Ask an Expert: How Far Back Should You Go on Your Resume?

Deciding how much of your career chronology to report on your resume can be a tricky thing. If you focus on information too far in the past, an employer may quickly figure out how old you are and possibly discriminate against you based on your age. But if you don't report early career experience, a hiring manager may determine that your omission was deceptive once they meet you, and this could damage your candidacy as well.

Hiring managers are generally most interested in your more recent experience; few will see much relevance in what you achieved 20-plus years ago. But if you were with the same company for 30 years, you can't chop the first 10 off of your chronology. Also, you can't list the first job you've ever held as something that you obviously couldn't have achieved right out of school.

So what's the best solution? I advocate for being transparent about your chronology but not adding a great amount of detail to earlier, less relevant positions. For example, you might just list the company name, job title, and a brief description for jobs that you held 15-plus years ago. Or, as an alternative, you could just group similar roles together in a statement that reads something like:

"Held a series of business development roles with increasing responsibility for companies X, Y, and Z between 1980 and 1990." or "Prior to 1987, taught math and science to elementary school children for seven years at XYZ school."

Resume data is like an inverted pyramid. You want to give the most "air time" to recent achievements and minimize the attention paid to earlier positions, without trying to hide them.

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