One page, two pages or more? Does size really matter? We're cutting through the confusion about resume length with common sense advice that you can apply right now.
It's time to bust those myths so you can have a resume that will actually land you interviews. Here's what we will cover.
There is a real fear, and rightly so, about getting this wrong.
The truth is that size does matter because if it is too short or too long it can jeopardise your chances of being shortlisted for interviews.
Here’s a typical example from one of our coaching clients which prompted me to write this post.
“I just updated my resume for a Civil Supervisor role. I thought I did a good job but when I showed it to a colleague, they said it was way too long and that recruiters won’t read it. I’m really confused now. What do you think?”
Here’s the advice I gave him – and now you – on this subject.
It’s really tempting to ask those closest to us simply because we trust them more than strangers but try to resist. They will mean well but they are going to judge your resume by how it looks and how similar it is to their own.
Plus, there is a very good chance they will base their unqualified opinions on the oh so popular myth of the one-page resume being the best resume format.
Top Tip: Don’t ask friends, family or colleagues to give their opinion on your resume – unless they are hands-on recruiters or professional resume writers in the industry you are applying for.
Is one page really the best resume length?
When you think of this logically, it can't possibly be the right length for those with established careers.
A one page resume is only the best resume format for those just leaving school or university, or those who are relatively inexperienced.
If you are a professional and/or have multiple years’ work experience, there is no way you can squeeze all that information into a single page without making some serious compromises.
The question is, do you really want to compromise your chances of being shortlisted for interview?
Unfortunately, because the one-page myth is so ingrained in popular articles and posts about resume writing, many people feel more comfortable following this advice rather than their own logic.
Resumes squeezed on to one page by leaving out essential information and key words that Applicant Tracking Systems need to find in order to shortlist the best candidates.
The best way to understand why this is such a huge mistake is to look at what recruiters do – and don’t do - when you submit your resume for a job.
What recruiters need from your resume
By chance, a great example of why you shouldn’t cram your career into a one-page format has just landed in my inbox as I am writing this.
Jobadder is a comprehensive, web-based recruitment platform used by over 10,000 recruiters in more than 45 countries.
It’s a product that I have personally used for recruitment and they just sent me information on their latest update.
They are now releasing candidate matching with AI which will read every job advertisement a recruiter posts, automatically returning the best matching candidates from their database.
In their own words, “using a nuanced understanding of requirements it will pick up on related skills and experience, not just keywords.”
In plain English, this means that their new AI powered platform will help recruiters find candidates without them even looking.
So what has this got to do with you and how long your resume should be, I hear you ask.
Well the harsh fact is that most companies use ATS to screen applications due to the sheer volume they receive, and now there is a big move towards AI or Artificial Intelligence doing it for them on a deeper level. Job adder is just one example.
This means that it is not just keywords that will be read and recorded. Your whole resume will be analysed so it is more important than ever to submit quality applications.
Do you really think that a one-page resume format, where you have cut information to the bare minimum to squash everything in, will serve you well?
Top Tip: Don’t compromise the quality of your resume by cramming everything on to a one-page format. Both humans and Applicant Tracking Systems are looking for keywords and key skills to rank your suitability for each role you are applying for.
Of course, there is another way to make your extensive work history fit on to one page – you could just use a fancy resume template.
These are plentiful, in some cases beautiful, and oftentimes free, and enable you to use columns and boxes to get more information in.
But, before you rush off to download a resume template from Word like the above or an eye catching design from Canva, you need to bear this in mind.
It is estimated that up to 75% of resumes are rejected for online jobs just because Applicant Tracking Software can’t extract the information it needs because of design.
Let’s put this another way. You apply online for a job which is a perfect match for your skills and experience and you just know that you are going to get a call or an invite for an interview.
But time goes on, and on, and all you hear are… crickets!
Now, there are of course a multitude of reasons why you might not get shortlisted for an interview, but if you submit your resume using a fancy template that ATS cannot read, you are definitely not going to be successful.
If ATS can’t read it, they won’t record it.
If all or some of your skills and experience are not recorded on the application database, then your percentage match will be low or even zero – even if you are the perfect candidate for the role.
Top Tip: Stop letting less qualified applicants get the jobs you deserve. Ditch the fancy one-page templates, concentrate on the quality of your content, and don’t worry about adding another page
So, is the 2-page resume the best format for most people?
Sometimes, sometimes not.
There really isn’t a straight answer because it all depends on the following:
- The length of your career to date
- Level of skills and experience
- Positions you are applying for
- Method of submission
Let’s look at each of these to see how they alter the perfect resume length.
Factors affecting the right length of your resume
Length of career to date
The 2-page resume may be perfect if you have held just one or two positions. However, if you need to cover 30 years of experience, you will probably need more space.
If you do have an extensive work history, then ensure that you concentrate on just the last 10 years and then put other positions as linage. If you extend beyond 2 pages, don’t worry.
Level of skills and experience
The more skilled and/or senior your role, the higher the likelihood of it being more complex to explain.
Further, you will need to provide more detail to sell yourself into higher-level positions.
You are going to need to prove you are worthy and therefore your achievements sections will need to be impressive. This will naturally take you beyond 2 pages.
Positions you are applying for
The key to submitting perfect applications is to provide the best quality of information possible and to follow any specific application guidelines for each opportunity.
This means that it is important to tailor each application for the specific role you are applying for and to have more than one version of your resume.
For example, if you are applying for a Project Manager role, you may want to emphasise details of all the projects you have been involved with to prove your versatility and breadth of experience. It will be crucial to add that key information and skills to rank you higher as a match.
However, you may want to minimise some of these areas on another application and just concentrate on your rail and roads projects for example.
In addition, recruiters or HR may have asked for you to submit detailed information on a specific area either in your resume or cover letter.
All of these factors will have an impact on the best length of resume to submit.
Method of submission
If you are applying online then it is actually more beneficial to submit a longer length resume because it gives you the opportunity to rank higher by repeating key words and experience.
However, resist the temptation to bloat your resume with keywords just for the sake of it.
There are an increasing number of AI-based ATS that will see through this technique – and don’t forget the human recruiter will too.
Common mistakes that make a resume too long
Your resume has one job, and one job only – to get you an interview.
That’s why it is so crucial to target it for specific opportunities with content that HR and ATS will want to see, ranking you as a great match to get you on that shortlist for interview.
Sometimes though, this can all go horribly wrong…
Occasionally we get resumes in for appraisal that are way too long because absolutely everything has been added in the hope that some of it will be valuable.
So does the ‘throw enough mud at the wall and some of it might stick’ technique work in anyway or is it always a bad idea?
The answer lies in understanding what you should and should not include in a resume.
Resume length checklist
Here is a list of 18 top mistakes to avoid so that your resume length doesn't get out of control.
If you are guilty of any of these, go and edit your resume now.
Using a front-page template with just your name and nothing else.
Listing every qualification with details of each unit of study.
Including images of all certificates held.
Adding irrelevant school information, ie school captain, from 20 years ago.
Merging documents such as cover letters and references into a resume.
Using images of company logos next to jobs
Cut and pasting entire job descriptions for each position held.
Inserting quotes randomly from people you admire, e.g. Gandhi, Richard Branson, etc
Repeatedly listing machinery/IT used under every position on separate lines.
Providing long lists of publications/projects in great detail.
Sharing too much information on hobbies and pastimes
Using a template that has huge blank spaces or coloured sections dividing up the content.
Treating volunteer work in the same way as actual work by providing full details.
Adding long bulleted lists of every skill you feel you possess, irrelevant of the role you are applying for.
Choosing a massive font for headings.
Providing images of payslips.
Adding family details such as Father’s name, spouses name etc
Including a signed declaration at the end.
Step by step guide: 10 ways you can make sure you choose the perfect length for your resume
Resume length is a much debated topic that can at first seem confusing but, if you apply some common sense with an understanding of ATS and what recruiters really want to see, then it actually becomes very easy to get right.
Don’t ask everyone’s advice
Everyone will have an opinion, but it doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. Seek advice from hands-on recruiters and resume writers in your specific industry.
Reject the ‘one page is best’ myth
Unless you have just left school or university, it is crazy to stuff your career history onto one page because you should be concentrating on the quality not the quantity of information you provide.
Don’t use a fancy template for online applications
Ditch that template. It’s not making you stand out, it’s making you invisible. There are so many ATS out there, and some are more sensitive than others. Don’t risk being rejected. Play it safe by sticking to an ATS optimised, plain format without any design.
Do focus on providing key skills and not just keywords
With ATS now using AI, it is more important than ever to provide quality information on your key skills and not just a list of key words. This means putting real effort into describing both your duties and achievements on your resume.
Don’t bloat your resume with key words
Gone are the days of being able to repeat the same words over and over just to rank higher. Both recruiters and ATS are highly aware of this technique.
Include what is necessary and do it well
Provide contact details, a great profile, a career history detailing both duties and achievements, relevant education and qualifications, and referees. That’s it.
Don’t include additional documents
Never incorporate a cover letter, references, or copies of qualifications as part of your resume because it will make it artificially long.
Concentrate on the last 10 years only
If you have an extensive career history, keep information brief for positions dating back more than 10 years. They need to be there to show progression but the last 10 years are the important ones to expand upon.
Leave these things out
Don’t waste space with hobbies, random skill lists, etc from the list given previously. They just add to your resume length, not its quality, and take the focus away from the important information on your resume.
Always start with a great profile
Don’t be tempted to leave this out to make your resume shorter. It is like the trailer of a film or the blurb of a book. A well-written profile tells the reader who you are, and what you could do for them if they hired you.
The Key Takeaway...
The answer to how long a resume should be can be found by concentrating on the quality, not the quantity of its pages.
If you do that, the right length for your resume will become obvious to you.
Got a question? Leave a comment below.