Work experience too “dated” for your resume? It depends.

I recently received a couple of questions about the most appropriate resume format, and whether a friend’s comment is true that all experience older than 10 years should be left off the resume.  Here is my response:

1) You need to put your resume in “reverse chronological order”, meaning most recent experience first, because that is what hiring mangers are used to seeing.  Try something different and they will either a) not take the time to figure out your format (given the volume of resumes and managers’ tight schedules, your resume will get looked at for 15 seconds on average!), or b) think you’re hiding something.

2) Because your most relevant experience may not be your most recent, or may be scattered across your resume, you need a concise, well written, easily scannable “Summary Section” that essentialy mimics your pitch. It should include

  1. how they should categorize what you can do for them in terms of your profession, e.g. Project Manger, Senior Marketing Executive, etc.,
  2. what makes you interesting or different from the competition, and
  3. bullets reflecting specific (and, where possible, quantifyable) examples of your achievements (your “greatest hits”).

This section should be at the top of the resume, before the chronlogical listings, so it is guaranteed to get read.

3) As far as other rules like “only keep the most recent 10 years”, “don’t go beyond one or two pages”, etc., give them low priority– instead focus on what is necessary to serve your “story” about how you can help them.  Emphasize things that you think are most relevant, leave out or minimize things that aren’t, and use the words/phrases that reflect the jargon of the hiring manager.  Applying this approach means that in some cases, seemingly recent experience will appear dated, while in other cases your experience from many years ago could be the thing that gets you the interview.  Two examples:

  • I had  a client who was in information technology, and originally included his three year old expertise involving an obsolete programming language.  We ended up removing this experience from his resume, given that a prospective employer won’t find this “dated” experience relevant.
  • On the other hand, I recently helped a client whose most relevant experience was 17 years old– she did EXACTLY what a particular non-profit needed, and worked for the same type of organization, way back then.  So what do you think was at the top of her summary section?  A bullet point highlighting this experience.  And guess what– the resume got her an interview.