Of all the questions I get about resumes, that is the one I get most often. HR managers, school career counselors, and even professional resume writers can’t seem to agree on the appropriate length for a resume today.
The internet — particularly in the guise of LinkedIn and other professionally oriented social media sites — has changed how we look at resumes. Instead of flipping through hard copies, we now scroll seamlessly through PDF resumes without looking at page counts. LinkedIn, meanwhile, breaks the average job seeker’s professional profile into a series of interconnected sections on an unbroken webpage. Video resumes don’t even have page numbers — just runtimes.
Some pros say the proper length of your resume depends on the length of your work history to date. A recent college graduate has less experience and needs only one page, whereas someone with 30+ years of work experience should have two pages.
I’d like to propose a different approach. For me, the answer to “How long should my resume be?” is “It depends on how good of a story you have to tell.”
You may be young, but you may have lots of internships, travel experience, and work experience that would easily justify two pages. You may be older, but you may have spent your career only working for a couple of companies, which could easily fit on a taut one-pager. If you’re in an academic or scientific field, your extensive credentials and publishing history could easily pour over into three or more pages.
What really determines your resume length is how your resume is written. Don’t offer endless bullet points describing your job duties. We know what a bank teller does. What employers want to know is what you achieved as a bank teller. How did you make the position better while you had it? How did you improve efficiency and increase revenue for the company?
Avoid passive sentence starters like “handled,” “assisted,” “attended,” or “responsible for.” Resume readers have short attention spans, so get straight to the point by starting your sentences with strong action words like “managed,” “created,” “grew,” “organized,” and “designed,” and then follow up by quantifying each accomplishment when possible.
If you don’t start strong and keep your reader’s attention, they will bail on your resume regardless of its length. “Weak” would be starting with an objective statement. It’s a waste of space — we all know your objective is to get the job for which you’re applying. A stronger start would be to begin with a summary paragraph that names the companies you’ve worked for and your major achievements. Sell the reader on what you can do for them, not what you want to do for yourself.
Edit your work and have others review it to ensure you are using the fewest — and strongest — words possible. You want to get your resume as tight as possible, like Superman squeezing coal into a diamond. If it’s one page, great. If you can flesh it out with more relevant statistics, go to two pages.
I’ve seen strong, concise two-pagers, and cluttered, boring one-pagers. Size doesn’t matter unless you abuse it and, ultimately, abuse the reader. Tell your story, quantify your accomplishments, and sell yourself as the best candidate for an interview.
Instead of asking what the proper length of your resume should be, try asking, “What will it take to convince the reader?”
Ferris Kaplan is founder of Best Of You Resumes.
Ferris Kaplan has been a marketing executive at large for-profit and nonprofit companies. He has a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California and teaches marketing at colleges. Kaplan founded Best Of You Resumes.