Everyone has advice on how long your resume should be. But, the reality is that there are no hard and fast rules. Instead, what matters most is what is on your resume and does it help you stand out as a candidate. So, to make the best judgment about how long your resume should be, here are the 4 questions that you should really be asking in order to find the right length for your resume:
1. IS MY EXPERIENCE REFLECTED PROPERLY?
The old adage of 1 page for every 5 years of experience is simply that – a generalized rule to provide guidance. Really, your resume needs to capture all of YOUR relevant experience in a way that grabs the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter who will review your resume. Consider the following to make sure you capture all of the relevant experience on your resume:
- Summary. Make it easy for the reader to understand who you are as a candidate. Replace a generic objective with a clear summary of how you are the right fit for the job.
- Achievements. Incorporate clear achievement statements with numbers to help illustrate the magnitude of your relevant results.
- Skills. It is no secret that the applicant tracking systems (ATS) will identify what it reads as your skills from your resume. Make sure it pulls the right skills list by specifically incorporating one.
- Industry knowledge. Incorporate all of your relevant industry knowledge regardless of whether it was obtained on the job or as part of an internship. Keep it current and make sure to include the keywords for your industry.
- Software. Many organizations will include knowledge of particular software as a critical skill regardless of level or job title. Incorporating a list of software that you are proficient in (even if you feel it is not that important) generally helps improve your matching with the ATS algorithms.
- Training. A clear list of titles of recent training classes, providers, and dates can be a great way to showcase your experience on your resume. The types of classes that you incorporate may vary depending on your experience level. Keep the list to the last 5 years (at most) and pick the ones most relevant to the particular job that you are applying to.
2. IS MY RESUME EASY TO READ?
A real live person will hopefully read your resume once you get past the ATS. (Check out tips on how to beat the ATS). At that point, you will have 6 seconds to grab the attention of this person and stand out from the competition. To do this, an easy to read resume that is well organized can go a long way. Think about the following when crafting an eye-pleasing resume:
- Mind the gaps. Scroll out or print your resume to take a good look at the empty space on your resume. Is there too much white space on the page? Or, are there strategic reasons for the empty spaces?
- Add headers. A well-placed header can make all the difference in whether someone reads further or not. Use clear cues to indicate the content in the section and make sure to keep the content consistent with its label.
- Too busy is too busy. Lots of tiny text is as bad as no text. Keep the font size to 10 or higher or you will likely be perceived as indecisive or lacking focus. (Check out why you should always steer clear of graphics on your resume)
3. IS THE SUBSTANCE RIGHT?
Substance is always more important than length when it comes to resumes. A resume can’t help you land the interview if you don’t have the right information for the particular job/potential employer. Remember to focus on the following in order to optimize the substance of your resume:
- Relevance. The hiring manager wants to know that you can perform the job and that you are a fit for the culture of the organization. Keep the resume focused on the particular tasks identified in the respective job description (or posting) and you will go much further in the process.
- Combine similar or short positions. A specific summary highlighting the most relevant achievements in similar capacities will go a long way to saving space. Keep the summary clear and make sure to include numbers of some kind whenever possible.
- Eliminate old baggage. Remove peripheral information or details about positions that were more than 10 years ago. Although these details were important to helping shape your career, they are likely outdated and pale in comparison to your most recent achievements.
4. IS THE FORMAT RIGHT FOR MY SEARCH?
Where and how you plan to use the resume can be a key factor in determining how long your resume should be. In fact, people with a broad search will often have multiple resumes to keep their message focused on the audience. (Find out if you should have more than 1 resume). Regardless of whether you have 1 resume or many, here is what to consider in setting the length of each:
- Government resumes really are different. A search for a government role requires an entirely different resume than one used for a job in the private sector. These resumes require an extensive amount of information and are frequently much longer than 3 pages (depending on the experience level). At the same time, a resume that was prepared for a government search should never be used for a job search in the private sector.
- CV v. resume. A curriculum vitae (CV) is expected when searching for a role in the academic, science, and research professions. A CV is considerably longer than a typical resume because a CV comes with different expectations. Find out whether you should use a CV or resume.
- Stretching yourself. Making a career change means that you will likely have less experience in the field than if you were to simply aim towards a lateral move. Read here for tips on how to write a resume for a career change.
Resume length is highly subjective. The answer to how long your resume should really depend on the specifics of your background and your current search. In fact, the real question is does the resume help you stand out as a strong candidate?