How much work history to include?
August 4, 2008 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm putting together my resume. How far back do I need to go when writing the employment history? Google does not seem to have any answers for someone in my specific situation.

And my specific situation is this: I have spent the past three years developing a great skillset for a job that I'm passionate about. Unfortunately, I didn't figure out that I'm passionate about this until two years ago, so my employment history is filled with experience that isn't necessarily relevant to the position I'm applying for. This wouldn't be a huge deal, but because of circumstance (e.g., one employer was unable to pay me, the elderly woman I was caring for passed away, I moved, etc.) many of these previous jobs were short-lived (e.g., lasting less than a year.)

I could go back and list everything from the past ten years, but what I'm wondering is whether it looks shadier to have ten years' worth of somewhat short-term jobs, or whether it looks shadier to only include say, five years' worth of employment history.

I really, really don't want to look shady.

And yes, I do plan to highlight the skills and experience I do have in a section above the work history. :)
posted by corey flood to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Try to re-frame past experience to show skills that are applicable to both.

Keep it to one page, so trim really old, really irrelevant stuff. I keep mine to the last three jobs (but I've only had three post-college jobs). As I get a new job, the old one drops off the back, or gets condensed into a single line.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:30 PM on August 4, 2008

I've always heard your last three jobs as well. If I were choosing, I'd say to include five years' worth of employment history over 10 years of short-term jobs. I have a friend who couldn't get hired because all her jobs lasted a very short time. If it looks like you have a gap in your employment, they'll most likely ask you to explain, and you could say then, "caring for an elderly woman," for example.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:11 PM on August 4, 2008

Last five years or last five jobs, all post college. You don't need to list jobs that were less than three months, or any temporary assignments. You can also list applicable jobs under "relevant experience" and everything else under "additional experience" Emphasize your passion and transferable skills in your cover letter. Resumes and cover letters exist to get your foot in the door. Submit your resume, preferably in person, then call or e-mail to follow up, and wow them during the interview.

Best of luck, and congrats on finding something you love!
posted by tinatiga at 6:55 PM on August 4, 2008

It sounds like you may want to look at re-writing your resume in a functional format, rather than the more-traditional chronological.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

when i didn't have a lot of relevant experience for my current career, i listed my most recent employment. going back 3 years seems reasonable. once i had more relevant experience, i listed 2 categories for employment, 'related' employment & 'other' employment. i figure it is better to show that you have consistently held a job, even if each hasn't been long-term or if the job is not in your career area. good luck!
posted by dityfleur at 8:36 PM on August 4, 2008

I made a career change a few years ago, and found it easier to list my employment under two headings: Relevant Experience, and Other Employment. Even then, in the "other" category, I used the functional format Dipsomaniac suggests, trying to describe those jobs in a way that focused on transferable skills. That way, I had a complete work history, but the important stuff was first, and the reader could safely skim read the rest.

I got two jobs this way, and now have reverted to the more usual chronological order of jobs, since I don't have to mention the older stuff at all anymore.
posted by harriet vane at 3:55 AM on August 5, 2008

My resume has always been about framing myself as the best possible person for the job. In some cases, those jobs are the most recent - in others, they're simply the most relevant (with dates attached). If I'm asked what I did between X and Y, I simply respond, truthfully, that I decided to try something new.

I keep a 'relevant experience' section on my resume, complete with the sort of things that are useful /relevant at any job (expert in MS Office, taught people, etc.), along with the normal job experience section.

Once you get a couple solid/stable jobs, you won't have to worry about which order you put them in - most employers just look at the last couple of jobs anyway.
posted by chrisinseoul at 5:04 AM on August 5, 2008

Thanks, everybody! These are all great suggestions.
posted by corey flood at 5:53 AM on August 5, 2008

I agree that the content of your cv shouldn't go back too far, only listing recent or relevant jobs. The latter point is a good one though. I'd be tempted to tailor the emphasis of your cv to suit the specific requirements of each individual job you're applying for. If you want to type out multiple copies and cold call them, try to compile standard cvs for each type of job. E.g. the skills and experience needed in retail are similar but distinct from those needed in call centre work. Don't forget the aim of the cv is to get you an interview, so its almost a personal advert, and in advertising, it isn't features that sell, it's benefits. So list your experience (the feature) but tell the prospective employer what this proves you can do (the benefit).

I'd also say don't totally discount any previous experience that might not seem relevant to the job your trying to get. Use them to demonstrate your skills and attitudes in such things as team-working, showing initiative, communication, enthusiasm, reliability and so on. Think about the skills needed for the job and how you can illustrate that you have them. If this makes the cv too cluttered, try attaching a covering letter which summarises your abilities, contextualized to the organization or sector.

One final thing. If you've found something you're passionate about you're well on the way to finding rewarding work. In more than just the financial sense. Make sure you work for the right people though. Someone who will nurture that passion, not stifle or spoil it for you. If you do get an interview, don't waste the opportunity to ask questions about the organisation, such as these. Peter Drucker told a story worth including here. He once asked the former head of a very large, world wide organisation:

“What do you look for in placing the right people into the right places in an organisation?”

The old man, who had been famous for doing just that replied:

“I always ask myself, would I want one of my sons to work under that person?”
posted by the-happy-manager at 4:32 PM on August 7, 2008

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