How Much Experience Should You Include on Your Resume?

We’ve all heard the infamous advice, “Your resume should all fit on one page!” But, if you’ve been in the workforce for 30 years, this requirement can seem extremely restricting — and near impossible!

Sure, you know that you don’t need to keep a detailed description of the summer you spent serving cones at Dairy Queen when you were in high school. However, if you’ve contributed to professional work environments for decades, you definitely want to portray the breadth of your experience and skills. On the same token, with age discrimination alive and well in today’s hiring practices, you also don’t want to make yourself appear out of touch.

Quite the conundrum, right? Well, that leads us to the age old question of just how much work experience you should list on your resume. Have no fear, you workplace veterans. I’ve got your answer right here!

So, How Far Back Should You Go?

Let’s get right to the nitty gritty. Most recruiters and certified professional resume writers recommend only going back between 10 and 15 years in your professional history.

Now, before you throw your hands up and proclaim that you have so much more experience to share, consider the reasoning. First, the work you’ve completed in the past decade or so is likely the most relevant to the jobs you’re currently applying for. And, placing an emphasis on your most applicable skills and experience is always recommended when crafting your resume.

Secondly, we all know that the world moves pretty fast. Any technology you utilized 20 years ago is likely obsolete today. So, there’s no use cluttering your resume with that insignificant knowledge. Today’s recruiters won’t be impressed with your Windows 95 expertise.

What If I Have Very Little Experience?

Going back 10 or 15 years in your professional history sounds like a great plan — as long as you have that much experience to offer. But, what do you do if you’re relatively new to the working world? Should you include all of those part-time jobs you held throughout high school and college?

Rather than focusing on quantitative information like years, you should place your emphasis on the quality of your experience. What things have you done so far that fit with this position and would impress the hiring manager? Did you have a related internship where you picked up a ton of applicable skills? Have you done volunteer work similar to these job duties?

When in doubt, highlight the things you learned at your various part-time jobs. Maybe you feel like you were just dishing out popcorn at the local movie theatre. But, I’m willing to bet you learned a lot about teamwork, communication, and customer service.

Are There Any Exceptions?

As with any rule, there are always exceptions.

For example, if you’re aiming to transfer back into an old career field or industry, including any applicable positions or experience from your past is important to show that you’re qualified. However, make an effort to really weed through any irrelevant information from the unrelated positions in your history. That way, you can make sure to include the relevant skills and jobs, without ending up with a resume as long as War and Peace.

Perhaps there’s a position way back in your professional history that you’re exceptionally proud of. You can still list it, without needing to take up tons of resume real estate. Consider adding a “Previous Positions” section to the bottom of your work history. In this space, you can list older jobs and include just the pertinent information, such as title, company, and dates of employment. By doing this, you’re still putting the information out there, without wasting space on a detailed breakdown of outdated experience.

Things to Keep in Mind

Sticking with 10 to 15 years of work experience is generally a good rule of thumb when it comes to resume writing. But, always remember to check the specific job description you’re applying for. If the position explicitly asks for 15 years of experience and you list only your most recent 10, you could immediately make yourself look like an unqualified candidate.

Also, don’t make yourself crazy trying to achieve the elusive one page resume. While this size constraint is definitely recommended for recent graduates and entry-level workers, you simply may not be able to squeeze all of your professional background into a one page document. So, use two pages if you need to — as long as you still ensure that every line of your resume is powerful and succinct. No, you won’t immediately be chucked into the recruiter’s wastebasket. And, using the extra space is much better than torturing recipients with 6-point font and non-existent margins.

If you do extend over one page, remember to include your name and contact information at the top of each, just in case your document ever becomes separated. Also, it’s best if each additional page is at least 75% full. This ensures that it looks purposeful and intentional, rather than a dangling afterthought that you couldn’t bother to clean up.

Let’s face it — writing a resume is challenging. And, figuring out just how far back to go in your professional history can definitely be panic-inducing. But, there’s no need to stress yourself out! Make an effort to stick to between 10 and 15 years of employment history and keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to have a resume that makes its way to the top of the recruiter’s pile!

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Kat Boogaard

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Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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