Resumes and rules seem to go hand-in-hand. No matter where you look, you’ll notice different rules and guidelines you must follow. While there’s plenty of truth to some of them, the most peculiar and hotly contested topic in recent years has been the length of the resume.

Does length really matter? There are those who vouch for the one-page resume and who argue that you should never-ever go beyond the first page. Then there are those who believe that you can’t write a proper resume without two pages.

So, who is right? In this post, we’ll examine the arguments for both of these viewpoints before taking a proper look at what the real length of a resume should be. Finally, we’ll quickly explore whether all resume rules are worth breaking.

THE CASE FOR THE ONE-PAGE RESUME

Let’s first tackle the case for the one-page resume. There are two key factors speaking for the one-page resume and those reasons are:

It’s short It’s concise

What does this mean? Well, a one-page resume is just a single page long and this means it’s quick to read. Hiring managers don’t generally want to spend an eternity on a single resume since they have quite a few to go through – in fact, one study suggests they only spend six seconds on it. Therefore, with a single page resume, you can catch their attention and keep it for the whole duration of the resume. You won’t burden or (hopefully!) bore the hiring manager.

Since you also won’t have more than a single page to work with, you need to be concise. You can’t blabber on about your achievements or list all of your hobbies. You need to take a critical look at the information you include in your resume, which ultimately forces you to think more about what the hiring managers are looking for. A one-page resume is a great tool for truly researching the job description and figuring out what skills and qualifications are relevant for the role.

Who should use a one-page resume?

The first page resume is good if you do not have a long work history. You might be a recent graduate or a student. You may be looking for your next job after holding one to two roles. It could even work for you if you are exchanging career paths completely.

It might be better to focus on the transferable skills rather than listing the jobs, you’ve previously held and therefore, a single page might be enough for you. It’s really down to the relevancy of those positions you’ve had and the new role you are looking for.

THE CASE FOR THE TWO-PAGE RESUME

Now, what about the two-page resume? Plenty of hiring managers say you shouldn’t stick to a single page resume. So, it’s worth considering what the benefits of a two-page resume are. Again, there are two core advantages to a two-page resume:

It’s detailed It highlights your technical ability

Naturally, another page will provide you with more space to write down your achievements. You’re not constricted by the shortness of the page and you can, therefore, get into the more detail about what you’ve done, what your skills are and what you’ve achieved. You don’t have to cut your skills and qualifications to just the top priority (although you shouldn’t ever include irrelevant information).

Therefore, the two-page resume is considered better for highlighting your technical ability. If you have done a lot of writing as part of your studies or previous jobs or you’ve been part of technically challenging roles, you want to detail these as closely as possible with your resume and therefore, two pages might be needed.

Grant Cooper of Strategic Resumes writes in Resume Critique Writing:

“The resume has now taken the place of the initial interview, and only those with significant qualifications and strong resumes are even invited to interview. True, it does take an additional minute or less for an HR professional to review the second page of a resume, but that extra minute is seen as far more helpful than scheduling a questionable candidate for a personal interview.”

So, what kind of candidate benefits the most from a two-page resume?

The two-page format is perfect for candidates with a long history in the workforce and therefore, who have plenty of achievements and experience. It’s generally used by higher-level applicants (managerial, executive and so on) and can fit well for anyone with an academic background. If you’ve written a host of relevant essays that have been published in respected journals, you want to take the space to mention them, for instance.

SO, WHICH ONE TO PICK?

As you can see, there are plenty of advantages to both resume lengths. Neither option is an outright winner, no matter what people might tell you. The winner of the debate really depends on the circumstances – more specifically, your particular circumstances.

If you need a length rule, then here it is: the right length depends almost entirely on your job history.

Consider these common scenarios and use them as a guide when determining the length of your resume.

The one-page or the two-page resume? Which one to pick?

Example A

Example B

You are a recent graduate and you don’t have much job experience aside from a few summer jobs and perhaps an internship. In essence, you are looking for your first proper job. You’ve been in the job world for around a decade and you have performed in a number of roles, achieving a variety of accolades in those roles.
You would pick the one-page job resume. You don’t have a lot of experience, skills or qualifications to mention and you can fit the most important information on a single page. You would pick the two-page resume to ensure you get to mention all the relevant achievements and qualifications in more detail.

Example C

Example D

You are looking for your second or third job role. While you have been working for a while, you still haven’t gained a lot of experience in terms of job titles and achievements. You work in an academic or technical field that requires plenty of detailed skills. You are looking for a new role in the academia or in a technical role.
You would pick the one-page resume because it will be enough to tailor the resume to align your skills and qualifications with the job description. You would pick the two-page resume to ensure you get enough technical details into your resume.

Of course, you simply need to look at your job history and the job description to get an idea on how long your resume should be. It doesn’t always mean that even if you’ve had 10 jobs, that all those should be mentioned. For example, if five of those are summer jobs, then you might want to skip them and focus on the other roles. The above are just examples and you always need to consider your own qualifications and experience as well as the job requirements.

Therefore, the key is to list down all your skills, qualifications and achievements. See how they relate to the job you are applying for and pick the right resume length.

And while the right length is really down to your job history, you don’t really want to go beyond the two pages. But again, this ‘rule’ has its exceptions as well. If you are a senior-level manager or an executive with a long list of accomplishments or an academic with an extensive list of professional speaking engagements and publications, you can exceed the norm and go for three to four pages. But for most, two pages should be the maximum.

In fact, you could use the advice by Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, who has said:

“My general rule of thumb is one page for each 10 years of job history.”

Don’t forget about the ATS

The applicant tracking system (ATS) is an important system to know about. It can even influence the debate over one-page and two-page resumes. You see, in the old times when it was just a group of hiring managers sorting out the resumes, the one-page resume was advantageous. Two-page resumes simply took quite a bit of time to scan and therefore, it’s easy to see why the focus on one-page resumes began. But nowadays, an algorithm will look at your resume and evaluate whether it is suitable for the role – and it doesn’t discriminate based on length. So, if it takes you two-pages to get everything in, you should do it. The computer will likely do the first scan and the hiring manager will receive your exceptional resume later.

The ATS might also be unable to recognize small fonts. Don’t try to be clever and get all your information on one page simply by decreasing the font below 10 points. Essentially, this also applies to the hiring manager – they don’t want to read something with a magnifying glass. 10.5 points is really at the lower end of the acceptable size. In terms of other formatting issues, the ATS might also have problems with smaller than average borders and they definitely can’t read footnotes. Always check the specific formatting instructions before sending a resume to a job portal!

The bottom line

The secret to the length of the resume relies on the relevancy of the information in it. If you need two pages to include all the relevant information, then you write two pages. If it only takes a single page, then that’s better than artificially trying to stuff it up with non-relevant details.

The length is not important if the information in the resume is relevant and necessary to enhance your chances of landing the job. Your resume should be just about showing why you are the perfect fit for the job – it’s not about how many pages you can type!

ARE THERE ANY RULES TO RESUME WRITING?

So, it seems the resume length rule is really not a rule about length at all. Length is not a measurement of quality content and content is what your resume is all about. The rule regarding the length is just an illusion.

But are all the resume rules worth breaking? Well, not exactly. There are certain golden rules you can’t start jeopardizing. You can’t do these things no matter how tempting it might seem – so while you are free to play around with the length, do not try these tricks on your resume:

Slip in a few grammar errors

Your resume must be typo-free. Whether you like to spell words incorrectly consciously or unconsciously, you just shouldn’t do that. The hiring manager will pick up grammar errors and they will immediately make you appear less professional and less detail-oriented.

Unfortunately, typos are a too common of a problem. In a Harris Interactive and CareerBuilder.com study 2,000 hiring managers and HR representatives said typos are the most common mistake – then again, at least it isn’t quite as outrageous as writing your resume in Klingon.

How to ensure you don’t break this golden rule? The first thing is to use a spellchecker (there are even online tools to help with this) and to proofread your resume a couple of times. Remember to read it a while after you’ve written it, as you often can’t pick up those small mistakes immediately after. It’s also a good idea to have a friend or a family member read it before you send it forward.

Make a few lies

The other golden rule you simply can’t ever break is telling the truth. You can’t lie in your resume because even if you think you’ll get away with it, you most likely won’t. The implications of being caught lying don’t just mean you might lose the job – word can start going around that you’ve lied. Recruitment agencies might stop using your resume and employers might start talking. You really won’t find a scenario where you come out as the winner if you lie on your resume.

If you constantly find yourself thinking your qualifications are not enough for the roles you want to apply, then you need to think how to improve them. And the answer isn’t by lying. Take courses, find roles that don’t require as many skills or qualifications to gain experience and learn to use your current skills to your advantage. If you can’t match the job description, then you might be looking at the wrong roles or you don’t know how to leverage your transferable skills. So, don’t despair but take a moment to think what’s going on and how to move forward – and do not consider lying as an option.

Remember lying isn’t the same as omitting information. You don’t need to include you being fired from a job in your resume. It doesn’t have to reveal you’ve been in jail or that you dropped out. These are details you can omit and only admit to if asked.

If you ensure you don’t break those two rules when you are writing your resume, you will be on the right path. The rest of the rules are not really rules at all – they are guidelines and tips to help you ensure you focus on the right things in your resume.

TO SUMMARIZE

There are only two relevant rules to keep in mind when it comes to writing a resume and the length of your document is not among them.

Whether you opt for the one-page resume or the two-page resume depends on your job history and your qualifications – if you have plenty of relevant achievements, skills and experiences to share in the resume, then you go for the longer format. If not, there is nothing bad about a short one-page resume as long as the content is relevant and highlights your abilities well.

Instead of wasting too much time adding information or cutting it based on some ‘rule’ you think you must follow, focus on making your resume stand out from the crowd with the content. The length is irrelevant if the content is good.

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