What do dates say about you on your resume?

Photo by Liz (perspicious.org)

How to list your dates on resumes is a source of questions from job seekers. A conversation on Twitter with Lisa McCallister, @MyJobScope sparked different opinions about dates. Lisa asked Kris Plantrich, from Resume Wonders, and me if we had a best practice for listing dates on resumes.

Lisa’s Twitter bio: Chief Enthusiast at MyJobScope|Medical Device Sales|Marketing|Recruiter| Sharing info on career planning, success & the medical device world.

Lisa has the recruiter perspective, sometimes  different from both resume writers and hiring managers. Recruiters screen for specifics on resumes and can want preferred style for resumes.

I told Lisa I lean toward only years on resumes rather than months and years. Kris answered with a similar response:

Kris’ Twitter bio: Certified Career Coach / Resume Writer. Christian, Mom, Wife, Biz Owner, Blogger. Passionate Helper of Job Seekers. Individual and Corporate Outplacement Svc.

Resume Writer Rationale

A difficult dilemma, Kris and I are taught to list “only years” by leaders in the resume writing industry. Seminars and conferences I attended from industry icons such as Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark, Resume Writing Academy, generally use the year-to-year (1995—2009) format.

As a resume writer, my goal is to present your information in a compelling yet concise format. If I list months, I prefer to write out the whole month: May 1997—July 2009, more attractive format than 5/97—7/09. May to July works well  but if the months read: September 1999—December 2007, dates take up too much precious resume real estate.


I could possibly squeeze May to July in there but if I tried September to December, the dates would run right into the company details. For me, a number only format (12/97—10/08 or 12/1997—10/2008) is hard to read and detracts from the resume.

I advise my clients to keep a complete copy of the months and dates of employment in an electronic or paper file to refer to when completing applications.

Recruiter Rationale

Lisa responded she prefers candidates list months to allow her to see if there are gaps. Not seeing the full month-year format made her wonder if the candidate was hiding anything. This was a prime reason for month-year formats previously but in the present economy, is it a fair to the qualified job seeker?

The Economy Effect

The medical device industry, (Lisa’s area for recruiting) similar to many other  industries, fought hard battles in the last three years — mergers and acquisitions, downsizing and restructuring.

Some account managers maintained consistent employment with no layoffs, but many top sales representatives had to transition to a new position with a new company. In this economy, transition is not always immediate.

If a top-selling, profit-building sales executive has their position eliminated in a merger because of territory overlap or other corporate decision-making, are they any less of a high-quality candidate with a gap of 5 months on their resume? Is the candidate hiding anything?

I say, no! The candidate with a gap is just as viable of a candidate as one with successful transition from one company to another. In a booming economy, medical device recruiters like Lisa or pharmaceutical sales recruiters may snatch up the winning sales representative just because of their ability to sell but there are not as many openings today:

Candidate A:

  • Revitalized Claritin D market share to all time high of 48%, ranking in top 10 territories nationwide.

My clients fall into both categories. Some, Candidate A above, were blessed with companies who pressed through the frightening marketplace and retained their employees. Today, Candidate A is in a position to start looking for new opportunities.

Candidate B:

  • Increased sales incentives by 47% from first quarter 2008 to third quarter, an increase of $1,867 through focusing calls on Tier 1 to 3 physicians only.

But Candidate B did end up with a gap – her position ended, but she was rehired with a new company in 3 weeks.

Gaps on resumes may not mean the job seeker (or candidate) doesn’t have qualities the employer needs on his team. I realize recruiters are flooded with resumes and need ways to sift through the pile. I still believe use of accomplishment-driven strategies in your resume, clearly defining your value, creates a win-win situation for everyone (companies and candidates). Dates are only one small part of the picture.

What do you think?


  1. Lisa on November 4, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Thanks very much for referencing our conversation.
    It is not that I would NOT consider a candidate with a gap, or that I think anyone with a gap is automatically not a good candidate, but part of my job is to understand someone’s work history.
    One important way I do this by reviewing their career choices, rationales for job changes and reasons left. Without the months of employment listed, it is more time consuming to review every transition. I would rather spend that time delving more deeply into the candidate’s strengths and accomplishments.
    It is interesting to hear your point of view, thanks!

    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 8:03 am

      That makes sense, Lisa but I would never put reasons left on a resume so I would guess you are looking at the job applications or online submissions and if so, we agree. On online applications, I do advise clients to fill in the blanks, it is only in the presentation resume sent via e-mail, mail, or presented at interview that I advise the shortening to years.

      Thank you for stopping by and being the reason for this post!

  2. Dawn Bugni on November 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Julie –

    The writer in me sides with you and Kris for the uncluttered, year-only presentation of accomplishments and value. The former recruiter in me understands Lisa’s need for detail when sourcing candidates for a hiring company.

    I will continue to create year-only documents — unless a client has been instructed to do otherwise for a specific position by an individual who is integral in networking into or securing an interview for that specific position. In that case, give the reader what they want to see. I would not adopt that presentation for the entire search, only for that position, for that specific individual.

    The world of job search is an “it depends” environment and EVERYONE (EVERYONE!!!) has opinions and preferences. Job seekers need to pick a professional they trust to present them in the best light. Given specific circumstances, of course, tweak the document to meet the requirements of the position.

    Taking input from everyone and trying to incorporate all that advice into one document and a general search strategy will dilute the presentation and make a job seekers head explode.

    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 9:50 am

      You and I are on the same page, Dawn. I will always accommodate a specific request for a specific target. I tell clients to ALWAYS follow directions. There are some things I do as a matter of course but like you, I break those rules when special circumstances apply. For example, I also tell clients to hold back their list of references for the interview – unless the employer is requesting them at the time of application: to apply – enclose resume, references, cover letter…

      I think that level of flexibility will yield a better relationship overall and perhaps we can all be on the same page – putting America back to work and getting the best possible candidate into each position. Wouldn’t that be a success to be proud of?

  3. Kris Plantrich on November 4, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Julie, Thanks for the mention in your post! The question posed by Lisa (@MyJobScope)also made me ponder the question. I agree with you and Dawn and will continue to include years only unless requested otherwise.


    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and for being part of the question, Kris.

  4. Donna Svei aka AvidCareerist on November 4, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Julie,

    I’m fine with years. My first interview with a candidate is always what I call a “resume walk through.” I ask why the candidate chose their major, why they took each job they’ve had, and why they’ve left, or are leaving, each job they’ve had. I also ask for start and departure dates down to the month. I actually prefer getting this information during the interview. If there’s fudging going on, it’s easier to spot.

    I’m always amazed at what I learn about a candidate from a resume walk through: how they think, what they value,how they make decisions, employment gaps, etc.

    If the resume walk through goes well, then we move onto a behavioral interview.

    Time consuming, yes? But it’s wildly more time consuming, for the candidate and my client, to make a bad match.


    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 6:49 pm

      Thank you, Donna for stopping by. I guess I’ve been blessed with really wonderful clients because I think I could see a fit for all of my recent ones. They care about their work, they are passionate about doing well and giving back.

      I hope you are blessed with similar candidates in the near future.

  5. Scott Boren on November 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    If someone was employed for several years (4 or more) then I have no issue with years only. But I reviewed a resume today that listed 4 jobs since 2000 with only years. 2000 – 2002 might be 3 full years or only 14 months. That’s a big difference to me. I do not see any issue with adding months in regards to taking up too much space. Formatting creativity is needed then.

    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 7:05 pm

      I guess Scott that it would matter what the person did in the 14 months. I understand that there is a concern about honesty as Henway mentioned, but I know people who have poured in so much value in 14 months and others who have been in a job for 10 years and never gave their all or made a difference to the company’s bottom line.

  6. Ari Herzog on November 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Like others, I employ abbreviated month and year, e.g. Nov. 2001 – Mar. 2004

    • Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm

      Of course, Ari, that’s another solution to the date issue but I still hold to what I said to Scott that the real issue is value. Dates are only one indication of an individual’s work, there is so much more.

  7. Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    I do agree, Henway, job seekers need to be honest in every part of the process. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Julie Walraven on November 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Agreed, Lisa and that is the important part of what makes the resume critical. Years ago, even professional resume writers concentrated on dates but now we look for substance. I ask the question, Tell me what you brought to the job, what difference did you make when you were there, what problems did you solve… I think that’s what you and Donna are looking for, strong employees who will bring value to the company, your clients.

  9. Ed Han on November 5, 2010 at 5:16 am

    This discussion–with a lot of my favorite people, I see!–has been very education for me. As a candidate, I’ve always favored years since there are times I am trying to obscure things, others when there is little to obscure. I just hope my accomplishments distract them from the months!

    • Julie Walraven on November 5, 2010 at 5:22 am

      I was waiting for you, Ed! Just look over your resume and ask yourself, did I cover all the challenges, action, results that differentiate me from the next person interviewing. A solid job history is ideal but I still maintain a solid, dedicated candidate who will give his all is better than someone with 10 years time in a position who was a slacker the whole time.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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