A question that arises from time-to-time is what work should be include on a resume? A related question is what should be considered work for resume and LinkedIn profile purposes?
Here are some of the questions we ask to decide whether an activity should be listed as work experience on a resume:
- Is it relevant to your job target?
- How recent is the assignment?
- For how long did you work at an assignment?
- What did you achieve at the job?
- Were you paid for the work?
None of the suggestions below are hard-and-fast rules. They are guidelines. Each writers and career management coach may make different decisions about the experience you should or should not feature on your resume. It is important to understand the options, because you are the person that takes the resume to interviews.
Is the experience relevant to your job target?
Some writers, recruiters, and coaches I’ve spoken with prefer jobseekers to include only experience that is directly relevant to their job target on their resumes and LinkedIn (LI) profiles. That “rule” works if, for example, you are an engineer who is also an attorney, and have not worked for a law firm in some years. We included only engineering experience for the attorney because his job target was in engineering, and his recent experience was also in engineering.
It becomes more challenging to keep unrelated work off the resume if you did something that is not related to your job target during a pandemic break. That’s because LinkedIn “penalizes” you for not having a current job on your profile. And employers, research has shown, prefer candidates that have been out of work for less than six months. Although relevance matters, showing some work is better than not having a current role on your resume and profile.
How recently were you at the assignment?
Frequently, jobseekers send me resumes that cover every job since they were in high school or college. Such a resume looks more like a biographical sketch for jobseekers that have been working 15, 20, or 30 years since finishing school. And old information does not help prospective employers know what you bring to the table today.
Furthermore, the technological revolution of the past 20 years means that skills you used at your old jobs—especially jobs you had in the last century–are probably not relevant anymore.
Look at the job postings in your field. Chances are that none of them ask for more than five to ten years of experience. So, why reveal your age by showing 30 years of experience on the resume?
Conscious or unconscious bias against hiring older jobseekers is still an issue in some industries despite the shortage of workers. Avoid putting “last century” jobs, or even those from 2010 on your resume in most cases.
Again, judgement will come into play. When you are returning to a prior career, we may need to find a clever way to include your old experience without putting a point on the years you got the experience.
For how long did you work at the assignment?
While job postings rarely ask for more than ten years of experience, you will probably not find many that prefer three or six months of experience either. That’s one reason we typically do not include short roles on the resume.
Occasionally, though, short jobs demonstrate skills and achievements you should include on a resume and LI profile. For example, a client had a business analysis role that was cut short, perhaps due to the pandemic, so we needed a way to include it. We did this by adding it under an “independent consulting” header.
What did you achieve at the job?
Another criteria I look at with clients is whether they saved money or made money at their companies. For example, a client spent a year or two trying to buy a company but the acquisition did not work out. We still included this experience on his resume for two reasons. First, it demonstrated due diligence and other relevant business skills. We also wanted to avoid a blank period of time on the resume.
Jobs where you feel “nothing was accomplished” may still represent skills someone else will find “golden.”
Were you paid for the work?
Clients sometimes leave blanks on their resumes because “they were not paid for the project.” Either it was volunteer work for a charity or they were supporting a family member. For example, an industrial engineer I worked with left several years off her resume because she was raising a family. It turned out that she also did the engineering analysis for a family member’s startup business plans. While she was not paid for the effort, it demonstrated entrepreneurial business accomplishments and skills in addition to filling the employment gap. A well-known coach once told me “salary is not a resume issue,” and I have followed this suggestion for many years. Every situation is different, so apply your best judgement rather than rote rules.