How Long Should Your Resume Be?

Following these general guidelines can dramatically improve your chances of creating a great resume.

By Warren Simons | October 2007


Whether it’s outsourcing, the tech bust, or the influx of new job seekers, competition for  IT positions has dramatically increased over the past few years. To stand out from the  rising tide of competition, it’s essential to make sure that your resume clearly  demonstrates professionalism to a prospective employer.

For any resume, a key to success is length – or lack of it. In an industry like IT, it’s critical to understand not only how a resume is reviewed, but what its length says about your professionalism.

Most Human Resources departments are understaffed and overworked. When a company posts an opening, it’s often mere hours before HR is inundated with resumes. Most get a cursory pass, lasting between 10 to 30 seconds. Yet, it’s at this stage that a  resume deemed too long or too crowded will almost certainly be rejected.

So, what’s the appropriate length? Does your resume have to fit onto one page? Are two pages acceptable? What if you’re an executive with 25 years of relevant experience? Can you use three pages then?

When considering these questions, remember this: The goal of a resume is to help you get an interview. While there are always exceptions, the majority of candidates applying to a company cold should adhere to the general tenets that define effective resumes. These  are the guidelines most HR staffers are familiar with, and while few hard and fast rules govern the world of resume writing, following this general advice can improve your chances of creating a great resume.

A Resume, Not an Autobiography

The freshman mistake many candidates make is to submit a document that’s more  autobiography than resume. To help focus – and determine the correct length – pay close attention to:

  • Years of experience
  • Industry
  • Title/Position
  • Number of employers
  • Career objective
  • Education and additional training
  • Accomplishments

Of these items, experience is often the defining element when it comes to a resume’s length. For most, a one-page resume should be the goal. If you’re applying for a position cold and it exceeds three pages, your resume’s length alone will probably lead HR to reject it.

What are the exceptions? Candidates in academic or research fields often use resumes that exceed three pages. (At that length, they’re often called CVs.) If your company went public when you were 19 and you earned your first million just after graduating high school – but before embarking on your Rhodes Scholarship – three or four pages may be necessary. And, it’s not uncommon for some headhunters to encourage candidates to  throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

The Guidelines

Before you sit down and begin writing your resume, carefully consider these guidelines:

  • Exclude superfluous information.
    You might like to play the drums on weekends, but potential employers don’t need to know it. During college, you may have been in a fraternity or sorority, but unless it was an academic-related organization, there’s no need to list it. And  don’t mention race, religion, political affiliation, or gender unless they correlate directly to the position you’re applying for.
  • Practice word conservation. This is a key tenet of good writing, whether it’s a resume or a screenplay.
  • Make sure that you have a powerful Objective (or Headline) and a strong Summary of Qualifications (or Executive Summary). This is the first thing, after your contact information, that a hirer will see. Your best selling points need to be at the top of the document.
  • Make sure the formatting is crisp and clean. Keep your point size to no more than 12 and no less than 10. Even if you’re struggling for space, don’t  reduce the resume to 8- or 9-point type. That will make the document difficult to read. Instead, reduce the top and bottom margins to 0.5 inches.

Remember, a great resume can help expedite your job search and quickly demonstrate that you’re focused and take your career seriously. While both the advent of the fax machine and the emergence of the Internet have changed the way candidates research and apply for positions, the fundamentals that have traditionally defined a great resume still apply: It must be visually appealing, have a well-designed layout, be easy to follow, adhere to word conservation and, most importantly, demonstrate why you’re the best candidate and should be called in for an interview.

Warren Simons is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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