When you sit down to craft a resume, what you’re really doing is sitting down to think about how you’re going to whet the appetite of an employer. The information you decide to include should ideally be just enough to make them want more of you.

A common mistake I’ve seen on many resumes is people deciding to include too much. It can feel sad leaving off years of experience when you’ve worked hard, but remember, this document is just the start of the process – you can always speak to your experiences in the interview!

General guidelines suggest that an appropriate length of time to cover in your work history is about ten years. But people are unique, as are jobs, so you’ll want to do your homework when thinking about how you are presenting yourself. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when thinking about what parts of your work history to include on your resume.

Is it relevant to what I’m doing now?

This is the easiest way to determine how far back to go. If it isn’t relevant to what you’re doing now, don’t include it. Again, this seems like an obvious statement, but in my previous HR life, I was always amazed at what people included in their work histories.

Culling your experience to only showcase what is relevant to the position shows a recruiter you know how to sell yourself and highlight your strengths! Leaving on the three years of office manager experience from 1986 when you’re applying for a graphic design role in 2013 tells me you might not be the best at details.

On the flip side, however, if you are in the midst of a career change and applying for a job at a telecommunications company, it may be wise to include the fact that you do have previous experience at a telecommunications firm – even though it was over ten years ago. One way to do this is to include the name of the employer and the year and title of your position, but not include any bullet points about the specific duties. You can always speak to those in person if asked!

Would a functional resume be more appropriate?

Chronological resumes, the ones that start out with your present position and move backwards in time, are the most common, and the easiest to write. These work especially well for people who have stayed in one clear job field or industry. But what happens if your work history jumps around?

If you initially started your career working as a teacher, then transitioned to healthcare consulting, but are now focusing back on the world of academia, it probably makes more sense to craft a functional resume. This will allow you to highlight your skills and experience from that teaching job in 1992, while not having to include every job since that point.

Functional resumes allow you to highlight your experience grouped as skills and accomplishments rather than a progression of job titles.

Have I broken the one page rule?

General guidelines say that resumes should be kept to one page. This is especially true if you are still in an entry-level role or just graduating from college. However, as with all rules, sometimes they are made to be broken.

If you have more than ten years work experience it may make sense to have a two-page resume. Especially if you are targeting a director or executive level position, and especially if your work history shows a trend of progressive roles with increasing responsibility. But if you are just graduating from college and spend your entire second page detailing your summer work experience at Aunt Sally’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Michigan you’ll want to make sure and delete it!

Remember, there is no absolute right or wrong answer when thinking about how far back to go in writing about your work history. It really comes down to your preference, and how you want to highlight your skills and experiences in relation to the position you’re targeting. Good luck!

Updated: 05/04/2017

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