“How long should my resume be?”
Between my experience as a career coach and running a college career services department, this is a question I’ve heard a lot. And as a recruiter, I’ve seen resumes that run the gamut in terms of scope—from a simple Word document with just a few lines to a full-on multimedia package including video and audio.
Many people will say that a resume ought to be a single page—that this is an incontrovertible fact of resume writing. But the reality is more nuanced than that. There’s no single correct answer because it’s entirely dependent upon your experience, background, and the types of roles you’re applying for right now.
It’s a dated myth that you have to stick to one page no matter how many years of experience you have or what the situation is. Conversely, there’s absolutely no reason you need a resume that is pages upon pages long, detailing every single experience you’ve ever had. Like a lot of things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Here’s what I’ve seen work best for different job seekers.
When to Use a One-Page Resume
A one-page resume is ideal when you want to be succinct and get your point across quickly. The most common instances of using a one-page resume effectively arise when:
You’re a New Grad or Early in Your Career
If you’re a new graduate looking for your first professional job or you don’t have a lot of professional experience (say, less than five to eight years), the reality is that there likely just isn’t enough information or experience to warrant a longer resume.
For example, let’s say Jane just received her BA in marketing and is looking for her first post-college job. She had a few part-time positions while in school, and completed a few relevant internships. But she doesn’t yet have much professional experience working in her field. In this case, I’d recommend that Jane focus her resume on her relevant academic work and internships. And she could stick to the one-page resume even once she’s been working in marketing for four or five years. She can start to build out her professional experience section, including examples of accomplishments and projects she’s worked on. In order to make room for some of this new information, she’d remove internships, extracurricular activities, or even earlier or less relevant entry-level positions if she’s held several roles by now.
You’re Changing Careers
If you’re making a career shift or looking to enter a new industry or land a new type of role, a lengthier resume listing all your professional accomplishments wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to your target job. A recruiter or hiring manager is likely to discount your application, since they won’t be able to pinpoint the relevant connections. If you focus only on the most salient transferable skills and experiences, however, you’ll be able to tell a more focused story and make a much stronger case as to why you’re a great candidate for this particular role.
You Haven’t Moved Around Much
You may have several years of experience, but perhaps it’s with the same one or two companies, or in a role without much change. If your experience has been fairly steady, then the reality is that you may not have enough to fill in more than a page, even if you’ve been working for several years. In this instance, the single-page resume allows you to call out key accomplishments and achievements without getting too wordy.
When to Use a Two-Page Resume
This is the sweet spot for most resumes. Two pages allows you to dig into your accomplishments in more detail, and to include different sections that can give the resume context and depth. This is ideal for someone who has eight or more years of professional experience, or someone who is very active in their community service or volunteering endeavors.
Let’s take the example of Jane from above. She now has about 10 years of professional experience, including working at an ad agency, followed by a few years as a brand manager, then leading an in-house marketing team. Now she’s applying to a position as a creative director for an agency. Each of her three previous roles is relevant and going to have some weighty experiences and distinct accomplishments she can dig into. Maybe she’s also served on a board or done some volunteer work in her community. When you add her academic background to this list, it’s clear that one page won’t do her justice.
A two-page resume isn’t an excuse to cram all your experience in. When you’re thinking about how far back to go, the general rule of thumb is to include the last 10-15 years of professional experience, with the caveat that you should still tailor your resume for the specific role. This allows you to focus on your most recent experience, highlight your recent accomplishments, and feature the most relevant skills. This means that it’s OK to leave off part-time jobs you had in college, any short-term or temporary positions, and any full-time roles that simply aren’t related to the job you’re applying for.
And if you’re worried about creating what appears to be a gap in your work history because you’re only including the most relevant roles, there’s an easy solution for that. Change the name of the section heading to “Selected Professional Experience” or “Relevant Work Experience,” which will alert the reader that what you’ve listed is not all-inclusive, so they won’t be put off by any gaps. It also shows that you’ve curated your resume to only highlight what’s most relevant to the job you’ve applied for.
When to Use Three Pages or More
A resume of this length should be reserved for a few very specific cases, including candidates with academic backgrounds, government employees, or senior-level executives. This type of resume is appropriate for those with extensive experience who want or need to list speaking engagements, publications, patents, licenses, or other information in addition to their work history, education, and skills.
In some cases, you’ll actually need a curriculum vitae, or CV—which is a more comprehensive document that can be several pages long—instead of a resume.
Focus on Substance Instead of Length
At the end of the day, the length of your resume is not the most important thing. It should be a continually evolving document based on where you are in your career at any given moment and what role you’re applying to. For that reason, your bigger focus should be on ensuring there is relevant content, that you clearly articulate your accomplishments (as opposed to simply listing your tasks), and that the information is current and accurate. Other questions you can ask yourself include to be sure your resume is just right:
- Does the resume tell a compelling, coherent story about your experience and who you are as a candidate? How does that story fit with this role in particular?
- Have you provided enough detail to help you stand out against the competition? This includes optimizing the resume with keywords so that you can get past the applicant tracking system, or ATS.
- Does it look clean and neat and is it easy to read? Ensure you have appropriate margins, font size, and that it’s not all crammed together.
How to Cut Down Your Resume If Needed
If you find that you do want to trim your resume down a bit, here are a few easy ways to go about it:
- Remove irrelevant information. This includes hobbies and any personal information like date of birth, citizenship, or marriage status (which I’ve seen a lot, especially from candidates who may not know that this information shouldn’t be included on a resume in the U.S.). Plus, you don’t need to list your full street address on a resume these days—just a city and state will suffice.
- Drop references and “References available upon request.” It’s unnecessary at this point to share your references or even to mention them. It should be obvious you’ll provide them when it comes time and you can use this space for other things.
- Remove filler words. Words like “a,” “an,” and “the” may seem small, but removing them across the entire document will save you a lot of space. Take the following bullet point: “Oversaw a full-cycle recruitment program, which included identifying strategic talent acquisition opportunities, interviewing the candidates, and scheduling all interviews.” It could be rewritten as: “Oversaw full-cycle recruitment, including strategic talent acquisition, candidate screening, & interview scheduling.” (Note also the use of the ampersand instead of spelling out the word “and”—just another simple space-saving tip!)
- Streamline the information you have included. For example, if you’re a mid- or senior-level employee, you should still list your education but there’s no need to include your extracurricular activities, GPA, or other details, particularly when they’re taking up valuable space.
- Play with the font type and size. Pick a font that is clear and easy to read, without extra ornamentation. Don’t go too small, though, just to fit a lot into the page. Best practice is to keep it between 10- and 12-point fonts.
- Change your margins and line spacing. Sometimes something as simple as spacing your lines differently can have a huge impact on the length and overall look of the resume.
- Start over. With some clients who have a lot of experience but struggle to cut down their resumes, I’ve tried another strategy. We remove almost everything and then start building from the foundation back up. Once you’ve got your resume down to the bare bones, you can think strategically about what elements to add and which sections to flesh out—and that can be easier than deleting piecemeal from what’s already there. Think of it as an elimination diet for your resume!
A hiring manager won’t discount a qualified candidate because their resume was slightly too long or too short. It’s far more important what you say in the space you do use. If you demonstrate how your experience is relevant to the position and craft a compelling story, chances are the reader will be too focused on what a great find you are to even notice the length of the resume at all.