How far back should your CV go?

How far back should your CV go?

How far back should your CV go?

By Chris Pennington

If you have had a successful career that goes back decades, sometimes with multiple companies, it can seem daunting to think of what to include on a CV and how far back it should go.

Some applicants make the mistake of preparing a CV that’s too long so they can keep every employment position on there since leaving school or college.

Additionally what makes it more confusing is the conflicting information relating to this issue online. So how far back should your CV go? In this article we’ll provide practical advice regarding what to include and more importantly what to ditch!

The general rule

A good place to start in answering this question is to establish the general rule. A CV should go back no more than between 10-15 years or your last 5-6 employment positions in reverse chronological order if within this time.

Quite simply, this is so your CV is concise and relevant. Employers are not interested in what you did 20 or 30 years ago. This is because your recent experience will be of more relevance to the position you’re applying for.

Also, working practices change over time. Therefore a ‘video tape repairer’ position in 1986 might not be a transferable skill for a position in 2018 where coding is required.

However whilst this general rule is a good place to start, there will be times where you may need to deviate. Below we’ll take a brief look at why this could be relevant for you.

Change of career

If you’re looking to change career, or go back to a previous career, then you may need to go back further on your CV. The key to this is to focus less on recent positions that may not support your application, but still mention them.

However, if you need to demonstrate a specific skill set from a position you held a number of years ago then write a bespoke CV for the position you’re applying for.

For example, if you were a journalist between 1999-2003 and you’re applying for a similar position again, make this an important part of your CV. Also, use your personal profile at the top of your CV to highlight this straight away, so the reader is drawn to it on your CV.

A CV is essentially a sales pitch. So, it makes sense to focus on what will sell you most to a recruiter. Regardless of when this experience was gained.

Skills based CV

A similar way to achieve the above is prepare a skills based CV. This veers away from the conventional CV style and focuses on the skills you’ve gained in your career that apply to a specific position you’re applying for, even though you might not have direct experience.

The reason why you may choose to write a skills based CV will heavily influence where you draw upon your experience to back up your transferable skill set. Also, if you’ve had a recent career break, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate your previous experience from older positions.

A skills based CV also needs to be a summary and not go into too much detail. You should use the skills section to focus the reader and demonstrate employment experience that’s relevant to the application.

Keep to one or two sentences per employment position, with a factual account of what you did there. Also, remember to list voluntary experience if it backs up your application.

Again, this type of CV is only needed where your recent experience doesn’t back up your application. You need to give careful consideration before completing this type of document.


Whilst a CV should generally be a concise document that’s no more than two pages, you may be concerned you’re losing far too much of your earlier career. If this is a worry then build a LinkedIn profile and add the link to your CV.

This means you can add all your history to the profile. So, if a recruiter wants to get to know more about you, they can have a read of your full profile. It also means your CV will still be concise, without losing the impact of your more recent positions.

Understand how far back your CV should go?

As you can see, whilst there’s a general rule that most recruiters and CV writers like to see and adhere to, there may be a need to deviate from this for a specific role.

This tends to be if your recent experience isn’t relevant, or if you wish to change your career direction and focus on your skills that will be applicable.

Remember a CV should get you to the interview. So, before you prepare it, have a think about what will help you to demonstrate your suitability for the position. Try to keep to two pages, be concise in a bullet point format, and take into account all the advice above.

If you do this then your CV should be one that proceeds to the next stage of the application process and ultimately help you land the job you’re looking for.

Your CV Consultant was founded by Chris Pennington. Helping client’s find jobs though career coaching, cv writing and job search since 2016.