Remember this: A resume is a marketing document that quickly shows a potential employer how you are a fit for their job.
It is not a career biography.
Can I leave a job off my resume?
To determine which jobs in your past to leave off your resume, consider the following questions from Lori Williams, Resume Writer and Career Coach at Unstoppable Communications:
- Will this job be relevant to the job in which I am currently applying or to the career I want to pursue?
- If I remove this job off my resume will it create a noticeable gap in my work history that I can’t explain?
- Did I leave this job on bad terms, which can result in a bad recommendation should a recruiter or hiring manger check out my background?
“These three questions can help you decide which jobs you can leave off your resume,” Williams tells Jobscan. “Always consider putting relevant work history that reflects your skills and showcases quantifiable stats in roles that will help promote you to the next step in your career. Likewise, if you were only in that role for three months or less, I strongly suggest leaving it off a resume unless it was an internship or volunteer experience.”
Laura Mazzullo, owner of East Side Staffing, a New York City-based boutique recruitment firm focused on the permanent placement of Human Resources professionals, also suggests asking yourself some questions — and thinking like a recruiter who is reading your resume. “Is this previous job relevant to what I’m applying for? Do I want to be asked about it on the interview? Will talking about this experience on an interview impress the interviewer? Will it help or hurt my candidacy?”
“If you don’t want to be asked about it on an interview, leave it off,” says Mazzullo. “If you don’t feel it adds anything meaningful to where you are heading in your career, leave it off.”
What else should you leave off a resume? Laura Handrick, a staff writer at Fit Small Business who holds SHRM certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), and who has served as the HR director in Fortune 100 companies, helped us come up with the following tips:
Jobs older than 10 years
Handrick suggests that job applicants should leave off anything that’s older than ten years, as it gives away your age and can cause unintended bias on the part of the recruiter or hiring manager. That said, some recruiters say go back as far as 15 years, so if you still have relevant and important experience from 15 years ago, you’d be safer to include it.
Anything unrelated to your current job
Leave off anything completely unrelated, like the time you worked for your uncle’s construction company in the summer during college.
Jobs that may cause conflicts of interest or go against values of a company
Leave off anything that doesn’t reflect well on the position you’re trying to get.
For example, say you’re looking work in IT for the Democratic National Committee (Democratic Party). “Stating that you worked as a political activist for the RNC (Republican National Committee) probably isn’t going to help you get the job,” says Handrick.
The same is true for anything overly controversial. For example, let’s say you want a job as a writer for a Christian educational company, and one of your writing internships was done at Planned Parenthood. “Employers are not supposed to discriminate, but human beings often do, even if it’s unintentional,” says Handrick. “So why risk it?”
Exception to the rule: College students should include any part-time work or job they held in college, whether it’s related to their career path, or not. That part-time job in retail, or working as a server, while in college, provides valuable skills that employers crave from entry-level job seekers. So, when you lack experience, be sure to include those part-time jobs to show you have some professional experience. Employers covet job seekers who have developed soft skills and/or worked part-time jobs while in college – especially in retail and the restaurant industry, where communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills are developed. The same can be said for many other part-time jobs college students hold, so include them.
Jobs that make you look like a job hopper
Leave off any job that you worked for less than 90 days because it makes you look like a job hopper. For example, if you took a position and then changed your mind and took a better position a few weeks later, don’t list the short-term position you took first.
Exceptions to the rule: If the job was with a temporary staffing firm where you were working, adding skills, and staying employed while seeking permanent, full-time employment, include it. If you were performing contact work on a short-term gig, include it and label it “(Contract)”.
Leave off jobs that don’t add any unique or additional skills
Let’s say you’re an electrician. Leave off the job 12 years ago when you worked parking cars as a valet.
Other exceptions to consider
While many hiring managers and recruiters recommend only listing jobs from the last 10-15 years, there are some recruiters who want to see a complete work history — see why there is confusion among job seekers? If you do list experience past 15 years, simply only list title, company, city/state, years, like this:
Marketing assistant, Smith Companies, St. Paul, Minnesota (2002-2003)
Marketing intern, Acme Enterprise, White Bear Lake, Minnesota (2000-2001)
“I do believe that every job experience adds to your personal story, so I understand why some people are tempted to leave ‘it all’ on the resume,” said Mazzullo.
Applicant tracking systems use keywords and skills to rank and filter your resume based on the job requirements, see if your previous experience is helping or hurting your current match rate by using Jobscan.
Focus on most recent and relevant
Remember, employers want to learn about your most recent and relevant experience, so focus on that.
Example: Let’s say you have 10 total years of work experience and are seeking a new job in HR. The first two years of your career were in retail (sales/management). The next two were as an executive assistant. And the most recent six were as an HR generalist.
“You’ll want the HR Generalist experience to own the most valuable space near the top of your resume, since you’ll want to be asked most about this on an interview (and it aligns with your goals),” says Mazzullo.
“Think of the resume as a canvas,” says Mazzullo. “You want the biggest piece of the canvas to be filled with the most relevant, appealing, and attractive parts of your experience.”
And you’ll want to leave off the jobs that are irrelevant, or don’t fit into the puzzle.
Matt Krumrie is a professional resume writer, and owner of Resumesbymatt.com. He has 15 years of resume writing experience and specializes in eliminating the clutter and information that won’t add value to a resume.
Check out his previous Jobscan article: Resume Guides for Different Industries