Removing past work from your resume can seem confusing, but it's the key to standing out from the crowd.

If you're not getting many (or any) responses to your job applications, it could be from listing every role you've ever had from day one.

To be frank, recruiters and hiring managers don't want to see your whole work history. The attention-getting resume will go back far enough to showcase your relevant experience thoroughly but succinctly, keeping the emphasis on your more current work. 

So, how far back should a resume go? It can vary depending on person and work history, but there are some basic guidelines that everyone should follow. If you received a professionally written resume, then these guidelines will also explain why your professional resume writer may have eliminated some of your earliest work experiences.

Don't go back more than 10 to 15 years

The majority of experts agree that a resume should only include the last 10 to 15 years of employment, and there are several good reasons for this. 

It combats age discrimination

We may not like to admit it, but the fact remains: Age discrimination is a reality in today's job market. By eliminating your earlier work history or minimizing the details, you shift recruiters' attention away from your age and toward what really matters, which is the value you have to offer a prospective employer through your skills and experience.

It keeps your information relevant to the job

The further along you are in your career, the less relevant your earlier work experience becomes. Employers care most about the details of your recent work that tie back to the position they're currently filling — not the jobs you held 15 or more years ago.

By focusing on the parts of your recent experience that demonstrate your qualifications for the job, you're giving employers exactly what they want, which is the Cliff Notes version of your work history rather than the novel.

Employers can quickly and easily scan your resume

Including many years of experience can make for a very cluttered resume: small font, no margins, too many words.

The average recruiter spends less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before deciding whether an applicant is worth further consideration; a cluttered resume simply requires too much work for a hiring manager who has possibly hundreds of resumes to review.  

It keeps your resume at two pages

Whether you've worked for six years or 26 years, the golden rule of resume writing is keeping it to a maximum of two full pages (with a few exceptions listed below).

When you only have the aforementioned 10 seconds to make an impression, more than two pages takes too long to scan. Stick to the two-page resume rule by removing the jobs, training courses, or graduation dates that fall outside of the 15-year window. 

Not sure how to do this without losing important information? A trained resume writer knows ways to keep your resume at this required length without removing relevance.

Exceptions to the 15-year rule

There are a few very specific situations where you can include experience outside the 15-year rule.

  •  Experience or high-level role at a prestigious company: While it may not be exactly relevant, this would catch the attention of a hiring manager and keep them interested in you.

  • Work that's highly relevant to the role: This can include anything that shows different facets of your experience and achievements that didn't occur at a more recent time.

  • Employment at the same company for many years in different roles: In this case, consider splitting up the work experience so you can list the more relevant roles first and leave off the ones that don't matter.

  • The position requires that many years of experience: Again, keep it relevant and combine information where you can so your resume isn't too cluttered or long.

Exceptions to the two-page rule

The exceptions to the two-page resume rule are limited, and include:

Whether you choose to take on the challenge of eliminating your past experiences yourself or need the guidance of a professional, you should now have a better understanding of what to keep and what to eliminate from your past work experience — and why it's important.

Looking to cut back at some of the fluff on your resume, but don't know where to start? Our free resume review can help.

This article was updated in June 2020. It was originally written by Amanda Augustine.

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