How far do I go back in my resume?

How far do I go back in my resume?From the “Ask the Resume Writer series”

A job seeker writes:

Hi Julie,
How far back should you include work history especially if you have had a number of jobs?

How far do I go back in my resume?

The answer? The famous resume writer reply, “It depends.” Use a chronological history of a 10 to 15 year look back.

Unless — Yes, resume writers follow rules but use the Unless rule to decide the best strategy for the client.

  • You have long-term jobs. You are at a job more than 15 years. You need to go back to the start of that job. Don’t leave off 10 years to make the time shorter. I have written resumes for successful job seekers with 34 to 40 years in one role. Just make sure you have value in your experience section.
  • You have short-term jobs. You can group jobs that are short-term assignments under one heading. I recently worked with a construction manager who had a solid contract history with big name contractors but she moved from one project to another. On the resume, we grouped those together. We also used a Project Profile section to showcase her projects, citing project size, description, $, and length of project. Result? She is currently interviewing with an Ivy league university for a role as a Project Manager as an employee of the university. This was her top goal and one she had tried to reach independently. Resumes are all about Strategy!
  • You were promoted rapidly. You should include the full job from start to finish. However, in the Professional Experience narrative, just write about the positions you see as the most relevant to your goal. You can use a Career Summary or Career Chronology section to list the full career path for that company without detailing what you did in the mailroom or other entry-level roles.
  • You failed in a role after two months. Leave it out of your resume. Your resume is not a work history. It is your story. On applications, you can decide if you need to include those failed attempts but in the resume, leave them out if they bring no value. If you have to list them, just put them in the career summary.

What if I have good work history but it is old?

Many of the resumes I write include an “Early Career Profile” or “Prior Background” section. In this area, don’t use dates. Just use number of years.

  • Vice President of Operations, XYZ Company | 8 years
  • Project Manager, ABC Company | 10 years
  • Chief Marketing Officer | 3 years

You can add detail here, if you like, with some bullets that depict your strongest accomplishments but you don’t have to put detail in either. This simply tells the reader your earlier roles and gives depth to the resume. You don’t have to list every old job in this section either.

Should you use this section? Ask yourself how strong your resume is without listing those roles. Ask yourself if the company names bring value. Ask yourself if the jobs you are targeting benefit from this information.

Bring older resume content forward with a Highlights section

You can bring content from these jobs to the Leadership Success Highlights section (aka Selected Accomplishments; aka Career Benchmarks; aka Leadership Performance Highlights; aka Executive Leadership Highlights). This section should be at the top of your resume but can include highlights from all of your positions (even Early Career roles).

When you understand that your resume is a strategic document with content positioned and used in a way to highlight your strengths and success stories, you will discover multiple solutions to creating the right resume for you.

Need help? While job search is often painful, I take the pain out of writing your resume and even make it fun with a personalized, interactive process. Hire me, Julie Walraven, Certified Master Resume Writer.  Click Here.

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  1. Mitchell Wilkenson on October 12, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Based on my experience, I think the safest bet is 10 years. But then again, if the relevant experience you have is 15 years ago, then you can include that, just make sure to properly sort and prioritize.

    • Julie Walraven on October 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

      10 years is a good number, Mitchell, But I use the 10-15 year to give people a little flexibility. The people who are convinced they need everything on their resume back to high school are the ones that need to consider some limitations, especially if they are 50 or 60 years old. Relevant is critical. Thanks for stopping by!

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