How far back should a resume go?

Whether you are working on your very first resume ever or trying to figure out how to write a new resume after many years under your belt, resume writing is an intimidating task, and it is okay if you feel a bit apprehensive.

What should you include? What should you not include?

What is saying too much, and can being overly concise cost you the job because you said too little?

These are some of the many questions resume writers face when staring at a blank screen.

Here’s the deal:

How far back should a resume go?

  • Resumes should be industry-specific and include work history related to the job application for the past 10 years, which can include internships and pertinent volunteer experiences (especially for those recent college grads).
  • Resumes should go back about 10 years. Past that point, only include relevant work history that will improve your qualifications for the job.
  • Resumes should be as succinct as possible and generally no longer than a page.

Still have questions?

You might be asking yourself what to include if you’ve been out of work for a longer period of time, have been doing untraditional work like being a stay at home parent, caring for a family member, or going back to school.

What is the best way to present this information?

Are there specific rules to follow?

Keep reading for a resume guide that will put you at ease, while writing your new resume.

How long should a resume be?

It is important to note that a resume and a CV (Curriculum Vitae) are not the same things.

In some countries and in some professions, a CV is the norm for job applications. But for most job positions, employers just want to see a standard resume.

A resume is a lot shorter than a CV.

A CV is a document that shows all of your accomplishments, positions, publications, appearances, etc. If you were applying for a professorship or a research position, as an example, your CV may be several pages long.

A resume is a short and sweet version of a CV: it is a document that showcases the most important aspects of your work history, education, and accomplishments in one page.

Yes, a recruiter is going to expect a single page document for a resume.

This length is especially true for recent college graduates.

But what about those with extensive work experience? Those who have over 15 years of work experience?

If you are unable to keep your resume at a page because of important and relevant work history due to decades of experience, then it is acceptable to have a longer resume.

But keep it under two pages.

Remember, employers are going to skim resumes for the most important details.

A concise, relevant, and visually appealing (meaning no 8-point fonts) will do better than a long-winded account of every position since high school.

How far back should you go on a resume

How far you should go back on your resume depends on how long you have been in the workforce.

If you are a recent college graduate, then you may not have 10 years of work experience.

Perhaps you never worked in high school or college and have had one internship. What would you put down on a resume?

If you are a recent graduate with no work history, brainstorm projects you completed in college and the transferable skills that could be used for the position you are applying.

Did you show any leadership in clubs? Did you write a thesis that was memorable?

Focus on those skills for your resume.

However, if you have had work experience in high school or college or have had numerous internships, use that as your work experience.

But think a bit before you type — would saying you were a babysitter freshman year of college be relevant for an IT position?

Keep the experience relevant and be sure to highlight transferable skills.

How far back should a resume go for work history

What if you are not just out of college and have a decade, or two or three, of work experience?

Keep the resume as concise as possible, but make sure you do not leave off important work experience related to the position, just because you near the one-page mark.

Here is some advice to keep in mind:

1. Use chronological order. Resumes are written in chronological order, so focus on work history done in the past 10 years. Employers want to know what you have been up to lately, not so much what you did in the 90s.
2. Give brief descriptions for relevant work experience. Include all relevant work experience, but keep the descriptions brief for positions over 10 years old.
3. Only include the most relevant work experience if older than 10 years. All work experience that is older than 10 years and is not relevant to the job position, keep off the resume. But do include it on an online resume like LinkedIn.
4. It’s okay to go over a page, but not over two pages. Don’t be afraid of going over one page, but do keep it to two pages or less.

What to put on a resume

Resumes are essentially an elevator pitch of your work history and education, but paper edition.

Employers don’t look long at resumes, so it needs to be easy to read and the resume needs to display the most important information you want to convey to the employer.

You should not submit generic resumes– they should be unique for each industry and even potentially for each job. Make sure to include the most relevant keywords your industry is looking for– sometimes resumes are read by machines first.

Don’t let a computer throw you out of the race just because your resume is generic.

Also, avoid putting everything you’ve ever done on a resume. Employers don’t have time to be reading a detailed account of everything you’ve done since high school.

Keep experiences relevant and make your resume showcase you as the best possible candidate for the job.

For example, if you want to work in an education field and you have five work experiences, but you can only fit four on the resume, include the four that are most relevant to teaching.

If you have been out of work, as you chose to stay home to parent, for example, and have a gap in employment, you can highlight translational skills you acquired during that gap period.

Did you take continuing education courses or volunteer somewhere? If you homeschooled your children, did they have special needs that made you able to easily navigate diverse populations? Did you help them on major projects that have been successful?

Your resume is unique to you.

Think about what makes you different than the hundreds of other people applying for the position and have your resume showcase that.


Resume writing can be incredibly difficult.

It can be hard to streamline a person’s entire career into a page or two, especially if they have decades of work experience.

The main question you should be asking yourself is, “if this employer only looked at my resume for 15-20 seconds, what would I want them to see?”

The hard truth of resume writing is, most employers only give a brief glance at your resume.

Employers will pick the candidates that stand out.

You can have all the best work history, but if your resume is typed in small text or is just a page filled in with a bunch of text about everything you’ve ever done, they probably will move onto the next resume.

This article first appeared on Zippia.