In the March 21, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks a perennial question about the resume.
I have been receiving your weekly newsletter for some time and I always appreciate your insight. What is your opinion of a three-page resume? I have been in professional positions since 1985. I find myself in job-search mode and I am having difficulties in keeping an updated resume to two pages. Thanks in advance for your time.
Thanks for your kind words.
I’ve seen good one-page resumes and I’ve seen good 20-page resumes. I think a resume should be as long as necessary to accurately communicate what an employer needs to know about you.
That doesn’t mean you should not try to keep it as concise as you can. A resume is no place to list everything about your past. Employers don’t need to know everything. All they need to know is what is exactly relevant to them. The rest is interference that can lead to rejection.
What’s a resume for?
More important, a resume is not your “marketing piece.” That pronouncement is a career-industry marketing ploy to sell you unnecessary resume services. (See How (not) to use a resume.)
Most of the time, a resume does not get you in the door. Personal communications and referrals are the best way to get in the door. Your resume should be used to fill in the blanks about your credentials after you’ve established substantive contact with a hiring manager. (Yes, I know that’s not easy. That’s why the person who works hardest and smartest at this is most likely to win the job.)
While you’re waiting for one of the many resumes you sent out to get you an interview, your competitor is meeting with the hiring manager because he was referred by someone the manager knows and trusts.
What should your resume do?
Do you know how long the average manager spends reading a resume? Six seconds.
If your resume doesn’t deliver the goods — “Why you need me to boost your profits” — quickly, you lose. See Resume Blasphemy and “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume,” pp. 23-26, in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book is not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to show they are the most profitable hire.) Here’s a brief excerpt from the book to get you thinking about your resume in a new, potent way:
“Give the prospective employer a free sample of what you can do. This will get the employer’s attention and it will distinguish you as a job hunter whose goal is to do the job for the employer, rather than just to get a job… You need to package the information in a way that says explicitly to a prospective employer: This is what I can do for you. Before you can deliver this job-offer-eliciting gift, you need to understand an employer’s needs. That means understanding the problems and challenges his company faces. And that can take quite a bit of research. Do it. There are no shortcuts to delivering value.”
Make your resume as long as it needs to be. Does it deliver instant answers to the questions on the manager’s mind? If you don’t know what those questions are, you’re not ready to write that resume. When you’re ready, you’ll know exactly how long it needs to be. (See Tear your resume in half.)
How long is your resume? How long is too long? More important, how do you use your resume? What’s the interview yield of the resumes you hand out?