Creating a resume on your own can be difficult. While figuring out the right type of language to use and the correct methods of communicating your experience can be difficult, nothing is quite as hard as figuring out exactly how much you should put on paper.
A good resume needs to be long enough to cover all the necessary information, yet not so long that it will overwhelm a recruiter who is looking over the document. Figuring out how long your resume really needs to be involves digging deeper into the resume-writing process.
So how long should a resume be? Here’s the common wisdom
There are a few bits of common wisdom that have defined resume length for at least the past several years, and they remain true in 2023. The first, and perhaps the most repeated for anyone who's gone through a career guidance course, is the one-page rule — the idea that a good resume for an early-mid career professional should never be more than a single page. There's some wisdom to this, as a one-page resume forces you to sit down and think about what's important and what can be left off. However, for those with longer careers, there is a point where two pages become essential.
The other bit of conventional wisdom is the so-called "six-second rule." The idea here is that the average recruiter is only going to spend six seconds scanning your resume, so you'll need to make sure your information can be reliably transmitted in about that amount of time. While there's no hard data that this rule actually applies in the workforce, it's a good idea to remember that your resume will probably be read by a person who has very little time to do so. The more information you can communicate quickly, the better.
But here are some important considerations that may undermine those job search tropes and allow for longer resumes:
- Most companies use Applicant Tracking Systems to scan for relevant information, so as long as you include keywords and phrases that match the job description, you can go a little longer.
- You may also have to complete an online application that asks for relevant experience and your job history. Once again, that allows for more room.
- You aren’t folding together pieces of paper that you hope won’t get separated when a clerk opens the mail. Your two-page resume won’t end up missing its second page when you send it via email.
None of that means you should overstuff your resume. The rule of thumb is to be as concise as possible while using bullet points to highlight your work history and skills.
Consider your industry
While the common wisdom is good to keep in mind, it's not going to work for everyone. If you work in high-level academia, for example, there's no way you can create an effective resume that's going to fit on a single sheet of paper. In fact, you may need to develop a curriculum vitae (CV). In that case, you'll want to provide an exhaustive list of publications to impress upon the person making hiring decisions that you are both qualified and prolific in your work. Sticking to the common wisdom there wouldn't just be a bad idea — it'd be a guarantee that you will never get hired.
Always make sure that you take the time to look at other common resumes in your industry. As a rule, the number of pages in your resume will generally be related to the type of position for which you are applying. If you are a new graduate or are applying for an entry-level position, a single-page resume will do. If you have five to ten years of experience, two pages is better. If you are applying for a C-level position or you are in a specialized industry, your work experience will matter more than the length of the resume in getting a new job.
Fluff vs. enhancement
So, how do you figure out how to keep your resume at a reasonable length for your next job application? Simply put, it's going to be a matter of using your best judgment. You should decide what on your resume will enhance your chances of being hired and what additions are mere fluff. When you can stop long enough to be honest with yourself, you should be able to differentiate between the two with a fair amount of ease.
Fluff is any material that doesn't serve a real purpose. Unless you have no job experience or your position is directly related to your prior membership, drop club memberships or extracurricular activities from your resume after college. The same goes for hobbies. Your prospective employer wants to know what skills and attributes you will bring to the company, so unless foraging for mushrooms is a transferable skill, leave it out!
Likewise, you should drop your recommendation section from your resume, as most employers will want this data separately, probably after you have gotten the job interview. Definitely do not include “References available upon request.” Hiring managers know that without you telling them.
You can also drop your high school listing if you have more than a bachelor’s degree.
Helpful hint: Match the style of your reference sheet to the style of your resume.
Another section to drop is the objective, if you still have one. Most recruiters see objectives as old-fashioned and a waste of prime resume real estate. Every piece of information on your resume should speak not only to your past experience, but also to your ability to do the job for which you are applying. Instead, craft a professional profile or career summary that brings out the best of your talents.
Should a resume be one page?
Many career professionals will find themselves in that space where they have enough compelling career stories to fill two pages, but wonder if they should. Blindly following the one-page rule is detrimental if you have enough relevant experience to fill two pages, but every sentence has to demonstrate your suitability for the role. A resume that is padded with irrelevance will dilute your value.
On the other hand, a 60-minute interview is a long time. A two-page resume will give enough material to fill this time, whereas a one-page resume may force the hiring manager to fill in the gaps. A longer resume will allow you to control the narrative of the job search conversation that little bit more.
Beware of black-and-white career advice. You have to listen to the advice, understand what lies behind it, and only then decide what is best for you.
Things to avoid with a short resume
When you are aiming at writing a concise career story in your resume, there are a number of things that you should avoid. Some advantages of a two-page document may have to be sacrificed in the name of brevity.
- Sacrificing readability by reducing font size to include more information
- Creating big blocks of type with little white space
- Changing your resume format to use narrower margins or increase page length
- Repeating job skills: If you used a software program in one job, you don’t need to say it again
Using a field-tested resume template such as the ones from Resume.io, will ensure your resume formatting and layout give a great first visual impression.
So, how long should your resume be? Sadly, the answer truly is “long enough.” There is no single right length.
Make sure that you construct a resume that is exactly long enough to convince a hiring manager of your ability to do the job, but not so long that important data will get lost in the shuffle. Trying to stick to the one-page format is generally a good idea early in your career and you should always strive to keep your resume as short as the average length job seekers in your field use.
- Include enough keywords for the ATS but not too many to dilute your true value.
- Think about the industry standards for resume length - don't differ from the norm.
- Make sure that you include enough detail to fill an interview conversation.
- Don't squeeze too much on one page - a wall of text will be indecipherable.
- Choose a one-page resume format that makes the most of the space on the page
With a little editing, you too can construct a resume that will communicate everything important to those who have the potential to hire you in 2023.