How long should a resume be?
Get guidance on when you should send a one-, two- or three-page resume.
Resume length is among the biggest quandaries for job seekers. The presiding belief is that if it’s too long, you risk a hiring manager not reading the whole thing; if it’s too short, you might look like you don’t have enough experience. For all the times you’ve wondered, “How long should a resume be?” you probably figured the universe has decided on an answer by now. Alas. There’s no magic resume length that works for everyone.
The trick is figuring out the best number of pages for your situation. Follow these tips.
Decades ago, someone declared a resume should never exceed one page. This idea spread like wildfire and continues to this day, but is it time to debunk this “rule” once and for all?
“In my 30-plus years as a resume writer, I’ve never come across definitive proof that a resume should be one page,” says Norine Dagliano, nationally certified resume writer, nationally certified online profile expert, and owner of ekm Inspirations, a resume- and online-profile-writing service. “Focusing primarily on the appropriate number of pages is a misdirected concern and can inhibit one’s ability to effectively market themselves.”
If you’re attempting to cram all your skills and experience onto one page, please stop. “I’ve seen job seekers and professional resume writers shoot themselves in the foot trying to fit two or more pages of content on one sheet of paper,” says Dagliano. Telltale signs include “tiny fonts, tight margins, dense paragraphs, lack of incremental spacing, or omission of relevant information.”
One page works beautifully for some job seekers, though. If you can prove that you’re qualified for the job you’re targeting on one page, go for it. This is typically the case for students and others with limited experience.
“There should be a relationship between your background, expertise, and career level and length of your resume,” says Cathy Sutherland, managing director with ZRG Partners, a retained executive-search firm. “If you’re within ten years of finishing school, a one-page resume is fine.”
Consider a one-page resume if:
- You have fewer than ten years of experience.
- You're pursuing a career change and your experience isn't transferable to your new goal.
- You've held one or two positions with one employer.
But how long should a resume be if you’ve been in the workforce for a while? The Goldilocks principle applies to two-page resumes—it’s just right for most employees.
Consider the resume reviewer’s point of view. They are trying to fill a position and looking for someone with specific credentials. By the time you’ve added a heading at the top and resume sections—from qualifications summary to experience, education, and skills—there’s not a lot of room left over for meaty accomplishments. Two pages gives you extra space to convince the reviewer to select you for an interview.
If you extend your resume length to two pages, be sure to include the most compelling information on page one. You want page two to see the light of day.
“A two-page resume works well for someone with over 10 years of experience,” says Sullivan. “It would be tough to get all of the important information on one page.”
Consider a two-page resume if:
- You have 10 or more years of experience related to your goal.
- You’re having a hard time conveying the value you offer on one page and find that you’re deleting relevant accomplishments.
Three pages or longer
While three pages may seem like you’re entering novella territory, this resume length can work for professionals who need the extra space.
Before going to multiple pages, take inventory of why you need the longer format. Ask yourself if your resume is built on quality versus quantity. Have you let go of early career experiences that don't market you for your current goal?
“A resume should not be an obituary of one’s career,” says Dagliano. “To keep it concise, write with the employer’s needs and wants in mind.” Hint: Review the job description to which you’re applying and note what skills and qualifications the employer lists at the top.
Consider a three-page (or longer) resume if:
- You're a senior-level manager or executive with an impressive track record of leadership accomplishments.
- You’re in an academic or scientific field with a list of publications, speaking engagements, courses, licenses, or patents.
- You’re applying for a federal job that requires more information than a civilian application.
- You have a lengthy technical or project management background and need to provide case studies, project highlights, or lists of technical skills.
The ideal resume length depends on you
Are you a student or new graduate with qualifications that don’t quite fit on one page? Go to two. Are you a CEO with a penchant for getting to the point? Try a one-page resume. The rule is there is no rule.
Dagliano recommends removing resume length from the equation. Ask yourself:
- Is the content relevant?
- Is the theme consistent and clear?
- Is the information current?
- Are the details truthful?
- Does it distinguish you from the competition?
- Is it well written and grammatically correct?
- Is it keyword optimized?
- Is it formatted so it’s easy to read?
She says that if all of these factors can be positively addressed on one page, so be it. But if it takes two pages—or more—to address each factor, that’s fine too.
Finally, don’t sweat it. When asked if a candidate has ever been eliminated from consideration because the resume was too long or too short, Sullivan said absolutely not. “If the person’s experience matches the job opening, they will not be eliminated for that reason,” she says. “It’s more important that the resume has a great brand—the resume length and flow has to be synergistic with the experience.”
Get some reassurance
Knowing how your resume should look isn't always clear. The skills you should highlight—and how many of them to focus on—depends on the jobs you're applying to, the companies, and other variables. Not sure your resume is properly set up? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Resume trends tend to change so it's best to make sure yours is doing all it can to get a hiring manager's attention.