Your resume is the first thing hiring managers and recruiters look at when deciding whether you're a viable candidate for an open position -- so it's important to get that document just right. But while you probably know to avoid grammatical errors and the like, one thing you may be unclear on is how far back on your resume to go. This especially holds true if you're a seasoned worker with years of experience under your belt.

So how many years of work history should your resume include? As a general rule, you're safe listing your last 10 years of experience. But that's not the whole story.

It's all about relevance

The purpose of your resume is to show that you have the expertise needed to excel at the role you're applying for. So rather than focus on a certain number of years' worth of work experience, you're better focusing on your most relevant experience.

A person holding a pen while reviewing a resume.


Imagine you're 20 years into your career and are ready for a change. If your first job out of college actually had you doing work that's more relevant to the field you want to break into, you should absolutely skimp on details from your more recent positions and focus on that initial role. Of course, you'll still want to list those interim roles, because without them, your resume will have an obvious gap. The point, however, is that it's OK to include early career experience on your resume if it makes the case for hiring you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you've held several positions over the past few years, all of which had you doing similar tasks, you might keep each individual description brief to conserve space and communicate the skills you picked up elsewhere on your resume. For example, you can talk up certain talents you have in your opening statement, which is basically an overview of who you are. You can also include a general skills section on your resume to avoid getting too repetitive throughout.

Be strategic with your resume

In some cases, listing jobs from more than just 10 years ago might help you land a new position. For example, if you're responding to a job description that specifically asks for two decades' worth of experience, you'll actually be following the rules by erring on the side of more detail.

On the other hand, be careful about listing too much experience on your resume, because in doing so, you might inadvertently give away more clues about your age than you'd like. Unfortunately, age discrimination is a major problem in the workplace today, so much so that 67% of employees aged 45 to 74 say they've seen or fallen victim to it. If your resume includes job details dating all the way back to the 1970s, an employer might pass you over because it doesn't want to risk hiring someone who might very well retire within the next few years. Therefore, it sometimes pays to hide a portion of your work history, even if it happens to be relevant to the job you're seeking.

Ultimately, there's no hard and fast rule when it comes to listing work experience on a resume. Your best bet is to read each job description you're responding to carefully and tailor your resume to present yourself in the best possible light.