Wondering how far back in time you should take your resume’s experience section? Here’s a good rule of thumb: Document the number of years your target role calls for, as specified in most job ads.

For instance, if a job posting calls for five years of work experience, take your resume back to 2019; if eight to 10 years, take it back to around 2015. Whatever the called-for time span, view your associated work history as “required” information on your resume. Give the basic details of each job you’ve held during that time (position title, company name, location, start/end dates) regardless of how relevant the job is to your goals.

Often, your earliest job within the required time span will have started during a previous year. For instance, say your target job requires six years of experience. That would mean taking your resume back to 2018, but what if you held your earliest position from 2015 to 2019? In cases like this, extend your experience section back to that prior start year (or 2015).

Address Any Work Gaps

Your “required” work years may include one or more jobs that don’t pertain to your target job. For these roles, describe your duties and overall success in the role as briefly as possible. This brevity gives you space to flesh out descriptions of your relevant jobs, keeping the hiring manager’s attention on work details that matter to them.

Your required work years might also include employment gaps. Maybe you took time off to get an advanced degree, start a family, or for other personal reasons. Your best option is to give a simple one- or two-line explanation in brackets wherever the gap appears in your experience section. Two examples:

[2018 to 2020: Completed MBA degree from Stanford University]

[2017 to 2021: Full-time mother focused on starting a family]

Brackets are helpful here because they indicate the details are outside the general work experience category without calling undue attention to them. For any school-related gaps, you can then give a proper description of the degree program in your resume’s education section.

Capture Your Early Experience

Any time your required work years include employment gaps or irrelevant jobs, document relevant work experience from earlier on so your resume shows you still meet the job requirements. The simplest way is by taking your resume’s work history back further until it covers enough earlier relevant experience. This option is best if you gained that relevant experience right or soon before your more recent work history. Usually, go back no further than 10 to 15 years to avoid age discrimination.

The other primary way to capture your early experience is in a separate “Career Note” section right below your main experience section. This option works best if you gained the experience a long time ago because you can omit the work dates and, therefore, avoid having to outline all your jobs in the intervening years. (Omitting early work dates also lets you avoid age discrimination.)

For example, say you’re going after a direct sales role at a large corporation. The job calls for six years of related experience, which you have. Three of your sales years occurred from 2019 to 2022, so they fall in the six-year span (2018 to present) you’re already needing to outline on your resume. But your other three years as a sales rep were from 2008 to 2011. Granted, this was a while ago, but you gained great experience and are confident discussing it in an interview. You can frame the experience like this:

Career Note:

Prior experience includes three years as a sales associate for an industry-leading manufacturer.


  • [Key duty or highlight]
  • [Key duty or highlight]
  • [Key duty or highlight]

You can then flesh out the description with your relevant duties or sales achievements. Don’t be shy about having an extensive prior experience section. If the older work you’re describing is truly valuable and will help you excel in your next job, it deserves a prominent place on your resume, regardless of when it occurred.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Resume Experience Section

Can I leave all work dates off my resume?-

No. Virtually any dateless resume will be disqualified by applicant tracking systems (ATS) or passed over by hiring managers. Even if you opt for a full functional resume, at least give a bare outline of your recent work history at or toward the bottom of your document.

Does a job layoff look bad on my resume?-

Yes, but only because all reasons for leaving a job shouldn’t appear on your resume. Recruiters and hiring managers understand layoffs are all too common (especially in recent years) and don’t indicate how a person will perform on the job. But in nearly all cases, you don’t need to specify a layoff or any other reason you left a past position. This context just isn’t relevant to the resume’s main aim of showing your qualifications for your target job. It’ll only distract from other, more important details in your work history.

Is it OK to lie about the length of a job on my resume?-

No. Lying on your resume is wrong and will probably backfire. False work information can hinder your job search when you’re asked to elaborate during an interview or when an employer discovers it during a background check. Even if you get away with misrepresenting your experience, it can set back your career by leading you to a job you’re not yet qualified for or a company that’s a poor fit for you. No matter your work history, the above strategies will help you create a resume experience section that’s both impressive and honest.

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