How far back does my résumé need to go?
July 14, 2011 7:21 AM   Subscribe

The first few years of my work history aren't really related to my current career path. Can I leave them off my résumé?

I've been working full-time for about nine years, since I graduated from college. I spent the first four years in low-level support positions (reception, data entry, customer service, etc) before I found my current line of work. I was under the impression that a résumé should have one's entire work history, so I have my earlier jobs listed. At this point, however, they're not particularly relevant or impressive - just proof that I've been in the workforce for a while.

I know I can divide my résumé into "related experience" and "other experience," but I'd just as soon leave the earlier jobs off. My résumé would look a lot cleaner, but on the other hand, those jobs make up half my work history. Is this commonly done? Would potential employers wonder about the gap between my graduation date and my first job, or think I was hiding something?
posted by Metroid Baby to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Keep them. Five years in your current industry is good, but not enough to build a stand-alone resume. It's more important to show a steady work history since college.
posted by mkultra at 7:24 AM on July 14, 2011

Proof that you've had consistent work for nine years is nothing to sneeze at. What you'll want to do is reframe duties and accomplishments at those jobs into something relevant at your current carreer. Assuming you're still doing desk work, it shouldn't be as difficult as reframing retail or labor work. It might not be too relevant, but your job here will be to make it as relevant as possible without outright lying. Customer service, for instance, is a skill required in almost every job at every level from mail clerk to CEO.

Basically, everything on your resume, in one way or another, should be "related experience," tailored to the job you're applying to.

Would potential employers wonder about the gap between my graduation date and my first job, or think I was hiding something?

You want to avoid this at all costs, if it is possible. A gap isn't the end of the world, but if that gap was filled with something, let them know.
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think it's ok to leave them off. I only include my really old jobs because they're still relevant to what I do now.
posted by yarly at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2011

Have you thought about keeping the experience but not as a list of jobs - a sentence highlighting that you were coninuously employed during that period in [range of roles e.g.] and a few bullet points summarising the relevant experiences you gained over those years. Relevant for this purpose would be anything that shows skills required for the role you're applying for or anything that shows good all round transferrable skills that will be helpful in the new role. If they want details they'll ask. Be prepared to discuss this sentente or two at any interview.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ditto griphus. Big gaps like the one you're suggesting raise flags, and even though you can explain it, flags have a hard time fading away from memory.

Reception says you probably can work calmly under pressure, can talk to customers, etc. Customer service is great everywhere. Data entry shows you are methodical and can do mundane tasks. That might not be what you're shooting for, but every job has mind-numbing components to it.

Definitely leave them on, and highlight the aspects you think apply to your current goals. I'm a fan of tweaking resumes to fit the particular job you're applying for.
posted by amoeba syndrome at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It might not be too relevant, but your job here will be to make it as relevant as possible without outright lying.

Exactly. I would recommend leaving them, but see if you can tweak the description to emphasize how they may be related or at least good experience in acquiring your current skill set.

For example, if your career path is in design, and you were a receptionist for a design firm, be sure to mention that. In reality, a lot of knowledge about a particular career can be gained through low-level positions.

Regardless of what field your low-level positions were in, be sure you emphasize what you accomplished in the position. Don't sell yourself short. I have found that most people don't even recognize what they learned or accomplished in their "low-level" jobs. Did you train anyone else? Did you start a new way of doing things? Did you make recommendations to improve efficiency? Did you have to learn new software or systems? If so, mention it.

Keep in mind, there is no one right way to write a resume. Make it easy to read quickly and emphasize your qualifications for the targeted position. Don't be shy about emphasizing your accomplishments and skills.

If you don't blow your own horn, there will be no music.
posted by The Deej at 7:47 AM on July 14, 2011

I say ditch them. Nobody should reasonably expect your resume to be a comprehensive history of every job you've ever held. As for it being a "gap"....I don't see it that way at all. If you have the past 5 years present and accounted for, then you have no "gap" in what is on your resume, you've merely omitted older, less relevant jobs. That seems perfectly normal to me.
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:28 AM on July 14, 2011

Nobody should reasonably expect your resume to be a comprehensive history of every job you've ever held.

Right. Otherwise, you'd list every job you had in high school. Including that two-shift stint at Taco Bell before the Rocky and Bullwinkle promo had they made you wear just got too unbearable.

I think that if you really are in a clear-cut industry/track now, and you're staying in that track, then you don't need to include long-ago jobs that are not relevant. The more specialized the track you're on, the less those earlier jobs matter, and the stranger it is going to seem if you list them. And IMO, the earlier jobs could even hurt you (e.g., if you are a woman, you are possibly undermining yourself by listing that you've been a receptionist.) On the other hand, if you're in a more amorphous setting where building a specific skill set is not relevant, or if you're switching fields, then it might be more important to emphasize your whole history. Basically, the more advanced and specialized the job you're applying for now, the less you need to include your years-ago irrelevant experience, as long as your immediate past shows that you are well entrenched in your speciality. The only exception might be if those old jobs were really impressive. But if your more recent industry-related resume is impressive and spans 5 years, then I seriously doubt anyone is going to fixate on a gap.
posted by yarly at 8:53 AM on July 14, 2011

Here are some creative solutions you might want to consider.
posted by yarly at 8:55 AM on July 14, 2011

Can you categorize them in a more appealing way than "related" and "other"? i.e. in my resume I have sections for legal experience, editorial experience, and teaching experience--not all directly applicable to each job I apply for, but perhaps helpful in giving a sense of my (continuous) work experience and my interests. I have generally found that each category's given me skills that are relevant to positions I'm applying for, so I can edit the bullet points under each job as necessary.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2011

I have single-line summaries giving dates, employer, job I held and nothing more. I go major on my last 2-3 jobs. Summer jobs etc during university I leave off.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2011

i would say leave them off. my first jobs out of college but before art school were in advertising and in book publishing (i was a producer) and while not completely foreign to what i do now (i'm a designer), they aren't really relevant to my career beyond the fact that it is helpful to have advertising and print production knowledge. while those jobs aren't listed in my resumé, i do sometimes, in cover letters or interviews, mention that i once worked in those fields for the very reason that it does provide me with some peripheral knowledge and experience.
posted by violetk at 9:25 AM on July 14, 2011

I have worked in food services, theatre, teaching and archives. I never put my donut shop experience on a resume for a teaching/library job. They don't need to know. I just list my employment as "relevant experience".
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not include your graduation date, then there will be no gap. My resume has my education listed without dates and only the three most recent, relevant jobs. The fact that I was in school during one of the jobs so there would be an overlap of dates isn't relevant to an employer. The only reason I can see for including your grad date would be if you worked in an industry where recent education is more valued.
posted by saucysault at 10:28 AM on July 14, 2011

I leave them, but for anything older than my past few jobs (which covers about ten years) I basically only list my title and employment dates.
posted by BryanPayne at 1:27 PM on July 14, 2011

« Older Non-profit organization   |   Negotiation letters - how to be firm yet polite to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.