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How Long Should My Resume Be?

A question that comes up often in my work as a professional executive resume writer is, “how long should my resume be?” Like many aspects of resumes, there’s not a single right answer and there are many opinions:

“Resumes must never exceed one page. PERIOD!”

“It’s OK if a resume is longer than one page, but the maximum is really two pages/three pages/some other number” pages.

“Resumes can be as long as they need to be to convey all the important details.”

Your Resume is a Commercial for You

It all begins with remembering why we’re writing a resume in the first place. The resume is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of everything you’ve ever done. Even a CV, which is typically used in academic settings and can be much longer and more exhaustive than a resume, can’t contain absolutely everything. The purpose of the resume isn’t so that someone interested in hiring you can look up every last detail about you and make a decision based on what they read.

The resume’s goal is to get someone else interested in talking with you and having an interview. It’s essentially a commercial for you. Of course, the resume might be referred to during the interview process to get the conversation started or to keep it going, but whether or not you get hired is going to depend much more on how the interviews go than on what’s written in your resume.

The resume needs to carry maximum impact in the minimum amount of space. We’ve all heard statistics saying that the average resume is looked at by recruiters for 6 seconds, or 9 seconds, or whatever the number is, but everyone agrees that the time to make a good impression with your resume and avoid the reject pile is extremely short. So, the basic idea is that the length of the resume needs to be long enough to create desire to engage with you on the part of your target audience, but not so long that it somehow negates the desire.

Different Lengths for Different Levels and Roles

An important consideration is the candidate’s experience level. Someone who has been in industry for 30 years is likely going to have had more jobs, more accomplishments, more experiences—just more total information—than a fresh college graduate. A candidate who has been promoted repeatedly and held multiple executive positions is probably going to have more varied and nuanced contributions to their employers—requiring more detailed explanation—than someone who has been in similar and repetitive individual contributor roles over a career of the same length. And someone who is in a very technical field, such as software engineering, biotechnology, or healthcare may have more specialized skills and jargon that need to be highlighted, when compared to someone not dealing as often with technology.

Too Short and Too Long: Both Bad

Besides being an experienced resume writer, I’ve also been a professional recruiter for several decades. I’ve seen many resumes that were unsuccessful, because they tipped too far toward brevity or verbosity.

On the one hand is the resume that’s too long. I recently had a resume-writing client who showed me his existing 14-page resume. Even though this candidate had many accomplishments over a long career, the resume left none of them out, large or small, and it contained so many details that no one was likely to make the effort to read it thoroughly and extract and categorize the information. It was just too much work for the reader. His resume was certainly hurting his chances.

These days, when people have both short attention spans and too much other work to do, they’re not going to make the effort to dig in to a resume that doesn’t generate immediate impact. It’s far easier to put the resume in the reject group.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen plenty of resumes that were too short. In my experience, hiring managers are turned off by resumes that don’t go into enough detail, or more precisely, don’t offer enough detailed evidence in support of the candidate’s accomplishments. It’s frustrating for them to read a resume that has a teaser such as “implemented a big data analysis system” but doesn’t supply any further detail about what technologies were used.

If too many details are glossed over without explanation and expansion, once again the reader is unlikely to do the work necessary to dig deeper and investigate. And since the first screener for submitted resumes these days is likely not even to be a person, but rather a piece of software (applicant-tracking system, or ATS), if there is a lack of sufficient keywords and phrases, once again, the resume is rejected.

Tips for a Shorter Resume

As someone who writes technology and executive resumes professionally, I know that it’s far easier to start with too much information and then edit it down than it is to try to expand “not much” into “something significant”. If you’re writing your own resume, my advice is to begin by putting everything in. Don’t worry yet about how long it is, at least in the earlier drafts. (You did realize that a great resume is likely to require writing multiple drafts and many hours, didn’t you?)

Then go through each item, and ask yourself if that item advances your cause. Be specific: does it demonstrate some particular expertise you have? Highlight a key result you got? Does it do this better than other places on your resume? Perhaps you don’t need so many examples of the same trait or skill. Repeating the message is good, but beating it to death is not. Cut, cut, cut, but make sure not to cut too deeply. Edit down cumbersome sentences and wording.

Often times, reading your resume out loud will shine a light on unclear or overly wordy passages. Another good technique is to have someone who doesn’t have experience in your field read the resume. If they are confused about a particular passage, then you need to revise and edit to explain things more clearly.

Another useful idea can be to create an “Addendum” page, which may or may not be included in a given submission. This page is a good place to list things like large numbers of patents, presentations, or publications. These are achievements that might be important for some target audiences to know about in detail, and not for others. In this way, you can decide whether or not to submit the addendum along with your resume, and your actual resume can be limited to a more manageable number of pages. You show it only when the interest is there.

Specific Guidelines for Resume Length

The trend in general these days is toward shorter resumes. Rules can certainly be broken when there’s a good reason to do so, but here are some suggested guidelines:

Currently in school, recent graduates, early career: Very often, these resumes are going to fit comfortably onto one page, and that should be the target for the majority of early-career resumes. If the candidate has already gained an exceptional amount of experience, then going onto two pages is OK if the content can’t be edited down to one page without losing key information.

Mid-career individual contributors: Depending on the amount of time someone’s been in the workforce, these resumes are typically going to be two pages and occasionally three, this latter especially for people in technical fields such as software engineering or biotechnology. By the time someone is at this point in their career, holding to a one-page resume format is often require omitting too many important things. I don’t often recommend exceeding three pages unless there is a very good reason to do so.

Senior Managers and Executives: Here’s where the power and impact of the resume becomes especially critical. There are many executive and managerial candidates, usually many more than there are available positions. The competition is very heavy and it’s crucial that a candidate’s resume positions them and their brand well as a candidate uniquely qualified to fill the vacancy. Most people who hold executive positions such as C-level, EVP, SVP, VP, Director and so on will be best served by a resume that’s two or three pages.

Again, for these senior-level people, one page is almost always going to be insufficient (the exception would be a one-page infographic “networking resume”, which I may discuss in a future post). Four pages is probably going to be too much most of the time, and yet there are certainly cases where a four-page executive resume is fine. Of course, a key aspect of being a successful executive is skilled decision-making, and prime evidence of this the candidate’s demonstration that they know how to decide which information is key to advancing their cause, and which can safely be left out!

Conclusion

The main takeaway here is that your resume must be long enough that it conveys, in enough detail, the key accomplishments you’ve had, in order to stimulate interest on the part of the reader and create desire to interview you. It must be no longer than what is sufficient to accomplish that goal, because then it starts to create extra work and fatigue on the part of the reader, and is likely to backfire.

Phil Hurd is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Nationally Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE). He specializes in creating resumes, LinkedIn profiles, biographies, and cover letters for executives and individual contributors in all functions in technology-oriented industries.

If you need knowledgeable and experienced help developing your own personal marketing documents, please book a free consultation call to discuss your project with Phil by clicking this link: https://catalystresumes.as.me/20minuteconsult

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