How Many Years Should a Resume Go Back? [Updated for 2022]

Not sure how far back to go on your resume? This guide will walk you through exactly how many years a resume should cover, plus how to list older experience.

14 days ago   •   6 min read

By Resume Worded Editorial Team
Table of contents

One of the unwritten rules of resume writing is this: Not everything that can go on your resume, should go on your resume. This includes things that could actively harm your candidacy — like a too-long work history. While there’s no hard and fast rule, the general convention is that your resume should go back 10-15 years.

Why limit your resume to 10-15 years?

There are a number of reasons that 10-15 years of work experience has become the convention.

Older experience is less relevant

The biggest reason is this: The older your experience is, the less relevant it becomes. This goes double if your older experience was in a different industry, or if you’re in an advanced stage of your career. If you’re a senior employee or executive, recruiters don’t want to know what you did right after college — just focus on what’s recent.

Read more: How many jobs should you list on your resume?

Redundant accomplishments are redundant

Maybe your older experience is still relevant — but in this case, your career has likely covered a lot of the same ground since then. If you were still working in the same industry 20 years ago, chances are most of your accomplishments from back then have been replicated (and improved on) in newer positions, so it makes more sense to include them in your more recent jobs instead.

Shorter resumes are better

Obviously, if you have 25 years’ experience, you don’t need to try to cram your entire work history onto a single page. On the other hand, if your resume has blown out to more than two pages, or if a single job from 15+ years ago is pushing your resume from one page to two, it’s time to eliminate some of that older experience.

Read more: Optimal resume length in 2021

Prevent age discrimination

Is age discrimination illegal? Yes. Does it still happen? Unfortunately, also yes. If you’re worried at all about age discrimination, you can avoid it becoming an issue in earlier stages by limiting your resume to 10-15 years and leaving the graduation dates off your education section.

Avoid resume gaps

Sometimes, including older experience can cause even more problems. One potential downside is the appearance of an employment gap, especially if you’ve changed careers. If you spent some time in a different role or industry, don’t simply list two jobs with a massive gap in between. Make sure you include an explanation of what you did in between any jobs listed on your resume (even if it’s just a single line with no bullet points), and reevaluate whether those older jobs really need to be listed — if you held one relevant job 20 years ago with a decade-long gap in between, it probably isn’t worth it.

Optimize your resume

Like most things on your resume, how many years to go back is ultimately a judgment call. Using a free resume checker can help you decide what should stay and what should go by scoring your resume and giving you personalized feedback on areas for improvement.

What about non-professional experience?

You should be even stricter about experience that is not work-related — for example, things like extra-curricular activities, coursework, university projects, or volunteering.

Definitely avoid including non-professional experience if they're older than 10 years, and be extremely wary about including these kinds of non-professional experiences if they're more than five years old.

What if you have even less work experience?

There are times when it makes sense to list less than the standard 10-15 years’ experience.

If you’re at the beginning of your career

10-15 years is an upper limit, not a lower one. If you have less than 10 years’ experience, there’s no need to try to pad out your resume to make it look impressive. Once you’ve held at least one relevant position in your industry, you can leave off things like your part-time gig waiting tables or an internship you completed before you switched majors, unless there’s a truly compelling reason for keeping them on your resume.

If you’ve changed careers

The litmus test for including something on your resume is whether or not it’s relevant, and positions in a completely different industry generally aren’t. If the career change is recent, it’s okay to include some older jobs, but try to stick to accomplishments that demonstrate relevant transferable skills. If you changed careers a while back and have more relevant experience since then, you can leave off jobs from your previous career path altogether.

When is it okay to go back further than 15 years?

Occasionally, you might want to consider going back further than 15 years on your resume.

If you’ve held the same job for a while

If you’ve been in the same position for 15 years, including older jobs can be a good way of rounding out your accomplishments and demonstrating career growth. That said, it isn’t the only way — you can also show growth within the same company by using different job titles if you’ve been promoted or by emphasizing that you’ve taken on higher level responsibilities over time in your accomplishments.

If you’re applying for a job that requires a lot of experience

Your resume should always match the criteria in the job description. If you’re applying to higher level positions – for example, a job that asks for 20 years’ experience in the field — your resume can go back at least 20 years to show that you fit the profile the recruiter is looking for.

If your older experience is highly relevant

If you feel that your older experience is compelling enough, that can be a good reason to expand the scope of your resume. This is especially true if your most relevant position is from further back in your career — for example, if you’ve been working in a different role or industry for a while but are applying for a role similar to a position you held 15 years ago, obviously include your most relevant experience. The same can be true if you have a particularly impressive — think career-defining — accomplishment from an older position that’s still relevant today.

How to include older experience on your resume

If you do want to include older experience on your resume, here are some of the best ways to do it without compromising the integrity of your resume.

Include older experience in your resume summary

A resume summary is a great place for things that don’t belong elsewhere on your resume — including older experience. Start your summary with a line like “Marketing Executive with 25+ years of experience” to quickly let recruiters know that you have more experience than your resume shows and include 2-3 key accomplishments from any stage in your career.

Use your resume summary to quickly show that you have extensive experience
Use your resume summary to quickly show that you have extensive experience

Create a section for older experience

To differentiate between current or more relevant experience and older positions, include a section titled ‘Previous Professional Experience.’ Under that heading, you can briefly list experience that’s older or from a different industry.

Include older jobs on your resume under a different heading or subsection
Include older jobs on your resume under a different heading or subsection

Include a career highlights section

If you want to include one or two particularly impressive accomplishments from earlier in your career, you don’t need to list every detail about those older jobs. Instead, create an ‘Awards’ or ‘Career Highlights’ section where you can focus on your most relevant or impressive older accomplishments.

Create a career highlights section to list accomplishments that are older but still relevant
Create a career highlights section to list accomplishments that are older but still relevant

List fewer bullet points

If you do list older jobs in the experience section of your resume, don’t overdo it — 1-2 bullet points is plenty for older jobs, or you could skip the accomplishments entirely and just list the job title, company, and dates of employment.

Skip the accomplishments for older positions on your resume
Skip the accomplishments for older positions on your resume

Expand your LinkedIn profile

If you want a complete record of your older experience somewhere but it’s too lengthy for your resume, consider adding it to your LinkedIn profile instead. There’s no upper length limit on LinkedIn profiles, and it’s a good way to showcase the depth of your experience while keeping your resume as a shorter, easy to read career overview.

Include older experience on your LinkedIn profile to avoid resume bloat
Include older experience on your LinkedIn profile to avoid resume bloat

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