Listing every single job you've held can do more harm than good

When writing your CV, there are many questions you need to answer. One of the first has to be “how far should my CV go?” Getting your CV length on point matters, especially since hiring managers have no time to waste. If you're not sure where to start, we've got you covered. In the following article, we take a look at a CV's optimal length and how to make the cuts to get there.

How many months back should my CV go?

As a rule of thumb, your CV should only list the last 10 to 15 years of your work experience, or your last five to six employment positions within this time frame. This keeps your CV highly relevant to the prospective employer. One of the biggest mistakes we see job seekers making is overshooting this. 

Why you should keep your CV length short 

When you're asking yourself “how far back should my CV go?,” you might be missing the point. Remember that your CV is not supposed to document the complete history of your work life. It's a marketing material that has to hook the hiring manager's attention and leave them wanting more. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the reasons to keep it short and sweet. 

You only need to 'hook' the reader at this stage

Your CV's sole purpose is to demonstrate your most relevant skills and achievements that prove you're an excellent fit for the role at hand. To do this, it's best to zoom in on your most recent professional developments from the last 10 years, as this is likely to be your peak so far – not what you were doing in the previous decade.

You can tell your career story at an interview

By including all your past positions, you may think that you're painting a favourable picture for the recruiter, highlighting the career path you've carved and therefore your strengths. Whilst it's not a bad thing to explain your employment journey to a recruiter, a CV is not the place to tell that story. Save it for the interview, when you have the time to elaborate.

The hiring manager has limited time

Imagine that you're the recruiter: each day, you sift through hundreds of applicants, spending roughly six seconds reviewing each CV to decide whether the candidate is worth pursuing. First impressions count. With that in mind, review the information you've included in your CV and decide if it's worthy of making the sale.

Why you should remove early work experience from your CV

Here are a few reasons why it's best to scale back your work experience to the last 10 to 15 years:

To prioritise your relevant experience

Your career path is more than likely an upward trajectory (even if there are a few bumps along the road), which means that you're currently at the height of your career. In your most recent role, you've probably obtained some of your biggest achievements, procured your most valuable skills, and held your most senior job title to date.

So if that's the case, why would you draw attention to positions that you had over 10 years ago when you were less qualified? By chopping earlier positions, you give recruiters exactly what they want: your best, most relevant skills ‒ not a comprehensive history of your entire career.

To achieve optimal page length

Whilst there's no one-size-fits-all approach to CV writing, there are some industry standards worth paying attention to. In this case, it's the two-page CV length rule.

If your CV is too long, it's highly likely that a prospective employer will miss reading some of your best bits. You may leave the time-poor recruiter disgruntled, rather than optimistic about your potential.

Therefore, remove jobs that are older than 10 to 15 years to slim down your CV, so that it fits onto the standard two pages that recruiters prefer.

To mitigate age discrimination

Even though the 2010 Equality Act protects job hunters from age discrimination, the bias still exists in recruitment. More than a third of adults in the UK report experiencing workplace discrimination, with the most common type being age discrimination. Whilst there are legal measures in place to mitigate this issue during the recruitment process, there are a few CV-writing tactics you can implement too. Removing your earlier employment history or scaling down old details will help to shift the focus from your age to your talent.

Deciding what's relevant for your CV: do's & don'ts

Whilst you're allowed to go as far back as 15 years in your CV, this doesn't mean expounding on every job you've ever held. And keeping your CV to at most two pages doesn't mean removing just about anything either. Remember these pointers when updating your CV:

  • Do bear in mind your target role and industry. The employment history in your CV should be condensed yet tailored to your present career goal. To do this, list out only the tasks and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you're applying for. See our employment history examples and CV templates for guidance. 

  • Don't be tempted to create or leave out career gaps. While you may consider leaving out your career gaps to create a concise CV, this is rarely a good idea. This approach can appear as though you're trying to hide the fact that you took a career break. 

  • Do review the job ad requirements again. Double check the job posting to ensure that you're not omitting any requested skills or experiences from your CV. Some employers may even specify which experiences to include or request your complete employment history.   

Exceptions to the CV length rule

Though there are a few hard requirements when it comes to writing a CV, the process is generally flexible and you can mould a CV to showcase your employability. How far back your CV should go is one of the more adaptable rules.

Exceptions include:

  • If you've worked at the same company for more than 10 years

  • If the job you're applying for requires more than 15 years of experience in a specific field

  • If you hold valuable skills from an earlier position that are relevant to your application

  • If you've worked at a renowned or prestigious company or held a distinguished job title

  • If it explains a career gap in your CV

Outside of these special cases, it's generally wiser to cut the fat and make the last 10 to 15 years of your career the prime focus of your CV.

Keep your CV short and concise

So, how far back should your CV go? The answer is simple: go back no further than 10 to 15 years. If you've been working for longer than that, don't feel the pressure to include every job you ever had. It could do more harm than good, and you don't want to risk overwhelming the hiring manager. Keep only the relevant bits in your CV to boost your chances of landing your next interview.

Is your CV giving too much or too little information? A free CV review will tell you where you stand.

This article was originally written by Laura Slingo and has been updated by Charlotte Grainger.

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