When it comes to the length of your resume, more isn't always better — even if you have a long and accomplished career history.
Each week, TopResume's career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, tackles your questions live on Facebook. We'll be republishing those answers here. As a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW), Amanda has been helping professionals improve their careers for over 10 years.
In this Q&A, Amanda helps make sense of how long is too long for a resume, and what you should keep — and omit — from your resume if you're an older professional.
Can I use a one-page resume for networking, even though my regular resume is three pages long?
How do I put 20 years of experience on a resume?
How do I showcase additional duties on your resume?
Q: Can I use a 1-page resume for networking? I was thinking of having a 1-page resume to circulate to unsolicited contacts to spark the conversation.
There was a great study done by ResumeGo where they looked at thousands of resumes and found that a two-page resume is the ideal length, regardless of years of experience.
If you are newer to the workforce, I would always recommend a one-page resume. If you have enough information that warrants a second page, you should go for it — but you shouldn't force it, either. The same thing applies to a three-page resume. In general, I recommend a two-page resume over three pages, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Even at a quick glance (recruiters spend less than 10 seconds looking at your resume before making a decision) the top third of your resume needs to set the stage for everything else. That's what needs to catch the reader's eye.
You need to have your name, your contact information, your professional title, and a short professional summary, which really is the elevator pitch for the rest of your resume. Make sure to incorporate your strengths and skills so that the recruiter has a high-level understanding of what you're about from the get-go, with your most recent experience on that front page as well.
Overall, I think professionals are trending toward two pages instead of one because a two-page resume presents recruiters with everything they want to see.
TopResume completed a study where we looked at self-written, DIY resumes and compared them to professionally written resumes. As part of the study, we asked recruiters different questions to understand which they were more impressed by and, more importantly, why. What's the difference?
The professional resumes looked and read as more polished, leaving recruiters feeling more confident in the prospect of presenting these candidates to their hiring managers. We also asked the recruiters to estimate the candidates' value in the job market, and those with professionally written resumes were valued at seven percent higher than those whose were self-written.
Anyone can make sure their resume is typo-free or grammatically correct, but we found the big differences between a professionally written resume and a DIY resume were that:
A professionally written resume presents a compelling career narrative. Your resume tells a story. How well do you weave a story that shows your background and why you're now qualified and would make a good candidate for a certain role?
Quantifying your achievements allows you to showcase the value you could bring to a company or role. It's more than just saying that you did X, Y, and Z. What was some of the output? How did you improve efficiency? How did you make the company more money? What did you do that benefited the organization? If you missed a day of work, what wouldn't get done because you weren't there?
Q: How do I articulate 20 years of experience on my resume?
You only want to focus on the most recent 15 years of work experience, and the amount of detail you include for each role should decrease as you go back in your career. The reality is employers are going to say, “That's great what you did 10 years ago, but what have you done recently that's relevant to what I'm hiring for?”
That's great what you did 10 years ago, but what have you done recently that's relevant to what I'm hiring for?
For someone who has a lot of experience, what I typically recommend is: In addition to having your Professional Summary and Areas of Expertise, include a Career Highlights section on the first page. A highlights section is three or five bullets that show off the headliners from your 20-year career.
Not sure how to do this? You can see how a Career Highlights section is formatted in my article about ways to improve your senior-level resume.
Include anything that is highly brag-worthy, as well as particularly relevant to what you're pursuing today. That way, if the role does fall toward the bottom of page two, it's still getting a nod on the first page. Remember to look at each role and curate the information you're providing based on what your current goal is.
Q: How do I articulate additional duties on a resume?
A resume is not your transcript from school where every single detail of every job you've ever held is included. Instead, a resume is a marketing document. You get to curate the content you provide, which means determining what details you want to share and what details you want to downplay or omit because they aren't relevant to your goals.
While you may have had many responsibilities in your role, you want to focus on the responsibilities that are relevant to the role you are pursuing. When it comes to resume writing, we have soft guidelines about what this means. We can only work with the information we are given, so things get tweaked depending on what we have to work with.
In an ideal world, assuming you're not fresh out of school or entry-level, for each job role we like to provide:
The job title
The company name, and perhaps a little bit of information about the company to give the reader context, especially if many of the employers on your resume are not self-explanatory or well-known
How long have you worked there, start date to end date
A short paragraph, maybe three to five lines, to describe your relevant roles and responsibilities
We then save your bullet points for your bragging points. How did you help the company? How did you contribute? How can you show you're an achiever versus a doer?
Some people say, “Well I had a 'doer' job.” Well then, ignore those words — those are just labels. Instead, it's about how you show that you were good at what you did.
It could be that you were given the best shifts, had to train the new hires, or were asked to let the new hires shadow you. It could also be that you were promoted, had a title change, or were given a bigger budget. These are all things that show you were excellent at your job, which is what a recruiter wants to know. These are the bragging points they are looking for.
If you need to include jobs that aren't necessarily relevant but would leave a hole if not included, you still want to mention them. Just don't give them a lot of space on your resume.
Looking to update your resume but don't know where to start? Use our free resume review as a guide.
Between Jobs When You're Older: Is It Time for a Career Change or Early Retirement?