We answer: How far back should a resume go

Last updated: September 20, 2023
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Kai Dickerson
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We answer: How far back should a resume go
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Most job applications require a resume, as recruiters want to see your work history and any relevant experience in an easy-to-read document.

You may already have a resume format to work with, but knowing what information to include and what to leave out isn't always straightforward.

If you’ve got a long work history, or worked a wide variety of jobs, it’s natural to wonder how far back a resume should go.

And the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might’ve hoped — there are a number of factors that can determine what you should include.

For instance, the job position, your relevant experience, and gaps in your work history can all influence the timeline for your resume.

In the following guide, we'll walk you through all the varying factors, so you can decide how far back your resume should go.

How to determine how far to go back on your resume?

Your resume should be well-balanced. It should have enough detail to impress a hiring manager without feeling cluttered and confusing.

In general, 10 to 15 years of work history should be the max. If you’ve been at the same job for over a decade, don’t list old jobs just to fill up space.

Before you fill the work experience section in your resume, read the job description carefully.

There are some exceptions to the 15-year-rule depending on whether your experience matches the role.

For example, you may have been working at the same company for 25 years. You can include this in your resume timeline.

Alternatively, you may have a temporary position in an unrelated field that you may like to exclude from your resume.

There is one other exception, and that’s if you’re going back to an industry you started in. For example, if you worked as a mechanic 20 years ago, had a career change, and now want to go back to your roots, you can include your original experience.

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How many jobs should you put on a resume?

We answered the question, “how far back should a resume go?” But how many jobs should you list? The answer is, you can include any relevant positions in your work history.

Remember, unless you’re applying for a senior or academic position, your resume should be short and sweet. As a rough guideline, aim for between three and seven jobs.

List them in order, starting with your most recent position. The first three jobs on your resume should be more detailed than the rest and include job titles, relevant skills, and responsibilities.

Any other positions should only list employer details, roles, and dates of employment.

How many pages should a resume be?

While your resume should cover your work history, skills, and education, it shouldn’t be too long.

Hiring managers should be able to take a quick glance to decide whether it is worth proceeding to an interview.

Keep your resume between one and two pages long. You can complement this with a personalized cover letter based on your experience.

How far back should a resume go based on the position you're applying to

The type of job you’re applying for matters when deciding what to include on your resume. For certain positions, recruiters may expect a longer resume and will be happy to read through a more thorough work history.

Here’s a rundown of how you can plan your resume based on the job type:

When applying for entry-level positions

If you’re applying for an entry-level position, aim for a one-page resume, highlighting any previous roles that are relevant to the job.

If you lack experience, you can focus on your high school education, community or volunteer work, and extracurricular achievements.

You might have transferable skills that can replace the need for years of work experience. Remember to match your skills to the requirements listed on the job listing.

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When applying for mid-level positions

If you’re applying for a mid-level position where the company requires some experience, you can feature three of your most recent positions.

If you have relevant work history before this that still fits within 15 years, you can include them using summarized sections with short bullet points.

Stick to a maximum of two pages for this job type.

When applying for senior positions

If you’re applying for a senior or executive position, your resume can be more substantial. You want to prove yourself as a professional and a leader, and your listed experience should reflect this.

Include any positions that place you in a management role to prove you have what it takes to get the job done.

You may have years of experience, so your focus should be on how relevant your experience is rather than the number of positions you’re featuring. With more experience, naturally there’s more to cover, but the key is to ensure that your prior work matches the position you’re applying to.y

For senior positions, you can go up to a three page resume.

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When applying for academic positions

Academic applications have a different set of rules. There’s no page limitation, and you're encouraged to add all relevant experience.

You can focus on education and experience in similar fields, following any instructions provided by the hiring manager.

For an academic position, you can share experience that goes beyond the 15-year limit. You may have qualifications and experience from earlier in your career, and it could be useful information.

Why you shouldn’t add all your experience to your resume

Any experience you've gained shapes the person that you are today. But, you don’t need to list every job you’ve held on your resume.

The purpose of your resume is to get a hiring manager’s attention with a summary of your work history, so it’s important to stay within the 15-year rule and the page limitations.

It is okay to leave off the following:

  • Jobs, especially ones from earlier in your work history, that are not relevant to the position you’re applying for. This means if you’re looking for a job in the medical field and your first entry-level position was in a fast-food restaurant, you can leave it out.

  • You can even exclude short-term jobs that fit between long-term positions. You do not need to call out the delivery driving work you did between jobs, or as a side hustle.

Just remember, you may need to address gaps in your work history on your resume, in your cover letter, and during your job interview.

What if you have a gap in your work history?

You may have a gap in your work history for several reasons. You might have taken time off to raise children or study. You may even be one of the 6.3 million people who found themselves unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An unemployment gap of up to six months is generally acceptable. After this, the recruiter may have questions for you.

Instead of specific dates, you can list the number of years spent at a company. And you can briefly address your work history gaps in your cover letter.

Always be honest, as the employer can verify your work history with a simple phone call. If you were a full-time parent, full-time student, carer, or volunteer, you can say so.

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What if you’ve only worked at one company?

If you’ve only worked at one company, you can go into more detail. You can list all of your tasks and responsibilities while keeping your resume to one page.

For those who have had multiple roles in the same company, consider splitting them up. For example, you might have been a retail assistant for five years, a team leader for one year, and a manager for two years.

Include any additional experience or training you've gained outside of the company, as well as your work highlights.

What do you put in your resume if you were fired?

If you were fired from a job, you don’t necessarily have to exclude it from your work experience.

If it’s irrelevant to the current position you can leave it out. If the position was relevant to the job you’re applying to, list it as part of your work experience, but be prepared to address questions during an interview. (During the interview, be honest, keep it short, and stay focused on what you learned from the job and the experience.)

No matter if you decide to include or exclude the job, you should never lie on your resume.

Ready to make an outstanding resume that has just the right amount of detail?

A resume is an opportunity to get to the next step in the hiring process with a potential employer. Your career history showcases your attributes and gives recruiters insight into your skills and experience.

Job seekers often wonder how far back a resume should go. While the answer does depend on the type of job you are applying for, there are a few general guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, stick to a one or two-page resume with three to seven previous positions listed in reverse chronological order. Focus on the most recent, relevant experience, and complement this with a cover letter.

Remember to be honest and focus on the areas that match up with the job you’re applying for.

With these simple tips, you’ll be one step closer to job seeker success! Find your next job in the Jobcase job search..

1 Comment


Ayodele Adeyemi
Bullet point

This is an Exquisitely enlightening material. I found it quite helpful, K. But just a request, the 3 page resume isn't clear enough.