One size doesn't fit all, but how do you determine how long your resume should be? Follow these resume-length tips.

If you run a Google search about how many pages should a resume be, you're bound to come across a number of different opinions. I've heard some people declare that everyone should have a one-page version of their history, regardless of their years of experience, while others have no problem sending out a five-page document chronicling every detail of their professional journey.

I'm here to set the record straight. When it comes to the length of your resume, size does matter. Here's everything you need to know to answer the question, "How long should a resume be?"

How long should a resume be: The one-page myth 

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to squeeze 15 or more years of work experience into a one-page resume. In fact, until recently, only entry-level candidates were urged to keep their resumes to one page, as most employers assumed someone who was new to the post-college workforce wouldn't have enough information to justify more than one page of resume real estate. But, thanks to new data, this resume-length rule may no longer apply to most professionals at any level. 

According to a recent study that involved nearly 500 recruiters, hiring managers, and HR professionals and nearly 8,000 resumes, recruiters are 2.3 times as likely to prefer two-page resumes over one-page resumes, regardless of a candidate's job level. 

So, why the change in opinion? I think there are two factors to consider. 

First, unlike the graduates of 10 or more years ago, today's young professionals are entering the “real” working world with more experience to boost their resumes and impress employers. From internships to co-ops to freelance gigs and even contract work, students are encouraged to secure opportunities throughout their collegiate journey to help explore potential career paths, build their skills, and meet the one to three years' experience requirements that many “entry-level” jobs now demand. They're also more likely to have personal blogs or online portfolios, group projects, volunteer work, leadership programs, and relevant campus activities to boost their resumes without adding any unnecessary fluff. 

Second, a recent study by TopResume found that employers value resumes that provide a strong career narrative. In other words, recruiters want to see more than merely a timeline of your professional and educational experience; they want to be able to read your resume like a story. In order to create that story, your resume requires additional components such as a professional summary, a section to list your relevant skills, etc. — all of which take up more space.

Is the one-page resume dead?

Not exactly. While entry-level candidates should no longer feel pressured to cut their resumes down to one page, they should not try to stretch their resume to a second page if it doesn't make sense.

For example, if you recently graduated from college and did not participate in many of the resume boosters mentioned above (e.g. internships, co-ops, volunteer work, extracurricular activities), then you likely won't have enough material to warrant a second page. That last thing you want to do is add irrelevant details, include outdated information, or get creative with your format in order to extend your resume to a second page. That's a waste of your time and will not help your chances of landing a job. You're better off sticking with a one-page resume. 

So, if you're a recent college graduate, remove any references to your high school awards, scholarships, and extracurricular activities. Employers are more interested in the internships you held, the odd jobs you worked, and the activities in which you participated on campus while pursuing your degree. 

In addition, if you're further along in your career and have decided to make a major career change, your resume may be reduced to only one page that highlights your transferable skills and parts of your experience that are relevant to this new job goal.

How many pages a resume should be: The golden rule

If you have been in the workforce for a number of years, you're entitled to a maximum of two full pages of resume real estate. This rule applies to most senior professionals, whether you've been in the workforce for seven years or 27 years.

The reality is that most recruiters spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before deciding whether the applicant should receive further consideration. With so little time to make the right impression, it's important to present a succinct document that highlights the recent — and more relevant — parts of your work history, skills, and education.

Exceptions to the resume-length rules

While I strongly encourage you to limit your resume length to two pages, there will be instances where this is near impossible. This often happens to professionals who have never-ending lists of technical skills and proficiencies, a large number of consulting gigs to explain, or a series of published works to include. If you fall into one of these categories, you may need to use the first part of a third page. However, try to avoid this if possible.

There are three additional scenarios when your resume length is likely to exceed two standard 8.5" x 11" pages:

How to make your resume fit the appropriate page length

In order to help you meet these resume-length tips, limit the amount of experience you include to the last 15 years and remove college graduation and certification dates that fall outside that 15-year window. Employers care most about the recent work you've been doing and how it ties back to their role's requirements, so place the emphasis of your resume on your current experience.

There are a number of ways you can incorporate your earlier experience into the resume without spilling over into a third or fourth page.

Include a “Career Note” in a senior-level resume

If you only held one or two positions before the 15-year cut-off, you can provide a short career note that mentions the roles and titles you held.

This format gives you some flexibility, as you may decide to summarize a few very similar roles into a short blurb to keep your resume length under two pages. For instance, you may say that your earlier experience includes “... executive assistant work for companies including Company A, Company B, and Company C.” If you worked with some name-drop worthy clients, you have the ability to work those details into a blurb like this as well. However, the rule of thumb is to keep this note short and sweet, so eliminate unnecessary details such as employment dates. 

Click on the following link to see the entire two-page sample resume for a senior professional.

Create an "Earlier Work History" section for a senior-level resume

If you have 20+ years of experience or changed jobs frequently at the beginning of your career, you may need more than a one-liner to cover the work experience. An alternative is to add an “Earlier Career History” section at the bottom of your professional experience that lists the job title, company name, and location of each role.

Experiment with different format techniques to meet the appropriate resume length

There are a number of additional resume-length tips and tricks professional resume writers use to help their clients meet these length restrictions. If you're having trouble making your resume fit within a specific number of pages, try messing with the font size, the spacing between paragraphs, and the margins. When experimenting with different design elements, make sure it's still easy for a reader to quickly scan the resume and identify the most important selling points.

  • Font Styles: Fonts such as Calibri, Calibri Light, Trebuchet MS, and Arial Narrow tend to take up less space than Times New Roman, Verdana, and Arial. By switching your resume over to a different font, you may be able to gain the extra space you need.
  • Font Size: Depending on the font style you choose, you can usually shrink its size down to 10 or 10.5 points without turning your resume into a frustrating eye chart for the reader. Headers can similarly be reduced to 13 or 15 points without looking bad.
  • Spacing and Margins: Experiment with the overall spacing of your resume. You can decrease the margins of your resume down to 0.5 of an inch and reduce the spacing between different sections of your resume by 0.5 to 1 point without losing the document's white space.

  • Eliminations: If you're still listing your references or a note such as “References available upon request” at the bottom of your document, it's time to stop. This information is unnecessary and taking up precious resume real estate. Similarly, there's no need to list your street address at the top of your resume. If you're searching for a position in your current location and want employers to know you're a local candidate, include your city and state. However, leave your street address off to protect yourself from potential identity theft and free up another line of text.

Did these resume-length tips answer your question about how long your resume should be? If not, hire a TopResume writer to help you write the next chapter of your career.

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