How Far Back Should You Go On A Resume?
Resumes have always been a hassle to write!
Can we all agree to that?
And for most of us who applied for a job in a company, there is always a question of what do we want to highlight out in our working experience.
Well, that and the question if the resume is actually going to be read by the employer.
Now, assuming that this isn’t your first time writing a resume and that you’ve already worked for 10, 20 or even 30 years in different companies, you may ask yourself another question – how far should I go on my resume?
Obviously listing every job you ever had (from being a part-time cashier at a supermarket when you were in college, or you worked as a waiter in a café at the weekends) isn’t really something that your employer needs to know when you’re, let’s say, applying for a computer programming job.
Have no worries, because today we will break down all the details which make a plain resume look professional!
Also, we will point out what you need to pay attention to so that you give the employer what he wants to see on your resume.
DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW TO WRITE A RESUME?
Please don’t get offended, but be sure to ask yourself if you really do know how to write a resume.
Because you may have forgotten how or you’ve never really paid attention to some specific details in your earlier resumes but have gotten the job anyway.
No matter what, you should never use your old resume and just fill it with the work experience you’ve got now when applying for different jobs.
Not only is this something only a lazy person might consider doing, but it’s also going to minimize your chance of actually getting the job you applied for.
For example, you’ve applied for a marketing job, and the first thing the person who is reading your resume sees is that you’ve worked on a construction site (?).
They would be puzzled, right?
Anyways, there are tons of resume formats out there, and you can pick the one which best suits you. But what they all usually have is:
- Your name – It’s usually located at the very top of the resume and should be in a bigger font than the rest of the text.
- Your contact info – Your address, phone number, e-mail address and a website if you have one.
- Work experience – This is where you list the name of the companies you’ve worked for, what position you’ve held there, for how long have you’ve been working there and maybe even the city where the company was located.
- Education – Your diplomas, schools or colleges you’ve attended and the dates when you finished.
- Special skills – Usually listed at the bottom and here you can highlight some of your skills which you think are important to emphasize and could contribute to the company.
Also, there is some technical stuff involved, as well.
Like, leaving enough white space between each section of your resume to avoid cramming and also using proper font size which should be no less than 11pt so it’s actually readable.
We’ll later go into detail about every one of these points separately, but for now, you should have in mind that this is the most common resume format you should use.
LENGTH OF YOUR RESUME
Now, most of you would probably want to show how rich your experience is and write a novel and not a resume. Right?
Under no circumstances should your resume be more than two pages long!
It’s not a CV where you can really go for seven pages or so. Rather, it should be a short, clear as day, one sheet of paper resume that says what you have to offer to the company.
Knowing this, you should focus on how to pick out highlighted job positions, business successes and earlier experience from your past jobs.
That way, you’ll avoid cramming all of your work experience on two pages, which will not prevent making a mess.
Besides, just put yourself into the perspective of the person reading your resume.
He or she certainly gets hundreds of resumes to read daily, and I’m sure it would be infuriating for them to have to read a five-page resume and see that you’re not really what they’re looking for.
To put things into perspective, a 2016 blog by Staff.com says that Google gets around 2 million resumes a year which is around 5400 a day. Do you really think they’re all being read thoroughly? If read at all!?
So keep it short and precise.
Okay, we have to disappoint you a little.
There is a high chance that your resume won’t be read by a human.
Rather, it will first go through software called Applicant Tracking System or ATS, which scans the resume looking for keywords and, later on, it is passed over to be read by someone who either works in Human Resources or the employer himself.
It sounds harsh, true. But let me point out the 5400 resumes a day once more.
Furthermore, Job-Hunt has pointed out how nearly 95% of resumes don’t even get read, but are just compiled in the companies’ database or thrown in the trash.
And this is not the end of cold hard truths, my friends!
Be ready for more disappointment because, according to The Ladders, a hiring manager or a recruiter spends only 6 seconds reading a resume.
That means you’re not left with plenty of time to “wow” them with your past experience.
They know what they’re looking for and if they find those keywords, you’ll get the interview. If not, well, then your resume will be tossed in the bin like a basketball.
What’s also interesting is that, according to LinkedIn, people who read tons of resumes daily have a tendency to read them in a Z pattern: left-to-right across the top and down the left side. Because they’re looking for those keywords.
I know that this might all sound a bit intimidating, but by knowing how people read resumes, you can use it to your advantage and write your work experiences at just the right spot to catch their attention.
HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?
Now that we’ve talked about the technical stuff, we can focus on actually explaining how to write the things that the employer wants to see.
Also, this way you’ll know which things to avoid and what not to write. It will not only save you space in your resume but also open up space for emphasizing your most important accomplishments.
Keep in mind that not all resumes are the same and if you can figure out which things to highlight and which ones to just mention, you will make a great first impression even before the actual job interview.
So pay attention.
1. Top Center
The top center of your resume is the most important part of the whole document because it is the first thing the hiring agent or someone else will see when they look at it.
The point here is to highlight your accomplishments and list your previous jobs.
Things which certainly should not be listed here are:
- Education – Your education usually goes somewhere at the bottom of the resume and has no place here because people aren’t going to hire you because you’ve graduated from Harvard with a 3.9 GPA. You need to give them something more.
- Tables – Never, under any circumstances, should you list your previous positions by using tables or bullet points. Because the ATS won’t recognize them and someone who is reading your resume will glance right past them.
- Opinions – No one cares that you think you’re the right person for the job, no one cares that you have a great work ethic and so on. These you will prove when you actually get the job.
Instead, you should focus on emphasizing:
- Companies – Employers will show interest in you if you’ve worked in a well-known company because it assures them that you’re a professional. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even work in such a company.
- Accomplishments – By far, the most important point in your resume should be your accomplishments in the companies you’ve worked for. Because, if you’ve improved something in a company in any way, it will not only get the attention of your employer but also show that you could be a valuable asset to their company as well.
- Numbers – Not only are numbers more noticeable than words in a text, but they also provide detailed information. For example, instead of writing that you’ve improved the overall productivity of a certain company, you should specify that in percentages and be exact.
2. Listing Previous Jobs
There are many articles telling you that you shouldn’t include jobs that you’ve worked 15 or 20 years ago and that you’ll lose the hiring manager’s interest.
But we believe that listing jobs you’ve had even 30 years ago can catch their attention if they are related to the position you are applying for now.
First of all, you should list your previous jobs in chronological order, and you can do it in two ways:
- From back to front – This means you start from your first job so you can show how you’ve progressed throughout your career.
- Reversed – You start from your last job, and this is practical because it highlights your most recent work experience.
Depending on what you’re applying for and what you want to emphasize, you should pick one of these types of listing your past work experience.
Next, when listing the companies you’ve worked for and the positions you’ve held, it is important to condense the early years of your professional life.
The idea is to basically cherry-pick the jobs you had in the past which are relevant for the position you’re now applying for.
This means that if, for example, you are applying for a software development company, it’s not necessary to list jobs such as bartending or other similar jobs.
Rather you should list the ones which really have something to do with programming and computers.
Also, what is recommended are jobs you’ve volunteered on. These really can show that you’ve had experience with the kind of work you want to do now.
People think that if they weren’t paid for a job, that it doesn’t count as having one. But this simply isn’t true because what the employer is searching for are the skillsets you have and not the positions you’ve held.
3. Companies vs Positions
It’s often believed that it’s not about where you’ve worked but what position you held there.
Well, you will be surprised to know that it’s the exact opposite in the hiring agent’s eyes.
Because having worked in a good company before will certainly be better than being the assistant director at a not so great company.
For example, it’s better to have worked in the call center at Apple than to have worked as a staff manager at Burger King if you’re applying for a computer software job.
And not only because working at Apple gives you more credibility but also because you still have some connection to technology.
Also, you should keep in mind that employers seek your accomplishments and not your positions, and this is crucial when you list your past work experience.
If you made some improvements in a company which led to something progressive, you should explain exactly what you did at that company.
For instance, rather than just listing staff manager and making bullets about what you did at that positions, you should briefly, in one or two sentences explain what you did at that company and say, perhaps, how you’ve improved the overall productivity of the workers and so on.
This way, not only are you saving space on your resume but also you’re getting the employers attention. Because no one wants to hire someone with generic skills but rather someone who solves problems and makes the company run better.
As we already said, don’t put your education up first because no one really cares where you’ve graduated from and with what GPA.
So you should list it somewhere at the bottom of your resume, if at all.
It goes without saying that most companies do seek people with higher education, but that has nothing to do with your actual skills and knowledge.
Because if you think about it, what a college degree means to employers is proof that you can finish what you’ve started and nothing else.
There are so many people without a college degree, smart and bright enough that they’ve started their own companies and also lots of people with two or three degrees that haven’t worked a day in their life.
There are no rules because you set the standards by your skills and knowledge, not by a piece of paper.
Anyways, you should write the name of the high school or college you’ve attended, what year you’ve finished and what’s your vocation.
If there is a year gap in your years of education, don’t worry too much about that, it’s better for you to be clean about it then to lie.
5. Special Skills
Usually, at the bottom of your resume, you should list some special skills you think you have and are beneficial for the company.
These skills shouldn’t be some generic ones like a sociable, great team leader, great at solving problems and so on.
Instead, you should list something which really does have to do with the job you’re applying for and please don’t lie about the skills you have because you can get in a lot of trouble later on if you really do end up getting the job.
You would be amazed at how much people lie on their resumes! And according to CareerBuilder, 75% of employers have caught a lie on a resume.
Meaning, only one in four applicants tells the truth! We hope you’ll be that one.
You should list some skills like:
- Freelancing content writer/translator – Because these freelancing jobs often mean you’ve worked for multiple clients and on various subjects, so you show that you have an all-rounded knowledge of some subjects.
- Programming – Not all people who do programming have had actual jobs but did that as a hobby, and if you’re one of them and know how to program software, then you should list it here.
- Event organizer – Organizing events often doesn’t require you to be in an actual company but rather something you do on your own, so if you have experience with it, then you can list it.
These are just some examples, and the skills you put here can vary.
Be careful not to put more than 3 or 4 skillsets here because all this is doing is just listing the skills you have which you haven’t mentioned when listing your previous jobs.
JUMPING INTO CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of the previous explanations was for you to see what goes in a resume and what doesn’t, so you avoid cramming your entire career in one sheet of paper and end up with a 2000 words resume with no clear indication of what you have to offer to the company.
Now, we’re going to explain how to deal with the exact opposite problem, and that is “falling into the rabbit hole”.
And by that we mean not listing the jobs you’ve had and having the employer stop for a second and think where have you been in that year gap.
For example, if you leave out your early jobs or jobs that you’re embarrassed by, you’re going to make anyone who is reading your resume think you were unemployed.
And if you really were unemployed, then you should clearly show it by listing all the jobs, you’ve had.
The main idea is that you should list your entire 20 or 30-year career, but you get to choose which segments of your career you should highlight in the top center of your resume.
That way it’s bright as day for how long you’ve been a professional and also what you’ve achieved in that period of your life.
When you keep it simple and precise and are honest, first and most important with yourself and then the employer, you’re granted to get the respect and acknowledgement for your work.
THE DOS AND THE DON’TS
To further explain what you should implement and what you should avoid at all costs on your resume, we’re going to list all the dos, and the don’ts.
- Do – List all of your past work experience, so you have a clean record of your career.
- Don’t – Explain every job you’ve ever had because you don’t need to and have no space to do it.
- Do – List two or three of your most beneficial accomplishments. If you have more that’s fine but keep them to yourself this time and just pick out the ones which will get the employers attention.
- Don’t – Use objective sentences, talk about your private life or brag how you think you are the best candidate out there. You need to prove yourself when you get the job not when you’re applying for it.
- Do – Keep all the explanations of your business projects and achievements brief and precise, so you keep the attention span of the hiring manager and also show them that you know exactly what they’re looking for.
- Don’t – Write more than 2 pages of resume. We’ve explained this one already, but just to remind you. Two pages are more than enough if you know what to write and how.
- Do – Get your resume reviewed by a career consular or someone who has experience with reading resumes because they can point out flaws you need to correct before sending the resume.
- Don’t – Lie. Ever.
Some people think that writing all of your accomplishments and jobs throughout your entire career will impress the employer, but that can’t be further from the truth.
The exact opposite is what the employers want – the less you talk about your career altogether, and the more you talk about specific details from your career and how you made a difference – the better.
Now that you know how to write a resume, which things to bring up and which things to absolutely avoid, go out there and write the perfect resume and get that job that you know you’re qualified for.
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