Whether you are well into your career or have a gap in your employment, it can be tough to decide what to include on a resume. This is especially true when you reach a point where you question whether your work experience happened too long ago to include on your resume.
Most people are looking for a straightforward answer or rule that tells them exactly how many years is too far back to include on their resume. However, career experts and coaches say there’s no right answer.
We spoke with Michelle Aikman, NCRW, co-founder and Director of Adventure Learning of Cerno, to discuss just how far back your resume should go.
The rule of thumb
The standard rule people will often hear is that any experience past ten years is not relevant and should be kept off a resume. But, Aikman points out that there is no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone because some people don’t have work experiences that lead them to what they want to do next.
“My rule of thumb is to consider how important the experience is to convey your ability to do the job and whether it is absolutely critical that you communicate your qualifications or past experiences with a timeline attached to it,” says Aikman.
If the experience still applies, regardless of when it occurred, Aikman says you should still put it on your resume.
“As long as it gives the employer enough information to understand it, it opens the door for you to talk about that experience,” she explains. “It might not be recent, but is still relevant.”
It’s all about relevancy
When it comes to placing old work experience on your resume, Aikman says to focus on relevancy. If you did something in high school or college that is more relevant to what you are trying to do than other recent experiences, then Aikman says you absolutely should include it because it adds to your qualifications.
For those with a large gap in their employment, filling out a job application or going to an interview might be nerve-wracking if you’re worried an employer will notice how far back your resume goes. But if you accomplished things in your personal life that you are proud of, you can find ways to showcase those accomplishments on your resume as relevant experience.
For example, if there is a gap in your employment because you had to care for a family member or loved one, you can explain what you learned or accomplished through that experience in a way that showcases the relevant work to the job you are now applying to. Maybe that experience taught you how to manage another person’s life–so you can showcase why you’d be a great assistant or general manager.
“It just comes down to pulling out the relevant words to describe what you did,” says Aikman. “It may mean you need to be skilled in how you present the information, because you may not be able to use the language you used before. Think about how you can communicate this experience using language that will resonate with the employer.”
Translating old experiences
Moreover, not only is providing relevant experience important, but it’s also important to translate the experience for your future employer. Aikman says you must come to terms with the challenges you are facing while unemployed, but showing the employer why you are motivated and want to work for them.
“The cover letter is a really good place to explain this,” advises Aikman. “It’s important that you provide details on why you are trying to transition right now because employers tend to get nervous about why you are unemployed or haven’t been hired yet.”
Aikman explains this is a significant issue for many people with a large employment gap and that many career services centers or professionals are not able to help because they don’t know how to.
Go beyond the resume
Unfortunately, a stigma still exists around being unemployed. When you are looking for a new job, the standard process of filling out an online application or dropping off a resume isn’t always enough. Aikman advises that those in this situation should be more pro-active in reaching out to employers by attending networking events and building relationships with other professionals.
When it comes down to it, Aikman says you just have to communicate to the employer that the experience you have, regardless of when it occurred, does make you qualified for the position
“You have to believe in the resume for it to work. I think anything can go on a resume, it’s just how you communicate it using the right language,” she says.