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Is this resume too long?

In the July 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks an age-old question.

Question

I’ve always abided by the standard advice to have your resume focused at one page. However, due to my eight years of experience, more than a few people (including a headhunter), are saying that a one-page resume doesn’t give enough information. To paraphrase a friend, “Just one page of detail makes me think you’re making crap up.”

What do you think, are one-page resumes for experienced people too short? Thanks for your time.

Nick’s Reply

There’s an old story about a college professor who graded term papers by sailing them down a steep staircase. The ones that made it to the bottom got the highest grades. Weight mattered. (We won’t get into aerodynamics.)

resume-longIn a story attributed to a man who was chided for having legs that were short, he replied, “Short? They both touch the ground!”

Does length of a resume matter? Should you stick to one page? Is it best to avoid multiple pages because no one will read them or because too much information might put someone off? (See The truth about resumes.)

I could answer with several more stories culled from my headhunter’s collection. Here’s one of my favorites. An engineering candidate I worked with had over 20 years’ experience and an extensive academic history. His resume was 12 pages long, and it was dense. It included details about projects he had worked on, articles he had written and research projects he’d done.

Like you, I’d been taught to keep a resume short and to the point. I was (still am) pretty good at editing and chopping, but try as I might, everything in that resume seemed relevant and important.

I sent this candidate to an interview with a client after presenting him only on the phone (no resume). When the meeting was done the client wanted the resume, to fill in the blanks about the engineer’s history. I sent those 12 pages. The client wanted it all. Every page mattered.

My advice: Edit your resume to make it relevant to the employer, and make it as long as it needs to be. Make sure it’s long enough so it reaches where it’s supposed to go.

For more about my view of resumes, please see Resume Blasphemy and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. (Most of the latter is now in How Can I Change Careers?) If you’re going to use a resume writer to help you, seek out the best — but I suggest you do it yourself. Avoid the popular resume-mill scams.

Is your resume really long? Or do you stick to one or two pages? What works for you? If you’re a hiring manager, do you care?

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39 Comments
  1. Someone famous once said, I believe, something like say what you have to say, but no more.

    Couldn’t agree more with your comments here.

    My experience has been, that if you have one client and two resume “experts,” and put the experts in a room to come up with a perfect resume, in a couple of hours they’ll return with three different versions.

    The question to answer is not how long should a resume be, but rather, is it effective, does it accomplish its intended purpose?

  2. One of the biggest items that causes tremendous stress for job seekers is their resume, and the “should’s” that come along with it.

    1 page? 2 pages? It depends.

    A resume makes a case for a position. If you can make that case in one page, then that is all you need. If you need 2 pages to make that case, then go for it.

    Nick’s point is right on the money. Make your resume as long as it needs to be. As long as you are making a case for the job, you are doing the best you can on your end. Then, get out there and network your way into that job!

  3. I question the premise. “due to my eight years of experience, …..one page of detail makes me think you’re making crap up.”
    A longer resume may show that the candidate is a job-hopper, or padding experiences. Are there truly outstanding, quantifiable accomplishments (added revenue, cut costs) that would be relevant to a future employer?

  4. The verbose resume is great when submitting to job mills. The more content, the greater the likelihood of getting a hit (disclaimer: this is the anti-Nick method of job searching, but can be useful when you need something/anything).

    If handing to a person, one page, so they can get the gist in thirty seconds.

    I take a “resume packet” to interviews (complete with Table of Contents). If everything goes well, I hand it over. Verbose resume, list of projects, address and phone number of former employers and schools.

  5. With nearly 30 years of work experience, a one-page resume is impossible, and a two-page resume is tough. However, only your recent 10 years or so of achievements are really relevant to anyone (technology and business processes change so much in a decade), so roles in that time frame are what I focus on, and leave the rest of my companies/jobs as essentially one-liners to show the progression of titles/type of companies. Has worked fine so far!

  6. “I am not my resume. I am my work.”

    — Seth Godin

    When it comes to resumes/CV’s, less is more in my opinion. And brevity is the soul of wit. :)

  7. 30 years of work experience and job searching?
    I thought those people were put out to pasture.

    Now that I think of it, anyone over the age of 35 without a job usually is…. Interview panels with 5-10 Millenials will think anyone over 35 is “weird and ancient.”

  8. I recall how much fun an interview committee had snickering over the candidate, still a month from graduation, who had a six-page resume. It spoke volumes about his inflated ego. On the other hand, when an experienced professional interviewed for a senior leadership position, a lengthy resume was expected and normal. It was very relevant and meaningful to have that detail. As a communicator I can say it all goes back to knowing your audience.

  9. I have found in the 30 years I have worked as an executive recruiter that is not some much about length as readability. The resumes should be “all about the reader” and not the writer. Most of all the resumes I have reviewed in my career are written in a task format, with no results, benefits or achievements.

    For example for Sales leaders you must know to entertain this crowd it’s all about the numbers, they are numbers driven, they think in numbers and they communicate in numbers. Your resume should reflect this and have as many numbers, measurements and percentages as you can to entertain this audience, to talk to them like they the way think.

    The challenges you faced or mandates hire for and the results of those mandates. You want the reader to know you manage yourself by numbers, mandate, targets and you deliver on those, this is what they want to read. A 12 page resume written in this style will read as fast as a 2 page resume written in a task format. Write for the audience in mind not, it’s not about you it is about them.

  10. I agree with the line that resumes should be as long as they need to be, and not a word longer. (I stuck to the one-page format for about 15 years out of college, then finally decided that I had squeezed the font size and margins enough. Now I’m at about a page and a half, and all of the most relevant jobs are on the first page).

    However, it has been my experience that most resumes could benefit from being shorter. The fact is, if you go through every line of your resume and ask, “Does this absolutely have to be here? Does it advance my cause of impressing potential employers?” and remove everything that doesn’t meet that criteria, you will probably have a more succinct summary of your qualifications.

    I’m reminded of the famous Blaise Pascal line, “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/). Cutting something down to the appropriate size is hard work, but well worth the effort.

  11. I would think that anyone who has over 10-15 years experience should have more than a 1 page resume. After all, if you’ve got that much work experience, a 1 pager would seem rather thin. “20 years experience at 2-3 different companies and you’ve only got 5 accomplishments listed?” Even if you’ve been lucky enough to stay at one company, you’d want to show position/responsibility growth.

    I’ve got 22 years in industry at 3 different companies, and it takes more than one page for me to even succinctly describe what I did at all of them. This is especially true since a couple companies are not exactly household names even within my industries.

    I suppose you could cut out “superfluous” things like hobbies/interests, but I’ve found that those actually help me by sparking discussions that eventually make their way to the job at hand.

  12. @Carl,
    I sincerely hope you are joking. After 30 years of experience you probably have a good 15-20 more before pasturizing yourself.

    I’m in the prime of my career. I can solve the problems much more quickly because I have all this experience.

    I personally cut my resume to my last 10 years because that is the most relevant to the jobs I interview for. However, if I find that I need to prove industry bona fides and the experience I have isn’t enclosed in that 10 year time frame, I write another resume and include that specific job.

  13. @Stephen: “Write for the audience in mind not, it’s not about you it is about them.”

    I couldn’t agree more! Employers don’t hire you because of who you are or what you’ve done. They hire (or even interview) you because you show you understand THEM and show how you will help them meet their goals. Not yours.

    @Lucille: The problem with trimming a resume is that some managers are trained to look for “everything,” not just what they need. When something seems “missing,” they deduct points!

  14. @Carl
    @Lucille

    “30 years of work experience and job searching?
    I thought those people were put out to pasture.”

    In my personal experience, sadly and depressingly true.

    I’ve more and more been feeling that, especially if you follow the ATH methods, your resume can fit on a business card, to wit:

    Name
    Address
    Phone
    Email
    “20+ years facilitating other peoples dreams and making other people very well off for poverty wages” (or some such summary of your 20 years experience)

    If the hiring manager wants that experience, that’s all you need. If the want something else, no matter what you put on how many pages, it won’t matter.

    Finally:
    “I made this [letter] very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.”
    Blaise Pascal, ‘Provincial Letters’ December 4. 1656

  15. The threat of being a job-hopper may have been relevant decades ago but now frivolous lay-offs/firings have negated that scare tactic.

  16. I have used long and short. In Ottawa, any application to the government is expected to be long. I have heard of more than 26 pages. In industry, I have used four pages, two pages and also tried a one page resume, the David Perry one, with former company logos and testimonials on it. I don’t bother with most government stuff anymore, the local agencies seemed to have monopolized that employment path. I target Private industry, with mixed success, everything seems to be short term contracts. The one page resume garnered the most calls, possibly due to it’s unique appearance. See page 9 in this link for an example. http://www.guerrillaresumes.com/gres50.pdf.

    Hope I don’t bother anyone too much with the David Perry reference.

  17. In 1989, my first year in the business of Recruiting, I received a 16-page resume from Jef Raskin, who invented the Mac Computer at Apple. I wish I had saved that!

    The longest resume I ever received was 99 pages from a Cardiologist. No problem, but I didn’t place either of the above people, despite their obvious talents.

    Usually, I recommend a two- or three-page resume, but if you have a candidate with 600 patents, I think it’s okay to go with a longer version.

    There’s no “one size fits all.”

  18. I try to keep in mind that the purpose of a resume is to get an interview. Write enough to whet their appetite. More than that can work against you.

    Nevertheless, you have to know your industry and what your industry expects to see in a resume.

  19. Look at each item, and see if it counts. Hobbies? Drop them. Papers – for my area, keep them. Skills – keep that also. Relevant experience – keep that too.
    A short resume can hurt you more than a long one.
    Even for a student. I interviewed a student, more because HR asked me to than that I thought he was a good match, and found that a project he did which was not on his resume was a perfect example of showing he could do our job. I was glad I probed.

  20. @steve amoia

    It is.

  21. Forgot to request follow-up emails when I posted :)

  22. @nick

    I had one manager-who has been recruiting me-(I never applied to his firm) grill me over one three month gap in my résumé 11 years ago.
    It was so long ago that I forgot the name of the temp agency I worked for that summer before my PhD -I think it is out of business now. I guessed the name of the agency when I edited it.

    Surely, this has a lot of bearing on how much business I can bring in to his firm… Not the record of multimillion dollar government bids I’ve helped win in the last 6-7 years..
    Haha

  23. @lucille
    I was only half joking

    Employers want someone with

    -the wisdom of a 50-year-old,
    -the experience of a 40-year-old,
    -the drive of a 30-year-old
    -and the pay scale of a 20-year-old

    Having said this, they can “want” and “want” until the cows come home, but that doesn’t make their wishes come true.

    Sure, I “want” a bikini model to show up at my doorstop tomorrow morning and take me to the beach in a Lamborghini, but that isn’t going to happen.

  24. Oh Marilyn, frivolous lay-offs/firings SHOULD have negated that (being a job-hopper) scare tactic.

    And does anyone know why the follow-up e-mail checkbox no longer appears in my Google Chrome browser? What browser are you using, Marilyn?

  25. I, too, think it depends–on the person writing his résumé, on his field, on the job for which he is applying, and more. The “don’t ever go above one page” for your résumé rule for a long time–I first heard it when I was in college and trying to write one.

    Some professions prefer the CV (Curriculum Vitae), which is much longer, much more thorough document. To date, I have not seen requests for CVs outside of academia, and particularly for faculty, not staff nor administrators unless they are upper level administrators (such as dean of a medical school), and here too the preferred candidate will have all of the requisite degrees, have been published in major journals and/or published books, have extensive experience as a clinician and administrative experience. So when does he sleep? Have time for a wife and family?

    In my last job, I sat on hiring committees for faculty positions and it was not uncommon to see CVs that ran north of 60 pages because there was so much “stuff”–teaching experience? check. research experience? check. list of all degrees? check. grants awarded and the results? check. publications, both solo and as part of a team, journals as well as books? check, check, check, and check again.

    I list what is relevant to the employer and for the job for which I am applying–one of the part time jobs I had while in college is n longer relevant. Ditto if the job is more recent but in an entirely different industry. Sometimes I have omitted it, other times I leave it on to show employers that I was employed.

    @Omar: But employers still ding candidates for gaps in employment, despite the crash of the economy and the paltry hiring since then! I remember being asked about my gap, and when I explained about the budget cuts and what happened, I was rewarded with skeptical looks. One of the people said “I thought that was just Lehman Brothers” and didn’t think that the crash had any impact on other sectors of the economy. He didn’t watch the news or read the papers, and figured since he was employed, the problem lies with the unemployed. When I got back to my car, I sat there for a little while–I didn’t know whether to laugh at his ignorance or to cry in despair because he had final say over who got hired. I’ve talked to people who had no idea that businesses went under and that is why people were out of work–not because they were incompetent. I am reminded of the saying that “it is a recession when your neighbor loses his job, but it is a depression when you lose your job.”

  26. Second sentence edited to read ” The “don’t ever go above one page” for your résumé rule HAS BEEN AROUND for a long time–I first heard it when I was in college and trying to write one.”

  27. Carl and Marybeth, you can’t fix “stupid.”

  28. @Marybeth

    the recession/depression saying has always been one of my favorites

    in a much earlier post, I related the story of a general manager who I termed a “rude Buddha”

    when he started to be visibly concerned about recent employment gaps after what was clearly 40 years of continuous employment, I almost jumped over the desk and started wailing on him with my Portfolio of Accomplishment (@Greg–resume packet), but thought better of it. So I calmly opened my portfolio, which mirrored the resume he hadn’t bothered to read until I was sitting with him for the third interview with this company. screaming inside, “It’s the economy, stupid!”, I could tell he was more worried about irrelevant red flags than the four decades of experience that would have not only solved his known distribution, but prevented countless unknown problems that would have been prevented by the instillation and maintenance of my proven processes, outlined in the resume, and supported by the portfolio

    I’m sure that was my cue that the interview was over, but I had spent hours of traveling, prepping, and dry-cleaning suits for that interview, and I was going to get my money’s worth. I successfully wasted a half-hour of his time (he had complained of a long day at the start of our interview) while he feigned interest in my accomplishments, alternated with expressions of straining to interpret what to him appeared to be alien symbols. (It was a basic productivity chart.)

    I just patiently waited for him to end the interview. Obviously, he had failed my test, because the person I would work for would have shown down-right excitement, and asked intelligent questions on how such a productivity tool emerged.

    This was already into the third year of what I refer to as the Great Financial Fiasco that Began in December of 2007 and Will Probably Continue Until 2020, or FF2007 for short.

    We are now approaching eight years, and still hiring managers have no clue that between 20-24 million Americans were either tossed out of jobs, or locked into jobs way below their capabilities THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN.

    It took me six years to regain my confidence and capabilities after getting tossed out of my position. About 40% of long-term unemployed go through similar loss of confidence.

    Times 20 million, that’s a lot of wasted talent.

    But back to the original point of the length of a resume. I, too, tried to shorten it to appease the experts and the people working at the State of Michigan job search effort.

    A few days later, I put it back to it’s 2 1/2 pages. As others have pointed out, use whatever you need to tell your story (mine is in the challenge-action-outcome style).

    If, as Nick has said before, a somewhat intelligent person is reading between the lines and making a judgment call, I will get a call. And from the right hiring manager.

    Screening will not be necessary. Background checks will not be necessary. Pissing into a cup will not be necessary.

    I will take myself and my Portfolio of Accomplishment (Resume Packet) to the interview and demonstrate how I will be of value.

  29. I recently had a potential employer freak out in the interview because he hadn’t noticed the second page of my resume. I have more than 15 years experience, and to demonstrate that, at the bottom of the res I have a Prior Experience section, brief (only Company name and my title) and crucial to my accomplishments (I’ve worked on world renowned finance projects.)

    So he says, ‘what are these jobs? you didn’t tell me about these jobs!’
    He’s looking at me like I’m trying to put one over on him. (shaking head sadly)

    He didn’t even **look** at page 2 before the interview. For some interviews, I guess it all makes no difference whether the resume is 1 or 20 pages…

    I’m now re-scripting mine as a Portfolio Careerist.

  30. @Citizen X: about that mgr “visibly concerned about recent employment gap” — I know I’m getting off topic here but the gap is now what’s used to disqualify people whether they recovered and found work or not. There was an epic comment left in one of those dumb articles on StinkedIn (from what I’ve ready by him in other posts I deduce he’s another middle-aged unemployed engineer):

    “I still don’t get where ‘gaps’ have to be ‘accounted for’ in the first place. If a person takes six months off from working because they have savings in the bank and simply want to take six months off, then that’s all there is to it, and no they don’t have to be ‘learning something job related’ or anything else. If they climbed rocks then that’s what they did. If they played chess all day, then that’s what they did. If they learned a whole new programming language, then that’s what they did. Where do people get off? If you’re not on my birth certificate, marriage certificate, or in my will AND you don’t pay my salary then I don’t have a responsibility to ‘account’ to you for anything. I have two things to do in this life. Stay Black, and die. Everything else is an opt-in and if you’re seriously more concerned with hearing explanations about 6 months that weren’t job related than 20 years that were then validate parking and I’m on my way.”

    I think I’m going to turn that into a meme and post it on social media. I had an internal interview with my company a few weeks ago, and sure enough the only thing the two women cared about was “learning more about that gap” on my resume.” I said well gee I had to take time off for surgery, making it clear they were delving into personal/private territory and hoping to make them as uncomfortable as I was for having to share this personal/private info (was tempted to ask “would like to see the pictures? because I have them”). Needless to say that interview was a waste of time and I can see this as a foreshadowing of what I’ll face on any interview going forward for the rest of my life. Has there been a blog entry here about “addressing the gap?” (again, sorry for getting OT).

  31. As with most things, it depends. Focus on what will be relevant for the person reading the resume.

    I worked for one guy who wouldn’t read anything longer than 2-pages. If I interviewed somebody and wanted to pass them on to him (he had final say) I told them to rewrite their resume first.

    I personally create a different version of my resume for every job I apply for. I include what’s most relevent for what they are looking for.

    Also @L.T.: You probably don’t need the address on your business cards anymore. Lately, quite a few people have given me business cards that don’t have an address. I now leave it off of both my business cards and resume. I include: name, email address, website address, phone number. If you’re on Twitter, include that too, if you’re posting things that are business related.

  32. @Omar: YES – using Google – thought I just forgot – what’s going on?

  33. @Citizen X: Sadly, your experiences with the “rude Buddha” are all too common. I think if Nick decided to devote a column to rude interviewers and/or inappropriate and/or illegal and/or stupid questions interviewers ask, there would be hundreds of responses. Apparently the interviewers are untrained and ignorant and the owners/CEOs/board of directors don’t give a damn. When I am treated poorly by a rude employee, that colors my impression of the company or agency (because governments are not immune either). It makes me less likely to want to buy their products, to recommend students to work there as a great place (if this is how I’m treated during the courtship phase, it will only get worse once we’re married) to work, and I tell my family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances about how I was treated. Word gets out, but apparently no one cares about their reputations anymore either. If they did, they would change their behavior. Today’s job applicant might be tomorrow’s contractor or tomorrow’s competitor. Do they really want people to remember how badly they were treated and then go to work for their competitors (and thus help drive them out of business)? I guess they do (they don’t care).

    I’ve noticed that the rudeness comes from a sense of superiority–he’s working, I’m not, or I’m working part time, and for some of them, an interview or the very fact that I’m looking for a job means that I’m somehow lesser than he is. It doesn’t–I could be employed full time and I’m looking for any number of reasons. I’ve often wondered “don’t these people realize that their companies could go belly-up and he could be in my shoes, i.e., looking for a job?” Don’t they realize that at any time the big boss could decide that his nephew the recent college grad needs a job, and big boss has decided to give nephew YOUR job? What I would sometimes like to say is “take your head out of your a$$, look at the world, read the unemployment/under employment reports, don’t assume you’re secure or your company is secure (this doesn’t apply to bosses’ kids and spouses). Things happen that are beyond people’s control. Companies go belly-up. Governments make budget cuts. People often lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Don’t assume that an older (over 25) person is stupid or can’t learn or doesn’t know computers. Throw some of these stupid rules out of the window–focus on what needs to be done/solved and find out if the person you’re interviewing can do it. It doesn’t matter if she wears a blue suit to the interview or if her résumé is 2 pages long if she can do the job. But if you want to continue hiring as if applicants are freshmen rushing a fraternity, then keep up the stupid questions, be rude, be ignorant, be stupid, and make up dumb, arbitrary rules that have nothing to do with the job that needs to be done or the problem that needs to be solved.

    @sighmaster: Your points about gaps is well-taken. For tenure and tenure-track faculty at most colleges and universities, such gaps are all too common. We have a special name them. They are called “sabbaticals”, and faculty take them to do any number of things or to do nothing at all because they need a break from the grind of researching, writing books and articles/publishing, teaching, committee work, and more. I have long thought that sabbaticals should be extended to other university staff as most people could use a sabbatical to do whatever it is they want–recover from surgery, care for a sick, elderly parent or in-law, care for a sick child, adjust to a new baby, pull a Gauguin and go to Tahiti or wherever to escape for a while, to take time off from the daily stresses to relax, recharge, and return refreshed and ready to devote time and energy to work once more. Too many employees receive little or no vacation, and those who do are often expected to work while on vacation, check into the office, be accessible by the electronic umbilical cord, i.e., email, phone.

    The problem is that too many employers have made gaps in employment a problem, as if having a gap means that we’re less able, less hardworking, less skilled, less devoted.

  34. I gave up tailoring my résumé/CV for every job. I keep it at two pages, no matter what. Older stuff drops off of space is a premium.

    Most of the tailoring your résumé these days is for the “beat the bot” ATS exercise .that, and low level HR dimwits need specific keywords because they don’t understand industries or transferable skills/experiences.

    . And I make enough money to live ok as a consultant so you really have to twist my arm to formally apply for a job.

    I’ll have all the informal meetings about work, but I have such HR PTSD from 18 months of seeing jobs stay unfilled until Prince Charming/ Purple Squirrel shows up (i.e, never) that o almost never fill in ATS apps or agree to interviews unless I know that they are serious about filling the position.

    I recently had a meeting with a guy who’s been nudging me to interview at his firm for a while now (I had been dreading the HR rigmarole and delaying for months.). Within five days after the meeting, I had three people , including a VP pushing me to formally apply.
    Grudgingly, I did so. I am dreading this..

    . All because of HR PTSD… Forms, ATSes, delayed hr responses, tests, multiple interviews, no one hired, endless job description changes, reposting, no hires, etc etc.

    It takes so much patience to get thru a jobby-job gauntlets that I may just take another 6 month consulting assignment with my current client.

    Am I the only one who suffers from HR PTSD?

  35. “Most of the tailoring your résumé these days is for the “beat the bot” ATS exercise .that, and low level HR dimwits need specific keywords because they don’t understand industries or transferable skills/experiences.”

    In my case, I create a different resume for each position, even if I’m dealing directly with the hiring manager. I include what’s most relevant for what they are looking for. I’ve done a variety of different things. For any given job, some of it will be relevant and some of it won’t.

  36. Resumes have about three purposes:

    1) Giving the prescreener material with which to make a go/no-go decision of whether to start the interview process with you,

    2) Allowing whichever HR schlub who is assigned to you to check off the box on the “New Hire Checklist”, and

    3) To give inexperienced/incompetent interviewers something to quiz you on during the face-to-face interview

    Most folks get reading fatigue quickly, so the longer the resume, the less they will like it (except #2, above, because HR).

    Personally, I only look at a person’s resume to get their name, because I want to get it right when I’m speaking with them. I don’t look at the rest of their resume, and I don’t care what they said they did or where they worked, because I know how to determine if someone is a good fit for the position.

  37. It just struck me that this conversation is moot since resumes are not read. Period.

  38. @Bryan @Marilyn

    I think the most important purpose of a resume is to clarify the applicant’s thinking.

    You need to understand what you have to offer and what of that you should sell to a particular employer, based on that employer’s needs.

  39. Hiring managers are quick to tell us their insane experience requirements, but when it comes their preferences to resume lengths…they never give that out beforehand. Just goes to show that Marilyn is right; very few, if any, read them anymore. If resumes were so important, they would tell us what standard they prefer, and everyone here already knows that there are multiple standards to choose from!

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