I have been working in the same type of job for over 35 years. In putting my resume together I no longer remember the exact start and stop dates for jobs from several years ago. How do I get these dates accurate without having to call all of my prior employers?
You don't. Unless you're applying for a job with some sort of extremely high security clearance - no interviewer, hiring manager, or HR person is going to care.
In my (considerably) shorter CV, I say:
- June 2012 - January 2014 - Head of Widgets at Foo Corp
- August 2010 - May 2012 - Widget Builder at Bar Corp
- 2008 - 2010 - Widget tester at Blah Corp
Remember, the person hiring you is looking for evidence of your skills, what you're like to work with, how you approach problem solving.
If you have a form that specifically asks for the exact date - I think it's perfectly acceptable to put the first of the month if you don't know.
Ideally, you'd locate an old copy of your resume which would have the information on it. Did you ever post a resume online? Perhaps you could search for it.
Failing that, what other records do you have from that time? Do you have any copies of old tax filings? Photos from a farewell party your co-workers might have thrown for you? Go through your old filing cabinets and see what you can find that would help you pin things down.
Are any of your job start or end dates anchored about other life events, like moving, buying a house, or the birth of a child, that you could use to reconstruct dates?
If you really can't find accurate dates, I think it's fine to put "approximately" next to the dates in your resume for those jobs whose dates you cannot pin to a specific month and year.
This isn't quite what you're asking, I know, but I would recommend not putting all 35 years of your experience on your resume. The last 10-15 years, absolutely. The problem with putting 35 years or even 20 on it is that you're basically opening yourself up to be denied jobs based on your age. It's technically illegal but all a prospective employer has to do is look at the years on your resume, do the math, and figure out that you are at the least in your mid-50s (assuming you didn't enter into the industry when you were 7 or something). From there they can drop your resume into the circular file if they're so inclined and you'll never know the difference.
This article on CareerBuilder.com backs up what I wrote and also provides possible exceptions (for instance, if the job you're applying for is specifically looking for people with decades of experience):
This article from CBS News uses the same rule of thumb (~10 years):
This is kind of screwy, but you could always run a background check on yourself. (This is assuming that you're in the US.)
But here's some other information, from friends who work in HR: companies don't care too much if dates are within two or three months of being accurate, and really far back they won't care much if the dates are a little outside that range. You can give the explanation that you don't have an exact month, but you can give the exact year, and season (winter vs. summer) which will nicely fall within six months of being accurate, at worst. Most (95%+) employers are going to be good with that.
From what I saw, companies rarely care about jobs that you had more than 10 - 15 years ago.
I wouldn't even bother putting those jobs there, you probably could make better use of the limited space of a CV to put more relevant stuff in there. I don't know in what industry you work in, so I don't know exactly what "more relevant stuff" could mean in your case.
If you do decide to put that information in there, maybe you could find it in:
- your old contracts you had with those companies. I doubt someone keeps them for so long, but maybe you can still find them in a dusty box in the garage
- some emails you exchanged with your employer during that time and you still have the account or you copied them to a newer account
If you really can't find this information, then don't worry too much about it. Just put down only the years, if you remember them. Like "1979 - 1983" or something similar. Trust me, given the length of time since then, it won't really matter (a lot of your coworkers and bosses are already probably dead).
To echo some of the other answers, the further back you go, the less someone cares. It may be perfectly acceptable to estimate to the best of your knowledge, but this could depend on the individual company and may not be acceptable to all.
True story from my own experience... I applied to a company I had interned with 13 years prior (a Fortune 500 company with very strict hiring processes), and I actually had the wrong dates for the internship on my resume. I had the months correct, but I was off by an entire year. I repeated that error in my background check as well. And no one even questioned it or asked, and I was hired without issue.
In fact, I didn't even realize the mistake until I applied for an internal position 2 years later when the internal application pre-populates your internal positions.
So you should try to be as accurate as you can, but when you get past the last 10 years, it becomes less important to be 100% correct. They hiring manager is more concerned with your experience.
In my country, Canada, we have these forms that get sent to the Employment Office called Records of Employment. These are affiliated with my SIN number and every time I leave or stop a job, a record of employment is sent in triplicate with one copy to me, one my employer has to keep for 7 years and another that the government Employment Office gets. Does your country have a similar setup? If so, there might be a solution of asking your Employment Office to repeat back you the start and stop dates (these are always listed on the form).