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How far back should your resume go? A resume with far more years of experience than needed can invite age discrimination or make a job seeker look overqualified.

Simplistic, one-size-fits-all answers like “go back 5 years” or “10 years” aren’t helpful, because your resume and job search aren’t like anyone else’s.

“Include” and “leave out” are not the only options.

If you have impressive experience many years back, one option is to include an “Additional Experience” section without dates or details. So, a job that would appear in your main “Experience” section like this:

Regional Sales Manager, 2012-2019

Led sales team etc. etc. etc. etc. (scope of responsibilities).

Increased revenues an average of 40% per year etc. etc.
Another accomplishment, etc. etc. etc.

… would appear more minimally in “Additional Experience,” like this:

Regional Sales Manager, XYZ Inc.

Optionally, you could include a tiny bit of detail: a line beneath the title and company, highlighting the single most impressive thing about the job. But be careful, because if you go into too much detail, this entry will begin to look the same as the entries in your the main “Experience” section, except without dates. That would make it painfully obvious to the recruiter that your only reason you used an “Additional Experience” section was to leave out dates—thus drawing attention to the age/overqualification issue you’re trying to downplay. So avoid details!

So, how far back should your resume go with dates?

Whether or not you include an “Additional Experience” section, you need to make a judgment call on how far back the main “Experience” section should go. In making this decision, consider the following questions.

How many years of experience is sought in the postings for your type of role?
If you left out the experience you have prior to that, what compelling facts would be missing, if any?

Let’s explore each of these questions.

How much experience are they asking for?

In the main “Experience” section of the resume, it’s generally best to include approximately the amount of experience required, or a bit more.

Let’s say the job posting asks for 5 years of experience and you have 15. Following the rule of thumb above, you might list maybe 5-8 years’ worth of experience. When you count back 5-8 years into your experience, where do you land?

In the middle of a job that was a few years long? Fine, include that role with dates, then either omit the earlier roles or include some of them as “Additional Experience.”
In the middle of a job that extends back many years? In that case, you might want to start the “Additional Experience” section with that job.

What if you left out your previous experience?

For each earlier job, ask yourself, “If I leave this out, what’s the most crucial thing that would be missing?” In other words, is something about the older experience uniquely valuable—or is it just “more of  the same”?

Often, experience with a very prestigious company is highly valuable on a resume. For example, if you’re an accountant with early experience in a “Big 4” accounting firm, that’s likely to score some points with recruiters. Mention the company and maybe the title you held, but leave out the dates.

You could even omit the job title, although the name of the company all by itself under a heading would look awkward. It would look better if you mentioned more than one company and put it in sentence format, like so:

ADDITIONAL EXPERIENCE

Gained solid early-career experience at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte.

In an “Additional Experience” section you can even “cherry-pick” the early experience, listing some jobs and omitting others. Since you’re not including dates, no gaps will appear.

Listing more than a few jobs in this section would defeat the purpose, making it clear that your experience goes “way back.” So include earlier roles only if the benefit outweighs the risks of overqualification, ageism and resume clutter.

Make resume decisions based on strategy, not emotion.

As a resume writer and career coach, I’ve often been told by a client, “I’m proud that I was using (a certain technology) right from the beginning, before it was widespread.” I understand–you made history! But dinosaurs are history, too. Don’t make yourself look like a dinosaur.

Others have told me, “I’d like to show them how broad my experience is, because it gives me a wider perspective.” My reply is, “How often have you seen ‘broad experience’ mentioned in a job posting?” Probably never. Recruiters look for experience doing exactly what the job requires. Related-but-different additional experience may add some value in their eyes, but it won’t impress them as much as you might think.

It can feel disappointing to omit experience from your resume. You worked hard for it, and you’d like to “get credit for it.” My advice is: give yourself credit for it, but don’t clutter your resume.

The answer to “How far back should your resume go” is an individual judgment call. In making that call, focus on what employers are looking for. Other than word of mouth, job postings are your main resource for figuring what they want–what will make them pick up the phone.