How Long Should a Resume Be?
The experts say that your resume should be one page long exactly. Is that good advice or outdated?
The truth is that one-page resumes are generally preferred by hiring professionals for good reasons — the one-page format forces the candidate to focus on the most relevant details and makes it easier for the recruiter or hiring manager to scan for the needed skills, certifications, abilities, and experience.
We reached out to several hiring managers and recruiters and got similar input from everyone: Resumes are meant to be concise.
There are some exceptions to the rule (experienced candidates can get away with longer resumes and there are specialized types of resumes for fields like government and academia), but when in doubt, keep your resume focused and down to a page.
Why are Shorter Resumes Better?
It all makes sense when you consider the six second rule: Recruiters spend an average of six seconds reading your resume.
A concise resume will grab the reviewer’s attention by highlighting the most valuable information and leaving out distractions, fluff, and bloated bullet points.
Does that mean that a two-page resume will knock you out of contention? Probably not, but most hiring decision makers won’t read the whole thing — and if you don’t get their attention by the middle of the first page, the rest doesn’t matter. An overly-long resume may also portray you as unfocused or uninformed.
Surprisingly, many job candidates resist following the “one-page” rule. They want to squeeze every bit of experience and education onto their resumes (the misguided theory is to throw everything out there and hope something grabs their interest).
Or maybe they just don’t know the formatting and writing tricks that can help them fit all of the good stuff on one easy-to-scan page.
Now that you understand more about how long a resume should be, and WHY it’s important to keep the length of the resume short and the layout easy to read, how do you turn your overstuffed resume masterpiece into a one-page interview magnet? These 15 tips will help you trim your lengthy resume in short order.
Cut Out the Clutter
Too much information. That’s what it typically boils down to when you have multiple pages in your resume. You’re simply providing more information than the hiring personnel need in order to get a good overall picture of your experience, skills, and career accomplishments.
Resist the temptation to list every experience you’ve had in life down to candy striper service at the hospital as a teenager. Now is the time to focus on the skills, talents, and experience that are absolutely relevant to the position you WANT.
Be ruthless if you have to be. Don’t waste space on anything that doesn’t help you make a compelling case for your fit for the job. Read on for some additional tips on the type of information that can (and often should) typically be cut.
Customize the Resume for the Job
A broad resume makes you look like a Jack-of-all trades and a master of none. Keep your resume focused very tightly on the experience and accomplishments that have prepared you for THIS position.
Yes, it takes more time. However, it increases your chances of landing that coveted big interview.
You don’t have to start from scratch every time. A good general resume can serve as a useful template to be customized and tweaked for different opportunities.
You can customize your summary section to position you perfectly for each position. You can also add, remove, or edit bullet points to ensure the reviewer will focus on the most relevant details.
Eliminate Unnecessary Resume Elements
You may have been told in the past that an “objectives” section was a necessity on any well-rounded resume. Times have changed though.
Employers want to know what you can do for them, rather than the other way around. Keep your resume focused on the things you have to offer them – skills, accomplishments, and dollars and cents.
Hobbies is another unnecessary element for a resume. Unless your hobby actually builds skills that are useful in your career, it’s better to save that valuable resume real estate for something that will enhance your hirability for the company instead.
There’s no need to state that your references are available upon request. They know.
If you’re short on space, you may also consider combining sections so that you have fewer subheadings on the resume. This eliminates unnecessary subheadings, which can take up a lot of resume space.
Resume keywords are usually associated with applicant tracking systems that scan resumes, but HR personnel and hiring managers also look for keywords when they review new resumes.
What are keywords? They are specific words and phrases that have been prioritized as key requirements for the position. Keywords can relate to education, years of experience, programming languages, nursing specialties, accomplishments, certifications, degrees – virtually any specific things employers are looking for.
The good news is that many employers leave a roadmap for specific keywords they’re interested in when creating job descriptions. Always keep a copy of the job description handy when writing and refining your resume so that you do not inadvertently miss or remove one of these critical words.
The job description will also give you a good sense of which keywords are irrelevant for the position, allowing you to edit down the descriptions of less-relevant positions or experiences.
Keep the Formatting Simple
Simple and elegant is the way to go when it comes to resume formatting. A simple format is easier for the hiring manager to read and also requires less space on the page. Make headlines that are scannable and skimmable, and use traditional fonts. Use white space strategically to ensure key details stand out.
Since so many resumes today are initially scanned by computers, it’s also wise to skip on borders, shading, underlining, columns, and even italics. The Writing Lab at The Owl at Purdue University says that the two most important features of scannable resumes are keywords and simple formatting.
Keep sentences short and to the point. If you use bullet points, keep them brief.
Review your resume with a ruthless eye and eliminate unnecessary words. Be selective about adjectives and adverbs and look for repetitive and redundant phrases. Tiny edits can add up to a much more focused and compelling resume.
In accepted resume speak, you also don’t need the first-person subject as it is assumed. This simple step eliminates many unnecessary “I”s and helps to focus the attention on the verbs — what you did and what you can do.
Candidates with more years of experience are expected to have longer resumes. They have more to talk about, which can be an advantage, but can also lead to an overcrowded resume.
You don’t have to include your entire work history dating back to your first job delivering newspapers as a school child.
Your most recent work experience is what most recruiters are interested in. They’re looking for the skills that are fine-tuned and ready for use today. More importantly, they’re looking for skills that will be beneficial to them.
For positions, you held more than 10-12 years ago, keep the descriptions very brief (or consider dropping them if they don’t add value)
Remember What Really Matters
Try to view your resume from the perspective of the hiring manager. Focus on what’s relevant to the hiring company, not your own goals, and interests.
You want your reader to IMMEDIATELY see your fit for the position. Don’t make them guess or interpret or read for more than six seconds. This means that the top of your resume is prime real estate — and this is also why a summary statement can be so useful, especially if you are switching careers or your most recent position isn’t an obvious precursor to the job you want.
The resume also isn’t the place to go into detail about why you want this job or how this job or company can launch your career. Eventually, the company will be interested in your goals and motivations — once they have determined that you have the basic skills to do the job and they want to take the time to interview you. Save it for the interview or mention it briefly in the cover letter.
Shift Focus to Achievement instead of Responsibility
The words “responsible for” are only two little words, but they can become behemoths on resumes – especially when repeated in every bullet for every job you’ve held since college. Instead of focusing on the boring generic job description, shift the focus of your resume to your accomplishments on the job.
- Did you save the company money, MAKE the company money, get promoted?
- What important accomplishments are you most proud of?
- Did you come up with new methods, ideas, approaches?
- Did you master a particular skill or technology?
- What made you GREAT in the role?
Results and achievements show how you Use Action Verbs
These are the words that get attention from potential employers. They move you from the “thinker” column to the “doer” column and make you a very attractive employee. When referring to your skills and accomplishments, use present tense action verbs for current positions and past tense for previously-held positions.
A great action verb makes your writing more concise and dynamic. Consider “lead” vs. “serve as coordinator…” or “responsible for managing…”
Great action verbs for your resume according to the University of Michigan, include:
- A few more for good measure: allocate, approve, automate, decrease, launch, increase, overhaul, propel, propose, and restructure.
These words indicate that you were the force behind these actions and that you’re not one to sit idly by while others do the hard work. They make you a highly attractive commodity to employers.
Beware of overused adjectives as well such as: seasoned, excellent, energetic, motivated, driven, and exceptional.
Make Your Bullet Points More Efficient
Bullets can play an important role on your resume. Bullets make your text easier to scan and draw attention to your bragging points (i.e. “I saved my company $XX dollars”). However, bullet points take up a lot of space on a resume and many job candidates overuse them or waste space with their bullet formatting choices.
If your resume needs trimming, look for bullet points that can be combined.
- Responsible for hiring servers
- Oversee training of new wait staff
- Responsible for hiring and training all wait staff
You should also consider the formatting of your bullet points Don’t waste a lot of space before and after the bullet. Some resume writers recommend moving the left edge of the bulleted text flush with the text of other lines so that the bullet extends beyond the margin in order to conserve space – this is especially helpful in terms of long, multi-lined bullet points.
Redundancy is a huge waste of resume space. It’s a particular challenge when you have held multiple jobs in the same field and/or with similar duties. I have seen resumes with identical bulleted lists for each position.
You can avoid this with creative writing and formatting.
With skill sets:
For instance, programmers who have experience with various programming languages throughout their careers can list their proficiencies across multiple language in a single paragraph, instead of listing the languages used in each position individually.
With multiple positions within the same company:
Rather than listing each position as a new job on the resume, consider listing the company once and then listing the highest level of responsibility within the organization followed by previous positions held within the same company.
Use Formatting Tricks But Avoid Overcrowding
In an effort to save space, many candidates end up squeezing all of their information together and creating a terrible reading experience.
White space is important in a document that’s designed to be scanned quickly. Without white space, all of the content blends together and nothing stands out.
Avoid tiny fonts, razor-thin margins, and stingy line spacing. Yes, you can make more space by making small adjustments in these areas, but be careful.
Remember to make the resume readable above all else. We agree with those who recommend going no smaller than 10-point font.
Combine bullets, but avoid long paragraphs and large blocks of text. They’re not reader-friendly (especially for readers on mobile devices) and create visual clutter that makes it difficult for readers to skim the resume in search of the information they really want.
Proofread Like a Boss
Never underestimate the power of proofreading. First drafts are overly wordy by nature. It can also be very difficult to edit your own work — especially after staring at the same words for hours at a time.
Finish your first draft and then step away. Sleep on it if you can. Then approach the resume with a fresh eye and carefully proofread for both errors and opportunities to edit for length.
Even better, ask a trusted friend to take an objective look for you. Often, a third party will spot things we miss. We see what we meant to say and they see what’s really there.
The real secret to success when editing a lengthy resume is that the job is never really done. Once you think you’ve removed all the unnecessary words possible, it’s time to read through the resume again striking out every word that doesn’t do this one essential thing: make YOU look hirable.
So, how long should a resume be?
There may not be a perfect formula to follow, but keeping your resume short and to the point is the key, especially when you remember the 6-Second Rule (recruiters spend 6 seconds on average looking at a resume). Following these tips faithfully can help you remove clutter and make your resume concise, focused, scannable, and reader-friendly.
Remember that the goal is to grab the attention of recruiters, HR managers, and hiring personnel — and ultimately get you in the door for an interview so you can close the deal.
Extra Tip: Follow these Big Interview 8 Design Ideas for Making Your Resume Pop!