Including your entire career on your resume can actually work against you—this is how far back your resume should go

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When it comes to crafting a resume, the temptation to highlight all your achievements and past positions to emphasize just how perfect you are for a role can be strong — but experts warn a more judicious strategy works better.

Because your resume acts as a marketing document, a sales pitch in text, the more focused and succinct the document, the more convincing you'll be to recruiters, who typically spend around six seconds scanning a resume. It doesn't need to be an exhaustive detailing of your career history.

In fact, including all your years of experience could actually work against you. 

"If you provide too much info, then reading your resume will feel like a burden," says executive career coach Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "Going back 35 years into your career will just age you and bore recruiters. If you've got a long career, then you need to put it on a diet."

Keep it current

Career coaches and professional resume writers advise you focus on the past 10 to 15 years, for most industries. (Some roles, like those within the federal government or in academia, typically, require more complete career histories.)

"The most recent experience will carry the most weight, so the descriptions for the most recent five to 10 years should take priority," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters. "Beyond this, going back another 10 years (20 years total) shows continuity and hopefully career progress, so I would include earlier experience as well. Beyond 20 years, most employers aren't going to weigh that experience anyway, and it's probably your most junior experience so you can probably skip it."

In industries like tech, where in-demand skill sets change frequently, Cohen recommends staying on the shorter end and not including more than the past 10 years' work history on a resume as roles, programs and experiences dating beyond that will likely seem irrelevant or dated.

Career change coach Aurora Meneghello recommends this approach to most of her clients regardless of industry: "Unless the position requires you to have more than 10 years of experience, usually the last 10 years are the most relevant and will keep your resume to a manageable length."

You also don't have to include every job you've held in that time-span either, says John Suarez, a professional resume writer and career coach. A resume is a curated document you've designed to highlight your skills and experience. If a past role isn't relevant, you can leave it off or trim the explanation of that job to include only pertinent accomplishments. This will free up more space for describing other roles that will sell you better to a hiring manager.

Highlight former achievements in a new way

Of course, if you've got an impressive accomplishment or title sitting outside that two-decade limit, include it.

"If 30 years ago is the role where you discovered a patent still in use today, you ought to mention that," says Ceniza-Levine.

You have a few different options for how you chose to work that information in. If a title you've held or company you've worked for is likely to impress a recruiter, consider a section called "earlier work history" or something similar where you can simply list previous jobs, by noting only the title, company and location, says Amanda Augustine, a career coach with TopResume. Or you could try including it in a "career notes" or "career highlights" section at the bottom of your current work experience by writing something like: "additional experience working for ABC company or serving clients like XYZ," adds Augustine.

If the role you want to include is one where you did discover a patent or win an impressive industry award, you could also draw attention to this by folding such an achievement into the summary statement, which is typically a short paragraph at the top of your resume that acts as an elevator pitch to readers selling your skills and experience. Or you could include it in a section following your work history that lists awards or accomplishments you've earned over the course of your career. (Augustine cautions job seekers to only create this separate section if you have at least two such items to call out.)

Cut down on dated information

You'll also want to give your current role or any roles you've held in the past five years the lengthiest descriptions. As you go back in time, the explanation under each title should get shorter.

"If you're devoting a lot of space to older jobs, it will look like you're a resume hoarder or you're holding on to a time in the past when you were more successful," says Cohen.

And finally, if you've been in the workplace for a while and the recency of your certification or academic degree is not a selling point, drop the date you earned it from the resume. Including it, says Suarez, may leave hiring managers wondering how old is this person or what did they do between graduation and the last job listed.

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Sell yourself, not your resume
Sell yourself, not your resume