Do you need to include every job you ever had on a job application? What if there’s not enough room to list them all? How about when some of the jobs you have held aren’t relevant to the positions that you are applying for now?
When job applications are online, there may be space to list an unlimited number of past positions. On other applications, you may only be able to list a certain number of jobs. How many positions should you list? And, more importantly, if you are limited, which should you include or exclude?
Which Jobs to Include on a Job Application
There are strategic reasons to include — or exclude — certain past jobs. As a general guideline, you should craft your work history to best support the specific position you are applying to.
If you have an extensive and diverse work history, it will be more difficult to represent your experience in an easily digestible form. At the same time, you'll have more options as to which positions you choose to include. Candidates with limited experience will not have as much leeway since they'll need to present at least some evidence of past employment.
The exact number of jobs to include on your applications will depend on your personal situation, but here are some suggestions to help you decide how to best represent your unique work history on a job application.
Read the Directions Very Carefully
Look for instructions that indicate what to list, such as statements like "list all past jobs." In these cases, you will be limited to what the directions say and should include all positions that meet the instructions and fit within the available space. Leaving out jobs, particularly during your recent work history, could be grounds for rejecting your application.
In the case where you have many jobs in your distant past that are not relevant to the job for which you are applying, you could summarize your employment during that period. For positions more than 10 to 15 years in the past, for example, you could say, "Worked in a variety of retail services positions from 1990-1995, details available upon request."
Listing All Positions for a Certain Time Frame
Some applications will specify that you list all positions for a certain time frame, like the past five or 10 years. In a case like this, you should cover all positions in that period of time, but you can be selective about what you include in years prior. Regardless of the time frame, find a way to incorporate all jobs that show evidence of critical skills or knowledge bases you have that fit the job.
If you've left out jobs that you had outside of the employer's timeframe, and those positions are irrelevant to the current position, you can write something like, "Highlights of additional employment provided below. Complete work history available upon request," if there is a place on the online application for additional information or notes.
Keep It Short
Be brief when describing irrelevant jobs that you are forced to include, or jobs that are from the very distant past. Instead of detailing duties that aren't impressive or relevant, make other points. If you held an evening job at a restaurant, for example, you might say "Worked extra hours to expedite the repayment of college loans."
If applicable, you should also highlight promotions, awards or key successes. That way, even if the work isn't relevant, you can at least make a point about other aspects of your candidacy.
Pick and Choose Which Jobs to Include
If you aren't directed to provide your entire work history or all positions within a certain time period, limit the number of positions to the jobs most relevant to the position you're applying for. However, be sure that you aren't creating gaps in your work history.
You Can List More Than Your Work History
Applicants with a limited number of non-related experiences should try to incorporate volunteer and co-curricular roles. If the employer doesn't have a special category on their application for volunteer experiences or activities, then include these experiences within the employment section. Label them appropriately, so it is clear that the positions were unpaid. For example, you could list volunteer activity as "Volunteer Event Coordinator, PTA" or "Fundraising Volunteer, American Cancer Society."
Don’t Create an Employment Gap
Some candidates are reluctant to leave off less pertinent positions because it would create gaps in employment, and yet, they don't want to include less impressive jobs. In this situation, one option is to leave these jobs off and use the comments or additional information section to provide an explanation.
This approach will make the most sense if you have an easily understandable rationale for taking time away from your career or downshifting to a less relevant, or impressive position. Perhaps you were taking courses, raising a child, or caring for a family member. Keep in mind that your cover letter might also be a place where you can account for any disruptions in your work history.
Keep Your Work History Honest
It’s important to portray your employment history in the best possible manner. If you can closely match your experience to the employer’s requirements, you’ll have the best chance of getting hired.
However, it’s even more important to be honest on your applications. When you sign (on paper or online) a job application, you are attesting to the fact that what you have listed is accurate and truthful. Employers can, and do, verify the information that job applicants give them. If your application isn’t honest, it can cost you a job — either now or in the future.