Your Employment History: Focus on the Future
What is the best resume format to use with a long employment history?
How long should it be? What's the best way to deal with employment gaps?
How far back should a job history go? Here are some tips on putting employment
history in the right perspective.
Your employment history. You would think it's all about the past, right?
Wrong. The employment history in your resume is all about focusing on
your future. If you're a seasoned veteran with a long record of employment,
you have an advantage when it comes to focusing on your future.
Georgia Adamson is a certified professional resume writer and owner of
a career management company. She says, "The resume is more than just a history
-- it must be focused forward (toward a goal) -- so I avoid use of the
terms 'job history' or 'employment history'. I prefer to use
Of course, the goal of your resume is to get that perfect job. Adamson
adds, "I believe one of the most critical purposes of a resume is to highlight
the value the job seeker offers to employers. Consequently, every choice
I make in creating a resume needs to be based on that premise."
So, when you tackle your resume, make sure you use your experience to
highlight your value to a potential employer.
Highlighting a Long Work History
The chronological resume seems best suited for the seasoned veteran; however,
the combination resume, which combines features of the chronological and
functional resume, can be used to your advantage.
"Either a chronological or a combination format can
be used effectively, depending on specifics of the individual's background
and career goals," says Adamson.
Howard Earle Halpern is a certified professional resume writer and inventor
of the Business-Card Resume. He believes a chronological resume is definitely
the way to go. "Reverse chronological. [The] reason is simple:
[it's] easier for an employer to read and understand."
Sell Yourself -- But Don't Go Overboard
Sometimes the resume of a job applicant who has been in the workplace
for many years can be overwhelming to a potential employer. Surprisingly,
it isn't necessary or desirable to include every bit of history in detail.
"Almost anyone who has a long span of experience should not be including
all of it on the resume," Adamson emphasizes.
Sharon Graham is the president of a management group and a certified professional
resume writer. "These days, resumes
are not limited in length, with a two-page resume being prevalent," she says.
"If there is enough pertinent information to warrant three pages, I always
suggest to my clients to take that route. Executives with a long career
commonly have three to five pages.
"Having said this, the most common issue that I see is
that my clients want to put absolutely everything on their resume.
A resume is an advertising document and should be designed
as such. I often suggest to my clients to go through their resume
word by word and 'deselect' absolutely everything that will not add value.
The final product should be a clear, concise document that includes only
the selling points that a prospective employer is looking for."
Three Summers Spent Running a Lemonade Stand...
How far back should one go in listing previous employment on the resume?
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to how many years of employment
history to include on your resume. The general consensus seems to be "as
much as it takes" to get the job done.
"Do what you need to do to sell yourself strongly, then stop
," says Halpern. "Typically, I recommend going back at least five years, but there are exceptions.
"The best resume in the world is one page long. It demonstrates efficiency
by not wasting the reader's time. I sell my clients' services in the first
half page. The rest is filler."
Adamson favors including more years in the job history. "No hard-and-fast
rule exists for the length of time covered in the experience section, but
a general rule of thumb is 10 to 12 years (more for senior management, academicians,
etcetera). Even then, the farthest-back positions usually take up less
space on the page because they're likely to be 'old news' and less interesting
to prospective employers."
Graham offers some advice for the older job seeker on how to handle this
sometimes sticky area. "The general rule of thumb for listing employment
is 10 years, with up to 20 years being common for executives. It is critical
for an older worker to eliminate any dates that will allow a recruiter to
calculate their age.
"Previous career history can be effectively documented by just
listing the companies and positions in a summary format. In addition, in
many cases it is completely acceptable to eliminate early jobs that have
nothing to do with current work history."
How to Handle Those Annoying Gaps
One of the situations that almost all seasoned veteran job applicants
face is a gap in employment history. This occurs because hardly anyone has
a career road without bumps in it. Because life doesn't happen "by the book,"
it is normal to have periods of time when the job history doesn't progress
A gap in your employment history isn't necessarily a negative, it's just
something that needs to be addressed. Halpern favors a direct approach.
"Simple: give a logical reason why the gap exists."
Adamson believes the circumstances dictate the approach. "How an applicant
handles gaps on his or her resume can vary considerably, depending on the
circumstances. Employers will undoubtedly ask about the gap...a brief, non-highlighted
reference at the appropriate point in the resume may be the best way to address
the issue. For example: '2000-2001: Lived overseas for 18 months to manage
a family crisis.'"
Graham offers this advice: "Candidates with gaps in their employment history
should consider a mixed resume format....In addition, I advise
many of my clients to document years only, rather than month and year of
employment. This technique will often disguise smaller gaps."
Putting It Into Perspective
Yes, experience is a definite plus when job hunting. But seasoned veterans
should make sure their long employment history doesn't make them appear behind
the times, or look like their skills and outlook are out of date. Here are some
tips to add spark to a resume and show prospective employers that a long
job history can be an asset.
Graham points out that the current business environment favors technology,
speed and change. She says experienced professionals are often challenged
in these areas, both on their resume and during their interview.
She suggests overcoming this by dedicating some time before designing your
resume to review your career history, unearth some appropriate
accomplishments, and devise succinct achievement statements.
"Candidates should also focus on examples of real-life business
situations where they have produced results quickly, handled a major organizational
change, dealt with a process change, and/or used technology to accomplish
Adamson shares a few tips of her own. "It's all about value.
The 'seasoned veteran' should have abundant value to offer -- he/she simply
needs to identify and articulate it so that it comes across clearly in the
She suggests that one method you can use for doing this is to note key
strengths and expertise that would probably interest potential employers
and then include corresponding "C.A.R." examples (Challenge-Action-Result)
from the work experience.
"Also, remove old-sounding terminology, such as outdated computer programs
and business concepts. They're probably irrelevant today, and including
them can draw unwanted attention to the age-related issue," Adamson warns.
"Above all, avoid such death-traps as the 'job description (responsible
for)' resume and the 'I've done a ton of work, and I want to tell you about
all of it in excruciating detail' resume!"
The bottom line on employment history is that successful resumes use it
as an integral part of the whole -- wisely formatting it so that the prospective
employer sees that experience as an asset.
Give lots of thought to how you can be sure your resume sells you as a
complete package -- the perfect candidate for that perfect job. After all,
when it comes to job-hunting, it's all about focusing on the future.