How Long Should My Resume Be?
Resume length is one of the most talked about issues in the world of job applications. Every candidate seems to hit the panic button when it comes to writing the resume and statistics such as the one on how the hiring manager only spends six seconds on your resume don’t help.
How long is too long and can you run the risk of making it too short? It’s time to tackle the age-old question “How long should my resume be”.
THE ETERNAL DEBATE
In terms of resume guides, the question over the length of the resume has perhaps been the most contentious over the years. It’s your “coffee or tea” or “red or white wine” type of question – a lot of people tend to be ‘either/or’-types.
The debate is essentially divided into two groups of people. You have the single-page group fighting on the other corner and the longer resume supporters on the other. The single-page supporters are about short and sweet. They think the resume is at its best when it only takes one page – it’s quick to read and the information is super-focused.
For the two-page proponents, this just isn’t enough. They think you need two pages to appropriately reflect and show your talent. A single-page is just not detailed enough for them.
The winner? Well, there isn’t a clear consensus and that’s why job applicants might receive mixed messaging. A lot of hiring managers don’t agree either and can sometimes send conflicting messages.
Glassdoor.com career expert Jeff Hunter has surveyed hiring managers and the responses show the lack of consensus. The responses to the question “How long should a resume be” ranged from:
“One page, but I don’t ding people for more than that” – Craig Campbell, Director of Talent Acquisition at Dolby Laboratories
“2 pages, that’s it.” – Sean Rehder, a recruiter.
THE RIGHT LENGTH DEPENDS ON YOU
So, what are you supposed to do then? How do you determine the length of your resume? You don’t want to lose the hiring managers over the length so what can you do?
The right length of the resume is solely down to you. There is no ‘golden rule’ to the length other than that you need to look at your work history, your experience and your skills and guide them to the correct length. You see, it’s really not about aiming for a specific length at all.
You need to ensure you include the right information in order for you to make the case that you are right for the specific role you are applying for. In the end, the length will turn out to be whatever it’ll be. In essence, your resume length should be guided by the position you are applying for and the work experience you’ve had in the past.
Let’s examine the options and when you might want to stick to a specific length.
A one-page resume is suitable for…
If you don’t have a lot of work experience, you might naturally find it quite difficult to create a resume that’s longer than a single page. You simply don’t have the work history to fill the pages with tons of different positions and skills. This often means that graduates and those at the start of their career paths should probably stick to a one-page resume. One rule of thumb you could use is that if you’ve worked for less than 10 years and you’ve only held one or two different jobs, you don’t want to take your resume beyond a page.
Now, you can also stick to a one-page resume if you’re thinking about changing careers. When you are taking the leap from one type of career to a completely different type of career, your past work history might not be quite as relevant. This means it might be worth sticking to a shorter resume, as it allows you a better chance of focusing on the transferable skills and relevant achievements.
A two-page resume is suitable for…
But you might have been working for quite a while now and you’re just in midst of applying for a new role. According to statistics, the modern worker will hold up to ten jobs in his lifetime so looking for a job even after you’ve been on the career ladder (and climbing up!) is not an anomaly. Therefore, when you have extensive career experience, perhaps 10+ years in the job market, then a two-page resume is much more adequate to represent your talent.
Furthermore, you might be working in a technical or scientific field in which relaying your knowledge and experience simply takes a bit more space. You might have to list a number of academic papers you’ve written or go into technical detail over your skills. If this is the case, the two-page resume is more natural – it allows you to pack in all that experience in the correct way.
A 3+ page resume is possible, if…
Of course, you don’t just have to pick between a single-page and a two-page resume. If you are a senior level executive looking for a leadership role, you will probably need three or more pages. This is because you have a few decades of work experience and this can’t be narrowed down to just a single-page or two.
When your work experience spans over decades and you have a lot of executive experience, you might need to talk about non-work related achievements too. You might have a list of publications and speaking engagements that would be relevant to the new leadership position – you don’t want to cut your resume short.
WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT THAN LENGTH?
The above shows the resume length is down to you and your work experience. When you are writing your resume, you shouldn’t be too hung up on the length but rather how you are conveying the most relevant information.
In essence, you have other important things to worry about and focus on. The length of your resume should be the last thing you think about when you are writing it. Where should the focus be then? Your attention should be on two key factors. The two most crucial elements of a good resume are: relevant content and easy-to-read formatting.
Keeping the content relevant
The most important thing about a resume is not the length but whether the content is relevant. Each resume must be tailored to the job you are after. You don’t want to include irrelevant skills or qualifications to your resume. If the skill, the achievement or the role doesn’t boost your chances of landing the job, then it doesn’t have to go on the resume just to increase the length.
Remember to focus on what the employer is looking for and the keywords they’ve used in the job description. Your resume should be tailored with these in mind – you want to highlight and include only the most relevant information. The fact that you can code in ten different languages might not matter when you are looking for a role in the marketing team with no need for coding. The skills, achievements and experience should always make the hiring manager go “That ticks the box”, not “Why am I reading this information”.
If you’d like to imagine there to be a golden rule of resumes, then it would have to be the “There is No One Resume to Send” rule. This means that relevancy is the key – you can’t just create a single resume and then send it whenever you are looking for a job. Instead, you need to tailor your resume each time to fit the job description and requirements. This means that your question shouldn’t be “How long should the resume be” but “Is the resume relevant to the job position”.
Ensuring the resume is easy to read
The second most important thing about your resume is to ensure it’s easy to read. The formatting does matter but it isn’t about the length. Instead, you want to focus on picking a good font and ensure the size of the font doesn’t make the resume look bad.
You also want to maintain the resume is error-free. You want to proofread the resume and make sure you don’t have any typos. According to a CareerBuilder.com survey, 58% of employers said a typo in the resume can lead to automatic disqualification – you don’t want this to be the case so spend enough time editing and proofreading the resume.
When you are using multiple pages to present the information, you will need to focus that the hiring manager is able to see the most enticing information at glance. This means ensuring the most important information is on the front page – so place your ‘Career Summary’ section right at the top. This means the hiring manager will see this relevant information first and continues checking out rest of the information.
THE MOST AND THE LEAST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF A RESUME
With the above in mind, how do you ensure you have the appropriate length and the most important information in the resume? You need to start building your resume with the above in mind and make sure to include the most important elements while leaving out the less important info.
The most important elements
The key things to include in your resume include:
Your career summary. The most important part of the resume is the ‘Career Summary’ section. This is the spot where you outline your past experience and the relevant positions you’ve held. You want to focus on adding only the most relevant work experience here in case you have a long work history.
Your skill summary. Then your focus should be on summarizing your skills (and doing so with the job position in mind). It’s a good idea to focus on the keywords the employer has used in the job description. You can also utilize bullet points to ensure the information is presented in a concisely. When writing the career and skills summary, avoid repetition.
Your education summary. You should also include your education although you don’t have to go into huge detail here. You want to include the name and location of the school, the degree(s) you obtained and the number of years you spent studying there.
Any awards or achievements which are relevant to the role. Of course, you also want to mention any achievements and recognition you’ve received as part of your education or work life. If relevant, you can also include voluntary awards here – the key is to ensure the mention has a link to the job position you are looking to get.
The least important elements
There are also certain elements you don’t need to get into in most cases if you have to above covered. These include:
Your hobbies. Hobbies can often be a good talking point during the job interview but they tend to just take space in your resume. Hobbies can tell more about your personality but you can outline this better with your cover letter and therefore, don’t include it on your resume unless it’s highly relevant to the role.
Your community or voluntary work. You don’t need to list community or voluntary work, especially if it’s unrelated to the position. The employer is most interested in your work experience and this might just be wasting their time. You can always mention the community and voluntary work during the job interview, for example. Furthermore, if you have a LinkedIn profile, you can add it there for the employer to check out when they are conducting detailed research.
Your coursework. Your coursework is an almost irrelevant addition to a resume, especially if you’re not transitioning directly from school to the workplace. You would be better of talking about education and skills than mentioning individual coursework – your thesis can matter but other than that, you don’t really need to go into detail over the work you did.
Now, you can include all of the above in case you don’t have enough relevant information in the other key categories. For example, you might want to mention relevant voluntary work if you are a student with non-existent work history. The point here is that the above groups shouldn’t be added if you already have a good amount of relevant information in the other, more important, categories. The above are really only for functional resumes (more about it here).
THE BOTTOM LINE
There is no golden rule to answer the question “how long should my resume be”. This is because it all boils down to you – what kind of role are you applying for and what kind of work history you have. Instead of focusing on the length of the resume, your job is to make it relevant and enticing. A hiring manager is interested in finding out if you are the right person for the role – if your skills and achievements match the job’s requirements.
In order to do this, you might need one page or two pages; the right length is down to your skills and experience. So, when you are writing a resume, don’t focus on the number of pages you have but ensure you are able to present the most relevant information in a grammatically correct fashion. That’ll get your resume picked, not the length of it!
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