When it comes to writing your resume to target medical sales roles, just how far back should you go when detailing your career and industry experience?
I’m a huge proponent of placing the greatest focus on what you’ve done in the last 15 years – and making a bit of room for anything earlier that further cements your brand as an expert in the industry or in sales.
Why 15 Years?
The Rabbit Hole
The rabbit hole phenomenon, which occurs when someone starts reading about experience that happened more than 15 years in the past, is real and happens to the best of us!
Once in the rabbit hole, readers find themselves asking “I wonder how old he/she is?” “I wonder when they graduated from school?” or “I wonder how old their kids might be?”
The Age Bias Issue
Although illegal, similar to the rabbit hole phenomenon, age discrimination is very real indeed.
To eliminate the question of age during the resume review process, as an Executive resume writer, I employ techniques to create documents that make a client effectively timeless.
In my view, there’s no reason for the reader to know at first glance if the candidate is 33 or 63.
The Case for an Earlier Experience Section
For many, the idea of omitting experience from over 15 years ago is tough to stomach. This is especially the case when those years contained big wins or invaluable lessons learned.
More importantly, there are occasions when earlier roles lend additional credibility to your sales knowledge, industry acumen or leadership skills, or showcase experience not evident in recent years.
When to Use an Earlier Experience Section
WHEN your experience from prior to 15 years advances the story or adds value to the narrative, I’m a huge proponent of including an “Earlier Experience” section below your “Current Experience.”
Here are 4 examples of this:
1) You are targeting a sales leadership role, have spent the past 15 years as an individual sales contributor, and your earlier experience shows times when you’ve led people and/or teams.
2) Your earlier job titles show you worked your way up the ladder into the role you hold today – further cementing for the reader that you understand the device/product/specialty/industry inside and out.
3) You want to show you can jump into any disease state or medical specialty – and your earlier experience indicates you worked selling a variety of different products and/or devices.
4) You have worked with some big names or industry leaders in the past. In my experience, readers often place cache on this type of “name dropping.”
How to Use an Earlier Experience Section
Below are 3 steps I follow to create an “Earlier Experience” section that features specifically selected roles from 15+ years prior:
Identify which roles, if any, further the narrative conveyed in the summary section at the top of page 1, and that have not been expressed through the accomplishments of the most recent 15 years.
Depending on space and the message I am trying to convey, I will simply include the company name and job title. However, if there’s room and I want to feature a noteworthy achievement, one to two lines is adequate to explain the highlight.
FORMATTING TIP: Selectively bold whichever point is most pertinent (in some cases the job titles, in others the company name).
#3 Eliminate Dates
Remove ALL dates in this section to help the reader effectively circumvent both age concerns and the rabbit hole phenomenon.
FORMATTING TIP: When the narrative from the “Earlier Experience” section is of huge value, be sure to include mention of it in the branding or summary section at the top of the first page. This formatting technique effectively informs the reader of information that otherwise would be buried at the bottom of the second page.
How Far Back Should You Go on LinkedIn?
In my experience, people read LinkedIn differently than they do resumes because if they are hooked with the earlier good stuff, they must keep on “clicking” to get further than the past 15 years. Once this happens, they have effectively bypassed the rabbit hole altogether!
If your experience occurred more than 15 years ago, and you believe it crucial to advancing your career story, include it AND feature the dates. If the experience doesn’t add any value, omit it.
Walking the Line
Deciding exactly how far back to go on a resume or LinkedIn requires careful thought and consideration. It balances unpredictable human nature and age bias, on the one hand, against successes and achievements that advance the story or narrative on the other.
The use of an earlier experience together with the formatting techniques I’ve shared and an understanding of human reading behavior should help to effectively walk the line!
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– By Virginia Franco, NCRW, CPRW