Having a strong resume is arguably the most important part of the job application process. There are many elements that go into a resume, from layout, to style, to even font size, but one question that seems to continuously come up for job seekers is: “how far back should I go?” You certainly want to give a full picture of the professional experiences that have shaped the skills you have now, but you need to be careful to not go back too far.
There is a fine line between being thorough and giving too much information on your resume. For example, if you’ve been out of college for a few years and have some solid experience under your belt, it’s highly unlikely that a hiring manager will care that you were class president your junior year of high school (no matter how much your mom still gloats about it).
With all this in mind, here are some good rules for how far back you should go on your resume based off of where you are in your life:
College freshman or sophomore: You can still include some notable things from high school, but no earlier than that. Remember, it's still important to be deliberate and thoughtful with what you put on your resume and be sure that everything you include is relevant to the position you are applying for, especially if it’s from a while ago.
College junior or senior: Only include one or two of your experiences from high school and be sure that they are extremely out of the ordinary or relevant to the job or internship you’re applying for. From there, you’ll want to put most of the emphasis on you’ve done in college (academically, extracurricularly, and professionally) that will make you stand out as a good fit for the role.
Recent college graduate (1-1.5 years): Say goodbye to what you did in high school! This is the time where you should include your experiences from college, but no earlier than that. Even if what you accomplished in high school was impressive, it will more than likely not be relevant to hiring managers. You’ve grown a lot since that time, and you want to make sure to make it known that the relevant skills and experiences that you have for the role you’re applying for are recent.
If you feel strongly that something you did in high school directly ties in to the job you’re applying for (for example, say you were the editor-in-chief of your high school newspaper and want to emphasize how long you’ve been honing your editorial skills for), save it for the interview stage.
2-10 years out of college: Don’t include any college experiences unless they are extremely relevant to what you’re applying for, especially if you’re applying to academic internships or fellowships. If your resume makes you look like you might be a bit of a job hopper at this point and your experiences spill over one page, it’s totally okay to only include the most applicable positions and really stress your responsibilities in those roles. Remember, one page resumes are the most successful resumes (we got the data to prove it!).
10+ years out of college: If you’ve changed jobs often, or have had more than 2-3 roles (many people have at this point!), don’t include anything older than 10 years. More often than not, the knowledge that you gained from older positions is obsolete and you’ll instead want to show off your current skills.
All of this said, there can be exceptions to the rules. The most important thing is to personalize each resume you send out and to be sure that you highlight your professional experiences that are most relevant to the job you are applying for.
Have more questions about writing a stellar resume? We’ve got an entire post about it here !
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Cat Hausler is a self-proclaimed grammar nerd with a passion for the power of the written word. Based in Denver, Cat enjoys going to see live music, practicing yoga, exploring the mountains, and park days with her friends.