Let’s pretend you’re buying a train ticket to Jobville. There are two trains leaving the station at the exact same time, but one train will get you to your destination in 20 minutes while the other will take the scenic – and much longer – route. Assuming the ticket prices are the same and there are no delays, the obvious choice here would be to take the train that only takes 20 minutes to get you where you want to go.
Résumés are kind of the same thing, if you think about it. Recruiters want to get all the important information from your résumé in as little time as possible; they don’t want to read a novel to determine your suitability for the job you’re applying for.
So, when exactly does a résumé become too long? What is the ideal length and size?
Keep reading to find out.
What is the ideal length?
There’s no direct way to answer this question other than say: it depends.
It all boils down to the stage you’re at in your career and the amount (and quality) of professional experience you have, as explained below.
One-page résumés are best for school leavers, recent graduates and generally early jobseekers who have little to no professional experience at all. It is also great for employees who are seeking a radical career change that has nothing to do with their current expertise.
Meanwhile, investment banks are notorious for only accepting one-page résumés, but this isn’t always the case.
The standard résumé is two A4 pages long. In fact, it’s preferred by 91% of recruiters, according to a survey of 300 UK employers – many companies often reject résumés that are less than two pages because they simply don’t provide enough evidence about the applicant’s skills and qualifications.
Generally speaking, two-page résumés are used by jobseekers who have some form of experience in their chosen field.
Three (or more) pages
Generally speaking, longer résumés which are three or more pages long are more appropriate for senior-level managers and executives, as well as academics and scientists who have a long list of publications, research papers, licences and patents.
Unless you fall into the above description, avoid writing a résumé that runs more than two pages long.
How can you cut it down?
If you find that your résumé is a little too long (in other words, it equates to the word count of Men of Good Will (paid link) – only the longest novel in history at 2.07 million words), there are a few ways you can condense it.
1. Stick to your most recent (and relevant) experience
The key to writing a job-winning résumé is to provide relevant details about your employment history – not every single job you ever had! In other words, if you have more than 10-15 years’ collective experience, you should leave it off your résumé, unless, of course, it directly relates to the job you’re applying for. Anything older than this is rarely useful to employers (especially if you’re sharing information about technology that is no longer used in the 21st Century), while it also gives your résumé a very claustrophobic look and feel.
On a side note, there are exceptions to this rule, like if you worked for a prestigious company 25 years ago or if the job requires you to have 20 years’ experience in the field.
2. Keep it simple
If there’s a more brief way to say something, say it. For example, why write ‘I was in charge of 20 people from a wide variety of social backgrounds’ when you can instead say ‘In charge of a diverse team of 20’?
3. Remove unnecessary information
Go over your résumé and ruthlessly eliminate any unnecessary words and phrases (for example, pronouns like ‘I’ and articles such as ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’). You should also aim to axe any non-essential sections like ‘Objectives’ or ‘Hobbies and Interests’.
4. Play with font sizes and styles
A great little trick to compress your résumé is to reduce the size of your chosen font or even pick a different font altogether (one font size may appear larger in one font style and smaller in another). Having said that, however, keep the font size to a minimum of 10 points. Anything below that and you risk ruining your résumé's readability.
5. Reduce page margins
The general rule of thumb is to set page margins at 1”. However, you can reduce the size if you need extra space, but – whatever you do – don’t make them smaller than 0.5”!
6. Use bullet points
If paragraphs are dragging on and on, bullet points can be a great way to help you present important information in a more concise way. List three to four short bullets for each position, but remember to focus on key accomplishments and skills, not your daily responsibilities! Also, make sure to start each bullet with an action verb such as ‘developed’, ‘managed’ or ‘maintained’ to add an extra touch of pizzazz.
7. Skip the references
If you’ve included your references’ contact information at the bottom of your résumé, replace them with a simple ‘References available upon request’. Alternatively, you can remove this section completely to save valuable real estate, and instead prepare a separate list of references to supply when and if you’re asked for them.
8. Use your cover letter
If you’re bummed you couldn’t fit everything you wanted on your résumé, you could mention it on your cover letter, instead. After all, that’s what a cover letter is for: to expand on past achievements and explain why you think you’re the best guy or gal for the job.
9. Use supplements
If you’ve got a particularly long résumé, supplemental sheets and addenda can be a great way to present additional information (like awards, certifications, presentations, publications and extensive education) without cluttering your résumé.
Before you start rewriting your résumé or cutting down text, here are some final tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t lose sight of what really counts: your skills, qualifications and professional experience.
- Be concise and aim to capture the reader’s attention from the very first page.
- Don’t write a second (or third) page if it’s going to end in the middle of the page – it makes your résumé look incomplete and weak.
- Add page numbers to aid continuity if your résumé is two or more pages long, if you wish.
- Don’t sacrifice your résumé's readability by trying to squeeze too much onto one page.
- Print your résumé on single-sided A4 pages, never back-to-front.
- Be aware of country differences – in the US, for example, you’ll need to adopt a ‘résumé’ style which is typically one page long, regardless of experience.
- Put all the important information on the first page of your résumé . Subsequent pages should only be used to provide supporting evidence.
- Remember: many recruiters review applicants’ résumés on smartphones, ie: on very small screens. Too many pages can be frustrating and just may turn them off you.
- A shorter résumé or biography can be more appropriate than a ‘full’ CV at industry events.
What do you think? Do you agree? How long is your résumé? Do you have any other tips on how to cut your CV down? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on résumé writing, whatever stage you’re at in your career!
Also, if you’re still struggling to keep your résumé to an appropriate length, why not let our professional résumé writers help you out?