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How far back should your resume go?

(MoneyWatch) A reader writes in with a question about how much work experience she should include on her resume:

As a 61-year-old female who was laid off last fall, I realize my job prospects are limited. My question is regarding the work experience section on a resume. Being that I started working at a very young age, I have work experience going all the way back to 1968. My concern is that by listing experience dating that far back, I'm discouraging a potential employer because it makes me appear even older than I am. Should I limit the work experience section to, say, the last 20 years?

So should you edit your resume to include only relatively recent experience? Or underscore your qualifications by listing all the work you've done in your industry over the years? Here's what human resources consultant Jessica Miller-Merrell, who founded Xceptional HR, says:

How far back should your resume go?

In most cases, it's best to list only the last 10 years of your work experience, unless you absolutely believe the work done earlier in your history is an exact match to the job you are applying to now.

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Since age discrimination is illegal, do job applicants really need to worry about showing how old they are?

Although illegal, age discrimination during the resume evaluation process does exist. Remove things like the date when you graduated college or high school so that no judgments are made directly related to your age. I've seen age discrimination happen in reverse as well. A qualified job seeker gains experience very early in life or is placed into a manager role early on, where upon meeting the candidate the hiring manager is shocked that they are so young -- even asking them how old they in fact are.

But isn't more industry experience always better?

Oftentimes, including your entire work history leads a hiring manager to the conclusion that you are in fact overqualified for the position. And even though you are out of work, they will look past your resume because it's likely in their mind that you will leave their organization for a new position relatively quickly that pays more and is a better fit to your specific qualifications.

Bottom line: Try to limit your work experience to the last decade or so. Your most recent positions are likely most relevant to the potential position anyway. And definitely cut out all irrelevant experience -- you only have one page to show your stuff, so use it effectively.

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