How Long Should My Resume Be?

One of the things I frequently dealt with as an editor, and still notice as a recruiter, is resume length. Since my recruiting is now focused on heavy industry, I certainly get my share of typo-riddled or virtually nonexistent resumes, and because of the labor market I’m targeting, these are by no means a deal breaker. For the purposes of this discussion, though, let’s lay out some generally applicable ground rules about resumes:

Photo credit: dhester, MorgueFile

1. The reason you’re sending me, the recruiter, your resume is to show me you are qualified for this job opening. I’m not trying to be unkind, but you’d better do it in a hurry or I’ll be moving on to someone else. The American Press Institute reported last year that six out of 10 people will never get past a story’s headline (which, by the way, usually isn’t written by the reporter). Page designers know many of the remaining readers will never get past the jump. Resume stats are similar: The average applicant gets six seconds, according to an oft-cited 2012 study by The Ladders. While this figure has faced criticism, the takeaway is that you have, at best, a brief moment to grab someone’s attention before your resume gets tossed into the pile of no return.

2. The good stuff should be at the top. Journalism students spend months or even years learning to undo everything they were taught in English class about organizing a paper. Inverted pyramid comes from the paste-up days, when if a story was too long to fit neatly onto a page, the bottom got cut off. Put the most important information on page one, as close to the top as you can. That’s what I’m going to read first. If your resume had a second page and nobody ever read it, would you still stand out as a candidate?

3. As a fairly reliable rule, with the notable exception of academia, American employers will expect to see resumes, not CVs.  CVs contain loads more detail about your schooling, your other accomplishments, and your publishing credentials, if any. Resumes are all about work. What have you done, and what can you do? If your content does not address either of those two questions directly, it probably does not belong on the resume. (Here’s looking at you, objective statements.)

4. Resumes printed back-to-back are not, in my view, a great idea. You run the risk of someone not noticing your second page at all, not to mention the potential issues with ink bleeds or poor printing on one side. If you must use two pages, make it abundantly clear to me that there are TWO pages: add some sort of corresponding header to the second page, print onto two pieces of paper, and staple or clip if you’re bringing in hard copy. Since I work from home, though, most of the resumes I receive come in electronically, which reduces, but does not eliminate, the possibility of a misplaced or unnoticed page.

5. Resumes really should not be longer than two pages. I have yet to see one longer which couldn’t benefit from ruthless editing. Still, do as you like. Just know that the odds of a page being lost or ignored completely increase with each extra one you submit.

6. When I say your resume should not be longer than two pages, I mean the resume itself, not your CV, your samples, your portfolio, your clips, your cover letter, your client lists, your transcripts, your recommendation letters, or any other supporting documentation in your application package. If an employer has requested such materials, be sure to submit those, too.

7. If your resume is five pages long, the font is already at 10 points, and your margins are at half
an inch, you need to chop it down! Nobody is going to pick through all that clutter. If you get called for an interview, it’s likely going to be at least somewhat in spite of, not because of, the monstrosity you chose to submit. Get rid of the meaningless objective statements, the classes you took 15 years ago, your hobbies, your witty “about me” paragraph, your unrelated volunteer work, your high school burger-joint job, and your social media profiles, pronto.

Keep your resume to a readable length, show employers what you’re capable of accomplishing, and go get that dream job! 


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