One size doesn't fit all, but how do you determine what length is appropriate? Follow these resume-length tips.
If you run a Google search about resume lengths, you’re bound to come across a number of different opinions. I’ve heard some people declare that everyone should have a one-page version of their history, regardless of their years of experience, while others have no problem sending out a five-page document chronicling every detail of their professional journey.
I’m here to set the record straight. When it comes to the length of your resume, size does matter. Here’s everything you need to know to answer the question, "How long should a resume be?"
The one-page resume wonder
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to squeeze 15 years of work experience into a one-page resume. This page limit is reserved for those of you who (1) are searching for an internship; (2) just graduated school; or (3) are relatively new to the workforce. If you fall into one of these categories, you get one page of resume real estate. Period.
If you’re a recent college graduate, remove any references to your high school awards, scholarships, and extracurricular activities. Employers are more interested in the internships, odd jobs you held, and activities you participated in on campus while pursuing your degree.
The same thing goes for those of you who have entered the ‘real world’ and have a few years of experience under your belt. If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years and you’re looking to change companies, it’s time to delete your list of college activities and summer internships.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If, for instance, you took a job after graduation that had nothing to do with your major, and now you’re pursuing work that’s more in line with your degree, the relevant internships you once held deserve a spot in your work history. These are still important selling points on your one-page resume, given your job goals.
The standard two-page resume length
If you don’t fall into one of the categories mentioned above, you’re entitled to a maximum of two full pages of resume real estate. This rule applies to most experienced professionals, whether you’ve been in the workforce for eight or 18 years.
When to graduate to a two-page resume length
So when, exactly, should you switch your resume over to a two-page document? There are no hard and fast rules.
Usually, when you have approximately seven years of experience, you’re ready for a second page. However, this will depend on the number of jobs you’ve held and the accomplishments you have to brag about. If you write out the resume and it only takes up a quarter of the second page, either find a way to shrink it down to one page or add more information to make it a full page and a half.
Exceptions to the resume-length rules
If you’re making a major career change, there’s a good chance that much of your previous experience isn’t a perfect fit for your new job goal. So how long should your resume be? In these instances, you may find yourself transitioning from a two-page resume to a one-pager. While you may still list all of your previous jobs, the amount of space you need to describe your role, responsibilities, and achievements will be much less, as you’ll want to focus the information on the skills you used and accomplishments you achieved that are relevant to your new job goals.
While I strongly encourage you to limit your resume length to two pages, there will be instances where this is near impossible. This often happens to professionals who have never-ending lists of technical skills and proficiencies to list, a large number of consulting gigs to explain, or a series of published works to include. If you fall into one of these categories, you may need to use the first part of a third page. However, try to avoid this if possible.
There are three additional scenarios when your resume length is likely to exceed two standard 8.5" x 11" pages:
- You are using an international CV to apply for vacancies outside of the U.S.
- You are seeking work in academia or the sciences and are utilizing an academic CV format.
- You are applying for positions within the U.S. federal government with a federal resume.
How to make your resume fit the appropriate page length
In order to help you meet these resume-length tips, limit the amount of experience you include to the last 15 years, and remove college graduation and certification dates that fall outside that 15-year window. Employers care most about the recent work you’ve been doing and how it ties back to their role’s requirements, so place the emphasis of your resume on your current experience.
There are a number of ways you can incorporate your earlier experience into the resume without spilling over into a third or fourth page.
Create a "CAREER NOTE" section for a senior-level resume
If you only held one or two positions before the 15-year cut-off, you can provide a short career note that mentions the roles and titles you held.
This format gives you some flexibility, as you may decide to summarize a few very similar roles into a short blurb to keep your resume length under two pages. For instance, you may say that your earlier experience includes “... executive assistant work for companies including Company Name A, Company Name B, and Company Name C.” If you worked with some name-drop worthy clients, you have the ability to work those details into a blurb like this as well. However, the rule of thumb is to keep this note short and sweet, so eliminate unnecessary details such as employment dates.
Click on the following link to see the entire two-page sample resume for a senior professional.
Create an "EARLIER WORK HISTORY" section for a senior-level resume
If you have 20+ years of experience or changed jobs frequently at the beginning of your career, you may need more than a one-liner to cover the work experience. An alternative is to add an “EARLIER CAREER HISTORY” section at the bottom of your professional experience that lists the job title, company name, and location of each role.
Experiment with different format techniques to meet the appropriate resume length
There are a number of additional resume-length tips and tricks professional resume writers use to help their clients meet these length restrictions.
If you’re having trouble making your resume fit within a specific number of pages, try messing with the font size, the spacing between paragraphs, and the margins.
Font Size and Style. Depending on the font style you choose, you can usually shrink its size down to 10 or 10.5 points without turning your resume into a frustrating eye chart for the reader. Headers can similarly be reduced to 13 or 15 points without looking bad.
Also, test out different fonts styles. Fonts such as Calibri, Calibri Light, Trebuchet MS, and Arial Narrow tend to take up less space than Times New Roman, Verdana, and Arial. By switching your resume over to a different font, you may be able to gain the extra space you need.
Spacing and Margins. Experiment with the overall spacing of your resume. You can decrease the margins of your resume down to 0.5 of an inch and reduce the spacing between different sections of your resume by 0.5 to 1 point without losing the document’s white space.
When trying out different fonts and spacing options, make sure it’s still easy for a reader to quickly scan the resume and identify the most important selling points.
Eliminations. In addition to removing details from the first roles you held, there is other information you can take off your resume to turn it into a one-page resume or fit your other length restrictions. If you’re still listing your references or a note such as “References available upon request”, at the bottom of your document, it’s time to stop. This information is unnecessary and taking up precious resume real estate.
Similarly, there’s no need to list your street address at the top of your resume. If you're searching for a position in your current location and want employers to know you’re a local candidate, include your city and state. However, leave your street address off to protect yourself from potential identity theft and free up another line of text.
Did these resume-length tips answer your question about how long your resume should be? If not, hire a TopResume writer to help you write the next chapter of your career.
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