne*

    What if you graduated from college more than 15 years ago? In nonacademic jobs, do people still want to see your education? I can see leaving off high school information, but what about college even if it was a long time ago?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Leave the degree, drop the graduation date.
      Llama Drama University, BA in Animal Care
      Alpaca Packing Institute, Masters in Alpaca Transportation

    2. Librarianne*

      The advice I’ve read says to include your college information, but leave off the graduation year.

      1. Dankar*

        This is sort of off-topic, but what about someone applying for a job where only a high school diploma is required? Would they also leave off the high school info? Would the prospective employer just assume that they had completed?

        1. Kiki*

          If the job posting explicitly says that a high school diploma is required and you didn’t attend college or some sort of post-secondary program that requires a high school diploma, only then would listing high school info be necessary.
          If you did attend college and/or some post-secondary program, I would include those without including high school info because your high school diploma (or equivalent) can be inferred from the fact you were accepted to whatever college or program.
          If the job posting doesn’t explicitly mention requiring a high school diploma, you can probably leave high school experience off as well.

        2. Asenath*

          I would think they would have to include the HS information and provide proof – although technically here there’s a central place where you can get such records even if the school has disappeared. I used to work with people going for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs – a new employer opened up, and insisting on hiring only high school graduates. They wanted proof, too – and years of experience and references from similar jobs didn’t count if they didn’t have proof of high school graduation or equivalent. I thought it was a case of Unnecessary Paper Qualifications gone mad, myself, but you wouldn’t get a job with that company to do unskilled labour without that high school listed and documentation showing graduation.

      2. just a random teacher*

        I would add a caveat that you should include high school if the specific school or location you went to for high school is somehow job-relevant for that particular application. In my case, I graduated from a locally well-known alternative school. When applying for jobs both within that school district or for alternative education positions elsewhere in the state, I definitely included that I was a graduate of that particular school because it gave context to whether or not I “knew what I was getting into” working in that field.

        Similarly, when I was considering moving to Alaska to teach there and did some initial interviews with school districts up there, I made sure to mention that I’d been born in Alaska and lived there as a kid as one of the reasons I was interested in the position. If I’d graduated from a high school in Alaska (my family moved to a different state before then) I would have played that up on a resume for any job in Alaska because “already has any idea at all what it’s like to live in Alaska” is generally seen as a major plus by anyone interviewing for a position there. This is probably less true for, say, California.

        This is kind of like the advice earlier in the thread that generally you wouldn’t list “spent two years during high school working an after-school job at Taco Bell” on your professional resume in your 40s, but you would if you were applying to work at the Taco Bell corporate office.

      3. Jedi Librarian*

        What about if you’re still in college? I put the year I started and the expected graduation date, along with the degree I’m working to earn. I don’t want to leave it off cause I don’t want employers to think I only have a AA. But I don’t want to give the impression that I already earned my BA and thus have all that comes with that. (Or am seen as overqualified for the customer service jobs I’m doing while doing classes.)

  14. JD*

    This confuses me. I have been with my current employer for 15 years (I’m old), but I had 27 years before that moving up, rising up, increasing authority, etc. My current position has made me happy because I’m nobody’s boss and I get to work on the kind of projects I enjoy. So, it would look bad for me to have contentedly stayed here?
    I’ve been very active in the community, serving on boards and such. If I get shown the door tomorrow, I think I’d really struggle with how to structure my resume if I follow the 15-year rule.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      The answer literally says that if you’ve been at your current job for 15 years, you should go back further on your resume.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Ditto. I’ve been in my current official title for 12 years, though the responsibilities have shuffled a lot. The last 4 years have had major projects each year with new skills coming out of each, but I have not ‘advanced’ in title or even in scope for a while.

      I’m using about 20 years, and focusing hard on the projects and new skills. I have the most recent job broken into 2 – 3 ‘groups’ based on the responsibilities more than the title, eg:
      Service Level Reporting
      Financial Analyst

    3. Angelinha*

      I think Alison’s point is that it’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s a guideline, that you can alter as you see fit depending on your own situation. If jobs prior to the 15 year mark show something you want to include on your resume (in your case, having been promoted), go ahead and include them.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      This confuses me. I have been with my current employer for 15 years (I’m old)

      Now that the tears of laughter have stopped running down my face: I’ve been at the same desk for 28 years. Same job title and job description almost the entire time; I’ve recently unofficially added Lead to my title – I get the 5% pay bump, but there’s no real Lead title. Now I’m in charge of the technical parts of two other people’s jobs, same title as me. Former job, same title and responsibilities; job before that, ditto. and now we’re back 37 years.

      But I’m in local government, we’re different; not as different as academia, but still different.

    5. Mr. Shark*

      I would be in the same boat. I have had promotions, but basically just moving up in pay rather than a significant change in responsibility. I could list different roles, but it would be more like Junior Analyst, Analyst, and Senior Analyst, or something similar to that.

      If I had to leave and find something different, I would list one big job for the last 18 years, and before that I was in a different industry.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that you can pull it apart and say that the goal is to keep condense yourself onto two pages.

      So go back as far as you can to fill two pages and show your accomplishments that way.

      People who’ve moved around a fair share, they get to drop jobs more so than people who have not moved as much =) It’s never one size fits all.

  15. Properlike*

    What about resumes when you’ve worked in two completely different fields, under different names (i.e. – creative, education.) A lot of the skills overlap, but in that case, is it better to concentrate on skills rather than places worked?

      1. ThatGirl*

        Fun anecdata: I briefly experimented with a skills-based resume and did get at least one interview with it, but the interviewer was extremely confused by when I had worked where – which kinda drove home that it was not ideal.

  16. Amber Rose*

    I’m guessing this is mostly just advice for people who’ve been working a while? If I go back 10-15 years, I’m listing those summer jobs I had in fast food. My professional work experience is 7 years tops.

    1. Angelinha*

      Right, no one expects you to include 15 years of work history if you have not been working for 15 years.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Well, I was working. I’ve been working since I was 12. I just wasn’t working in anything more difficult than scanning stuff at a grocery store or boxing pizzas until I was 21 or so.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          Summer jobs matter, sometimes. Here at Llama Library, when we are looking for someone our jobs frequently includes odd hours and/or wrangling student workers. If your summer job included say lifeguard experience, camp counselor, crew leader at a fast food joint, or moving boxes from here to there… we are much more interested in you than we would be if your only listed experience was doing data entry etc., even though the ability to use excel with speed and precision is also important to us.

    2. irene adler*

      You are correct. But don’t fret; you’ll accumulate those additional years soon enough.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Reminder that your resume isn’t about every job you’ve held.

      It’s about every job you’ve held that’s relevant to the job you are now seeking.

      Unless you’re going back into food service or it’s your most recent job, leave it off.

      So if you worked at McDonald’s first, for 2-3 years. Then you took a file clerk job for 2 years. Then you were an admin for another 2-3 years. Now you’re looking for more office jobs, you just list the file clerk and admin jobs, there’s no need to let anyone know you worked fast food prior, it’s irrelevant.

    4. Kiwiii*

      I work as an admin right now and get to see lots of resumes as I help with the interview scheduling process for my team (the whole team has turned over in the last 9 months, all due to retirement and/or reshuffling of positions), and am always confused with the aged 30-something applicants who have 2 or 3 relevant positions but still choose to keep on their retail or food-service jobs from high school/college. It makes them seem less-suited.

      My own resume could also go back ~13 years as I started working regularly on my grandparents’ farm and for a local church as middle schooler, but the only outside of industry positions on my resume right now are my college work-study position (because it’s the longest-held position on my resume and I was eventually promoted to a supervisor role) and my most recent retail stint (because it was only about a year and a half ago and I was also in a supervisory role). My resume only goes back about 6.5 years, but it looks a lot cleaner and more focused.

  17. Law firm lawyer*

    How does this work for lawyers? I’ve been at the same firm my entire career. Jobs don’t really change, just responsibilities naturally increase over time. It’s one job. I can’t pretend it’s more than one.

  18. Czhorat*

    So I’m doing it wrong by starting with:

    1972-1973 – Infant. Responsibilities include napping, drooling. Accomplishments include smiling and rolling over. Responsible for major modifications to household sleep schedules.

    1974 – 1975 – Toddler. Responsibilities include training a neural net for natural language process and bipedal mobility.

    1. LQ*

      Your resume would be much stronger if you could account for exactly what percent of sleep schedule modification occurred, or how much the sleep debt in the household increased. You want real measurable metrics whenever possible.

      1. MissBliss*

        I would want to phrase the sleep metric differently since debt has a negative connotation. I’d flip it and go for a “surplus of awake time.”

    2. Sharrbe*

      I dunno. I’d go back to zygote stage just to be safe. Don’t discount how difficult cell division is.

    3. Mr. Shark*

      I think any employer would want to make sure you’re potty trained, so I’d definitely include that as one of my accomplishments under the Toddler job title.

    4. irene adler*

      Kinda skipped your teething phase and toilet training activity, didn’t you?

      Or would these be listed under Other Accomplishments and Education, respectively?


    5. Flash Bristow*

      Ha, I was expecting to read something arsey… but that really made me laugh. Love how you summed it up!

  19. Flash Bristow*

    Agree not to need to go far back but you can always add an “achievements” section. In my case, full academic scholarship to [semi prestigious school]; sponsorship of degree by [big company] – one of 6 out of 20000 candidates; appeared on [academic tv programme] to demonstrate [significant unique project] etc.

    Ok nowadays its a bit late in my life to cling onto that, but when applying for new roles in my 20s, say, it was still among the most impressive things I could mention. Particularly when most other roles had been temp stuff to get thru uni, then fillers while hunting for a career (rather than a job).

    So if you worked on a significant project, but it was a few jobs ago, you could still list as an achievement.

    Keep the cv short, for sure – and dont feel that if you are proud of something 5 jobs ago that you have to mention all the jobs in between. Just find a way to list your achievements separately!

    (In terms of jobs, before anything recent, relevant or “careery” I used to put “prior to this date: a succession of part-time jobs while studying” and that seemed to go down fine. As long as they’re impressed by what you *do* put, they can always ask more at interview.)

    1. Christmas Carol*

      Kinda makes you wonder, exactly where is that just-right Goldilocks spot in life between, I don’t have enough education/experience/accomplishments/jobs to make my resume look attractive, and I’d better delete a bunch of stuff so I don’t look too expensive/old/out-of-date

  20. techRando*

    I have a question. I’ve had three positions with the same employer actually in my field, and that’s it. An internship during school, an entry level position, and a promotion. I have enough bullet points to fill my resume with just these positions.

    But I can’t put any direct managers from these jobs as references. My intern manager also managed me when I returned full time. We added another level of management between me and him, but he’s still my team lead.

    The only non-peer I might be able to ask is my previous grand-manager, who left the company about 9 months into my full time position. He and I had a number of 1:1s, and he told me flat out that short of me suddenly performing very badly I would be promoted at my first performance review. He was very clear about things “we say moving teams is subject to business needs, but we always work very hard to move high performers like you who want that, so don’t be afraid to ask if you want to try working on a different stack.” But he wasn’t very familiar with my day to day work– I think this was based entirely one 1:1s he had with my manager. Is that a good reference?

    I have one previous manager from a part time college job who would be very happy to give me a glowing reference, but I didn’t do anything very relevant in my time with her. I was able to fix a complicated word document problem and walk people through troubleshooting technical problems well, but I’m a programmer and that’s the closest I got to doing relevant stuff at that position. As it is, it doesn’t feel like it makes sense to put this job on my resume. If I’m going to use her as a reference, should I put that job on my resume? Should I avoid using her as a reference and just get that grandboss to give me a reference, and see if I can find a couple peers who I either trust or who have left the company?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You don’t need to list your managers throughout your climb through the company.

      You only list one whomever you report to in the end.

      It’s okay to have peers as your other references when you don’t have many different companies with different managers who can be references for you. The key is that you want someone in a higher position to be your reference whenever possible but it’s not an absolute ‘no never’ to have a peer.

      When I left my job of a decade, I had the owner as a reference, a colleague who could tell someone about my day to day business life and a client who I worked closely with. Nobody flinched at that.

  21. Heidi*

    This post reminds of how not normal academia is. Our CVs have to follow a very detailed template that includes everything you’ve ever done in academia and pretty much nothing that falls outside academia. Only the most recent iteration of the template had a new optional section for “other accomplishments” like philanthropic or humanitarian work. Even early in someone’s career, these documents can hit 10 pages easy. It’s not organized in an intuitive way either. “Recognition” items always have to be in the last section, so if you won the Nobel Prize, that goes on the last page.

  22. BL*

    What about your LinkedIn bio? Same 10-15 years or should everything be listed? More and more lately I see LinkedIn profiles INSTEAD of actual resumes.

  23. Lilly76*

    I just want to point out that for most government jobs you have to include every single place you worked at during the time frame they ask for. Even if it was only for a single day. They can (and will) fire you if they find out later that you omitted something. I have known several people that this has happened to.

    1. Kiwiii*

      At least in my experience, including that information in a background check or in an application vs in your actual resume is where the distinction is. I know when I got my first job for state government, they detailed that I should leave nothing out from the last 12 years on the application, but that they were hoping for a more concise resume. I don’t think anyone who actually chose me (vs approved me) for the position ever looked at the application, they all had my resume and cover letter though. It could be different at different levels/for different sorts of government positions, however.

  24. Anon for now*

    I’m 40, and I have had exactly four jobs since I graduated high school in 1997. So, how far back should I go on a resume since the only job that’s actually relevant is my current job (12 years so far with the same company).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Then use just your current job if you’ve been there for that long and the other jobs are irrelevant to what you’re doing.

      Say someone is working as an Accountant for the last 12 years and before that, they had a couple data entry jobs and a stint as a receptionist while you got your degree or just got your footing in the business world itself. It’s okay to just list that you’ve been working as an accountant for the last 12 years and your accomplishments.

    2. Kiki*

      You could include a very brief listing of your second-most recent job just to demonstrate you’ve had more than one job/ give an interviewer more to ask about, but it’s not necessary. Having long-term experience at just one company can be great for writing resumes– you can go into a bit more detail about specific accomplishments, programs, and trainings without having to worry about space as much.

    3. Kiwiii*

      I’m a big fan of pulling relevant skills/achievements from irrelevant jobs — if you did more than a thing or two (and it wasn’t a less than one year stint) at the job before your current job or the job before that, I think they could be worth mentioning. Some employers like to see, like, okay you communicated with clients and achieved this in /this/ way at this position in unrelated job, but this other way at your current position, for versatility and improvement reasons.

  25. Clementine*

    I think the grandboss would have a good idea about you from his 1:1s with your manager. If you are concerned, you can email him and say, “Dear X, I would very much appreciate if I could use you as a reference in my job search. As you recall from when we worked at Y, I did a, b, and c. Now I am doing d, e, and f.” The other manager – I would also use her too, and then peers as you mentioned. Your situation is not at all unusual. In most cases, the references are final confirmation that there isn’t something terrible lurking, rather than a chance to get a minute description of your duties.

    1. Clementine*

      This was meant to nest above someone’s question above, but something failed there.

  26. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

    Funnily enough I’m just wrestling with a similar question!

    I’m trying to write a generic CV/resume to take to a job fair. My aim in attending said fair is to perhaps get a lead on a stopgap type job. There is virtually no information about what employers will be there, but from what I have found it seems to be mostly call centres and the like. I have worked in a customer service call centre, and other similar environments, but it was 15-20 years ago and I’m in a radically different (yet tragically unstable) field now. Seems like I should probably mention this experience because otherwise my CV is nothing but academia and archaeology, but it also looks odd to have years and years of gaps between jobs.

    Although they are generally not good I’ve been toying with the idea of the skills format CV. The idea is that the headings point out key skills (data management, customer service, etc.) with a few examples under each heading, then an abbreviated employment history at the end. Alternatively, I’ve been thinking of a “personal statement” at the top (not an objective). I’m just not sure how best to pull out the transferrable skills.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      And having been to said job fair today, I really didn’t need to bother. I did give my cv to a couple of people but honestly they were hiring for jobs I am not interested in. Most people just told me to look on their website! Seems kind of pointless…

  27. many bells down*

    I have kind of the opposite problem in that I spent a decade as a stay-at-home mom. So my resume has a one-year contract position I had last year, 4 years of volunteer work, and then all my other jobs are 10-20 years ago. I’ve weeded out the oldest short-term ones, and no one needs to know I was a dog groomer 30 years ago in high school, but I’m keeping most of the jobs because they’re relevant experience.

  28. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    I once received a resume from a man who’d spent his entire career up till that point–about 30 years–at one of huge legacy computer companies. (This was during a recession when big companies were dropping employees in bucketfuls.) He’d risen in the ranks through quite a few jobs, and he’d summarized each one perfectly with accomplishments and high points, on ONE page. I wish I’d made a sample of that resume.

  29. Wordnerd*

    This makes me feel better about looking askance at a resume I just received that listed participating in community theater in 1979!

  30. YourEthicsConfuseMe*

    I just realized I loaded the complete wrong post. I’ll just go over there now. How embarrassing.

  31. KMY*

    I think this might be the first time I’ve disagreed with Allison, but I think many higher level employees do themselves a disservice by only putting 10 years experience on their resume. You absolutely don’t need detail any older than that – usually – but showing your career progression can be beneficial. I’ve worked with a lot of job seekers that saw increased results by putting older positions back on the resume.

    1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      I think it depends on whether you can show career progression without including older positions. I’m older and have had not only a lot of jobs but in several different and totally unrelated fields – it helped with my crazy quilt resume to stick to the last ~15 years and include more detail on my upward mobility in the last few jobs.

      I didn’t get any nibbles at all with my full resume – probably because my full resume makes me look like a loon. So I ended up in academia, which is fortunately pretty tolerant of loony-looking resumes.

  32. Database Developer Dude*

    My resume is three pages long, because I was active duty Army from 1989-2001. Since 2001, I’ve had ten civilian employers, with my current one being my longest tenure (5 years). That’s the way things go in the Washington DC metropolitan area for technology jobs…eventually, you either outgrow the job, or the job outgrows you, or your company loses the contract and cuts you loose and you have to go elsewhere.

    I list my entire Army time as one entry, with accomplishments as the highlights. Older jobs, I’ve tried to cut the accomplishments down to what’s absolutely necessary.

    I still need a skills summary and an education section, and I have to list my government security clearance. If it weren’t for those three things, I *might* be able to get the resume down to two and a half pages, but the active duty Army experience taught me skills that are still more than relevant to the career path I’m trying to forge today.

    I’ve had no problems getting jobs. Not every resume has to be one page.

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