Does the prospect of writing a resume make you anxious?
You’re not alone. With American stress levels reaching new highs and the Great Resignation shaking up the labor force, job search depression is more common than ever. And if you’re feeling the pressure to find a new position amidst looming economic uncertainty, updating your resume might be overwhelming.
Resume writing is one of the most daunting aspects of looking for a new job. It’s not easy to summarize your work experience and accomplishments in two pages.
One of the most common questions for job-seekers is, “How far back should a resume go?” There’s no straightforward answer because your experience and industry affect what information is relevant. We’ll discuss resume rules like what to include on a resume and how concise to keep your work experience.
Should you list all your jobs on a resume?
Few instances exist where you should list all prior work history on a resume. This information is reserved for CVs, which are exhaustive summaries of your work experience and education.
Resumes are concise, tailored documents that market you as the best candidate by summarizing only relevant experience and transferable skills.
How far back should a resume go?
There’s no clear-cut rule on how long resumes are supposed to be. But, hiring managers and recruiters spend a very short amount of time taking a first look at resumes. On average, potential employers spend seven seconds deciding whether to swipe left or right. So, there’s really no need to list your entire career history.
With that in mind, your resume should stick to a single-page format as a rule of thumb. If you’re a seasoned worker or an expert in your field with extensive relevant experience, a two-page resume may be appropriate.
Of course, the amount of personal work experience you have dictates how much you should include on your resume.
Here’s a breakdown of how far back each type of candidate should consider going when writing their resume:
Students and recent graduates
Most employers understand that students and recent graduates are applying to gain experience, not bring specialized knowledge to the table. These candidates are likely more concerned with how to list jobs on their resumes, given their limited work history.
When considering a recent grad or current student’s job application, employers focus on skills, education, and life experience. Here are some things to include on your resume:
Volunteer work: Employers always have their eyes out for this one, so best to include it in the work experience section. It shows initiative and a growth mindset they’re likely searching for in a candidate.
Interests and hobbies: The way you spend your free time says volumes about who you are and what you’ll be like to work with. Select interests and hobbies that present you in a professional light.
Internships: The experience you sought beyond your university requirements shows initiative and drive to succeed post-graduation, setting you apart from other candidates. Students that participated in an internship are 14% more likely to get an interview.
- Externships: Similar to an internship, participating in an externship demonstrates your motivation to learn more about an industry. Externships are short-term on-site work experiences so you can confirm a job suits your needs.
Don’t go overboard here and list every personal tidbit that comes to mind. Otherwise, you’ll run out of real estate and clutter your resume with irrelevant details. Stick to items that showcase why you’re the ideal candidate for the role.
Students and recent graduates can also boost their chances by including an effective cover letter.
This accompanying document is usually the first thing the hiring manager reads, so it’s your chance to make a great first impression. Include company-specific details to show you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested in the position.
An entry-level position is targeted to an applicant with little or no work experience. These positions may or may not require a college degree, and most employers expect you’ll need some on-the-job training.
Entry-level professionals can usually ignore some extracurricular clutter that students and recent grads feel obligated to include.
If you’re an entry-level candidate, detail all relevant work experience, internships, and externships where you’ve gained relevant skills. Also, highlight any certifications or training you’ve completed thus far.
A mid-level position is targeted to applicants with some level of direct full-time work experience specific to the role’s requirements. Because mid-level candidates are experienced professionals, they typically have more leeway to pick and choose what’s most relevant to the role.
Leave out any information that doesn’t align with an employer’s needs or the skills listed in the job description. This will create more room to expand on relevant responsibilities for the jobs included.
That said, because a mid-level professional’s experience level varies greatly (some people with three years of experience hold mid-level jobs, some with 10), depending on where you stand, you might still include internships, externships, and older certifications.
The goal will be to include relevant information while sticking to one page.
A high-level position is targeted to experienced workers with extensive, possibly specialized, years of professional experience specific to the job listing and requirements.
Because 1–2 pages isn’t a lot of room to convey more than 15 years of experience, it’s vital to only list relevant positions you’ve had within the industry.
Choose your words carefully when describing work experience, using keywords from the job description to make a more effective yet concise document. Careful word selection will create the extra room you need to showcase why you’re an excellent candidate.
Capping work experience at 15 years for high-level professionals is best practice because it narrows the focus of your resume. An employer hiring for a high-level role likely isn’t interested in older jobs and early career internships.
Hiring managers for these positions seek experts, and you’ll need that room to explain why you’re an expert in the field.
Here are a few exceptions to this rule:
Name drops can be effective, and hiring managers aren’t always immune to them. Seeing a renowned company in your work history may spark their interest and cause them to reach out for an interview.
If your work experience is greater than 15 years but relevant to the role you’re seeking, include it. More than 15 years of experience working in the same field could qualify you as an expert in a hiring manager’s eyes and help secure the role.
Some high-level positions require 15+ years of industry expertise.
Tips to help you stand out
Studies have found that 24% of hiring managers skim through resumes in 30 seconds or less. That’s a quick first impression.
Here are a few tips to make your resume stand out at any point in your career:
Proofread: Typos and grammatical errors look unprofessional and like an applicant didn’t care enough about getting the role to edit their document. Read your resume aloud to catch sticky areas and typos.
Run it through an editing software like Grammarly or Hemingway, if possible.
Include keywords: Yes, using keywords from the job description is helpful. But you should also consider reoccurring terms noticed throughout your job search.
If 4/5 job descriptions discuss effective client communication as important to the role, include this on applications where the employer didn’t mention this. Chances are it’s relevant to the position.
Discuss career breaks: If you have a significant gap in your work history, make sure to provide context for the career break in an accompanying cover letter.
Gap years and lulls between jobs are perfectly normal, but it’s best to explain the break so recruiters don’t make assumptions that could hurt your candidacy.
Use action verbs: Employers want to see you actively participate in a company’s activities. When describing your work experience, use action verbs like “increased,” “delegated,” and “managed” to show your initiative.
Ask for help: If you aren’t a design whiz, resume building websites have hundreds of templates, professional resume writer services, and insights about choosing keywords that catch hiring managers’ eyes.
You can also turn to a career coach if you are in need of an objective, professional opinion.
Showcasing your skills
There’s no such thing as a perfect resume. As you apply to different roles, you’ll need to tweak this document to align with a company’s values and requirements. But knowing the basics, like how far back a resume should go, offers you a solid foundation to start from.
Landing your dream job isn’t just about showcasing the right experience, though. You’re a well-rounded individual, and your resume should reflect this.
Regardless of where you are in your career, you’re working hard to improve — and that’s what will help you ace your interview and add a new job to your resume.