Discussion: April 6, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader wants to know:

Are one-page resumes really “the thing?” I don’t feel I can adequately present my strengths on a one-page resume, more like two pages.

Er, ah, I don’t wanna touch this one with a ten-foot pole! Well, I could suggest you not use a resume at all and stop worrying about it… Okay, folks? How long should that resume be?


  1. There is no right answer. I defer to Roger Ebert’s rule about how long a movie should be: “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie can end long enough.”

    What this means for you is that if you’ve got two pages of solid, interesting, distinctive information about you, your background and your history to make it worth the reader’s time, then by all means put it in. Just make damn sure it’s actually interesting, distinctive and worth reading.

  2. Those who brand themselves well don’t need résumés. Going forward, self-branding needs to be a top priority.

    Meantime, get yourself on LinkedIn.

  3. One page is enough for a resume. Be succinct. If you are using 2 pages you are telling every major detail of all the jobs and degrees you’ve had, possibly with a bit of “fluff” thrown in for human interest / distinctiveness. A long-winded resume will be scanned, not read. It indicates that the writer struggles to be concise. Plus, if you tell it all on the resume, why would a hiring manager bother to interview you? Make your resume just intriguing enough to call to get additional info. Names of companies, dates, title, and 1-2 lines on primary responsibilities + 1-2 lines on your major accomplishments is all you should write. You also needn’t go back farther than 10-15 yrs unless there is something immediately relevant there. Sell yourself with the interview not with the piece of paper.

  4. American artist, Jackson Pollock, had an interesting reply when asked by a journalist from Life Magazine, “How do you know when a painting is finished?”

    “How do you know when you are finished making love.”

    Perhaps we should apply his comment to resumes and other marketing or branding materials. We have to learn how to promote the product: ourselves. We need to understand the intended target audience and tailor our written or oral presentations accordingly. I believe that Andy, Neva and Erika provided cogent examples in this regard.

  5. – “Plus, if you tell it all on the resume, why would a hiring manager bother to interview you? Make your resume just intriguing enough to call to get additional info.”

    Are we intentionally promoting obscurity here? If you provide the ‘relevant’ details on the resume it should provide the hiring manager with the information that he or she needs to confidentally say ‘go’ or ‘no go’ to a meeting. As a recruiter I’ve presented sparsely worded resumes to clients who required more details on the candidates prior to agreeing to see them. This happens so frequently that I’ve created a “Selected Accomplishments” document for my candidates to elaborate on the scope of their accomplishments.

    I’ve seen many candidates overlooked for providing not enough details on their resume. I cannot however recall one case where an individual providing more actionable details than their peers on a resume running over one page were criticized for not being concise enough.

    I’ve heard the phrase “the devil’s in the details” so often from hiring managers that I make it my business to get the details prior to submitting a candidate to a company.

    – “You also needn’t go back farther than 10-15 yrs unless there is something immediately relevant there.”

    Whenever I discover unexplained dates post college on a resume I recall the head of HR from a client who told me that they interviewed a candidate once who had a three year gap on his resume. They discovered that he spent those years in prison. As such they required that I provide them with the entire work history of every candidate submitted to their company.

    I agree with Andy’s call on the question of resume length.

  6. I think one page is best, but if a person insists on a longer format, they should put all pertinent information on the first page.

    When I was looking for an internship, I had about 10 interviews over 3 months, only one interviewer spoke as though he actually read my resume. That’s when I decided less was more.

  7. Suzanne says “they should put all pertinent information on the first page,” but the entire thing better be pertinent information.

    Being coy and intentionally obscure with the qualifications on the resume means leaving out selling points. The point of the resume is to get you the interview, and the best way to do that is with solid facts, not the hint that there might be something better if I bring in the candidate for an interview. Interviews are orders of magnitude more expensive in the time costs, so I’m not going to pull that trigger unless I have a solid hope of the interview being worth my while.

    I tell every resume writer to front-load the good parts of your history at the top of the resume, because a resume reader isn’t going to read the whole thing unless there’s a reason to do so in the front. Same thing goes with interviewing, but 10 or 100 times more.

  8. I’m a civil engineer and have been helping students at the local college with their resumes.

    I start by telling them they need to first understand how they differ for the better from other students with similar job and class experience. That “thing” whatever it is, should be a theme supported and woven through the entire resume. Examples are: big picture perspective, attention to detail, or perhaps great in-person information gathering skills…

    I recommend that they write a first version without regard for length and put down everything they think could be important. Step two is editing for clarity and conciseness. Step three is editing for true importance to create a master draft resume (again without regard to length). The final step is picking and choosing from the master draft to create a custom resume that emphasizes and highlights relevant items for the particular job of interest. Different jobs may have very different resumes.

    For example, two years of computer help center work may warrant only a 5 word phrase on a resume for a construction management job at a large firm, but warrant a fuller description for a generalist civil design job at a firm too small to have IT services on staff.

    I counsel them to showcase not only what they did, but provide a sense of their approach to the work and whether they did the job well. I also stress that anything they can quantify or hold up as independent recognition of their talent is helpful (such as increased responsibilities, awards or promotions). There’s a great temptation for them to use words like “helped with” “assisted with” “participated in” but when it comes down to it, those words mean nothing. (Did you get coffee? Make the copies? Or direct the team?) They need to say exactly what they did do.

    For most college students, this process results in well-laid out one-page resume in a 10 pt font with inch or so margins.

    For more experienced job hunters, I can see longer resumes as appropriate, but every word must be important and relevant.

  9. Personally I think 1 page resumes are close to worthless, a hedge above a bio. They are like the lead to the 6 o clock news telling you what they will be telling you. Just tell me. But as you can see from responses there are varying tastes. Creating a resume is a writing exercise & I advise people to hedge their bets. Assuming worse case bring a long history, 1st develop a master resume, no boundaries, a well written memory dump, you’re professional life’s story. I don’t care if it’s 10 pages. Then the hard part, develop a well crafted 2 pager, then a 1 pager, then a 1/2 page bio. Being succinct is hard work. Then you are prepared for any flavor of resume. Your gut or some specfic direction will tell you which one to use.
    As someone noted the 1st half page is most important as most resumes are skimmed due to time restraints. so treat that as an exec overview showing your value proposition, skills inventory. that’s the incentive to read the rest no matter how long.
    As a recruiter, you can’t tell me too much, so I’m not impressed by the 15 year rule. It’s a carry over from my hiring manager days. I’m very interesting in your grounding, history, how you got where you are. Career changers and people who move out of comfort zones are interesting to me, the kind of attributes that you can build resilient flexible organations on. short resumes frequently truncate that experience.
    But that’s just me

  10. Everything that you want the reader to really pay attention to should be in on the top half or third of the first page. After that everything is there to support what you said up front, to show that there is experience to back up those claims. If you are a new college graduate that is probably all one page, and you might be stretching to get to the bottom. Someone with 30+ years experience aught to have enough supporting information to reach the bottom of the second page. Even then I don’t consider going past two pages to be a sin, but there had better be something worth reading there.

  11. Twenty years ago, you might have gotten away with one page. Now, two pages are minimum, and as Mr. Harvey says, better have something really, really good to say if you go to three. The last interview I had found something of interest on page two to discuss. Because work history is going to become spotty in these turbulent times, I would rather update that info on the application and keep my good stories on the resume to hook an interview.

  12. My recipe.

    1) I don’t send a cv unless I want the job (so I must know enough about it to want it)

    2) I prepare a CV specific for the job and for the recipient.

    2.a)If it’s for the recruiting agency it’s worded differently and with less detail (as I don’t expect them to understand the detail of what I do). The purpose is to get to that 1st interview with them. I use lots of keywords and “HR specific” stuff. I explicitly forbid them to forward that cv to anybody

    2.b) If it’s for the employer it’s worded to reflect my knowledge of the matter at hand and the way I have performed by job before. I’ll ensure I capture the issues I know they are facing (remember, I already know about the job)

    3) in any case, it’s long. Half a page executive summary, what I can offer, how I work, what I can deliver. 2 pages of employment history, achievement, skill and education. And an Appendix, 4 pages where I detail specific achievements. Recruitment agencies will not really read this, but will give them assurance that I have the experience. Recruiting managers will recognise the experience.

    @Nick: it would be nice to live in a different world and we all try to do it. But sadly, most of the recruiting processes have the CV as a necessary gateway. Even, I have found lately that the Linkedin profile is a good door opener as in “I’m interested in talking to you, check my profile if you want to know about me as a first step”


  13. Can’t recall the source of this, but managers reportedly spend an average of 30 seconds on a resume. (I think that’s about right.) That means the top half of the first page. It had better tell the manager how you’re going to affect the business. Almost doesn’t matter how long the rest is.

    @Manuel: Your (1.) should be tatooed to every job hunter’s forehead ;-). Think of the time managers would save if the only people who applied were those who understood the work and really wanted to do it. Then they could spend maybe 60 seconds on every resume…

  14. Aw, the continual debate of resume length. The reality is, if written strategically, sharply and in a tightly focused manner, a resume succeeds, page length be ‘darned.’

    I realize the public receives mixed messages about page length from resume/recruiting/HR pros. My strategy for maintaining a glimpseable, easy to ‘scan’ resume is to make the 1st page a mini-resume within the bigger resume and to design an open style that ‘breathes’ and invites the reader in.

    Though resume length is continually debated, and you can ask 10 people and they’ll have 10 opinions, the rule of thumb is your resume should be as long as needed to communicate your story, not one word more nor one word less.

    Bottom line, the main concern I hear from recruiters and hiring managers I network with is that your resume remain glimpseable so they don’t have to ‘work hard’ to understand your focus/value (i.e., has key headings/subheadings/snippets that can easily be scanned with human eye). Most people do not know how to write tight, glimpseable, yet ‘meaty’ resumes, unfortunately. In fact, the reality is, most people simply aren’t writers.

    As well, I also hear from the same recruiters, etc. who are reviewing resumes that so many resumes try to fit constrictive resume rules and use bland, safe language and design techniques; thus, they do NOT capture attention (i.e., resume gets ditched).

    People reviewing resumes also want the key value drivers on page 1, to understand who you are and how you fit THEIR needs. That’s why I create a snapshot first page (a mini-resume within a resume, if you will). It’s about strategy and presentation versus length.

    I do not suggest cutting muscular resume content or shrinking the font to make it fit on 2 vs 3 pages, etc.

    Trimming resume meat to fit rigid resume length rules often means trimming muscle, weakening your story and softening the competitive edge.

    With so many resumes being read online these days, scrolling down to read additional content, once ‘hooked,’ is painless. As well, having a 2 or 3 page resume is NEVER going to ‘tell the whole story’ or give the reader so much s/he won’t call you (most careers could fill dozens of pages, so 2 or 3 pages of well designed, high-impact story-boarding will not diminish the job seeker’s results.

  15. Here’s what I do. I have a 1-page non-resume which lists two accomplishments under different job titles, all of which I might be interested in.

    This is what I give out a job fairs and places like that.

    I used to have a 2-page resume which was standard with me until I realized that I was leaving out a lot of technical depth that was relevent. I now go with a 3-pager which has NOTHING REPEATED. Nobody wants to see “Led joint meetings between users and developers” for 5 different jobs.

    On the first page is an objective, summary and skills list where I can highlight those aspects of my experience that mirror the job description. This gets tailored to each job that I am applying to.

    Here is what my 1-page non-resume looks like. It works well at job fairs.

    * Reduced the turn-around time for critical marketing reports by analyzing the data sources and consolidating and streamlining the report generation process,
    * Wrote the feasibility analysis that was instrumental in making the business decision whether or not to proceed with a development project,

    * Created and documented the procedures for installing new workstations for a small office,
    * Documented the settings for the modems and routers which interfaced to Internet Service Providers for T1, DSL and Cable connections,

    * Produced a design based on user requirements and then developed a conference call reservation system which allowed unlimited simultaneous users to create and store reservations in an SQL database,
    * Wrote requirements for multiple projects while collaborating with users and subject matter experts both in country and overseas,

    * Developed a conference call reservation system using HTML and JavaScript front-end and VBScript and ADO back-end interface to an SQL Server which tripled clerical productivity and contributed to growth in profits,
    * Has expertise in multiple operating system platforms, numerous computer languages and many database systems,

    * Designed a new feature and then led the team of international developers to successful implementation,
    * Designed web services for an SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) using XML interfaces and an Oracle database back-end.

    … Or if you want it all, just contact …
    Robert Tanenbaum

  16. Nick,

    It is not clear anyone on your site has a firm grasp on how to write a resume.

    You’ve missed some major secrets of the perfect resume, finally revealed in Kotow Shergar’s article at: http://www.HumongousShortageOfWork.com

    On Veracity: “At the top of your page, put your name and contact info. This is the one place where you really get to make the resume your own, because the rest of it will have very little to do with you personally.”

    On GPA: “Your GPA should be between 3.7 and 4.3, and you should have focused all your energy in college on keeping it within this range. If you did, use your real GPA, plus 0.1. If not, use 3.77, which is an eminently believable number.”

    On Prior Employers: “Of foremost importance is where you worked. Pick a few Fortune 100 companies located in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C.. Give yourself some titles with “executive” and “administrative” in the name. Great! Now you have to fill in the details.”

    He even has suggestions of the hot buzzwords not to be left out: Synergized, Catalyzed, Empowered, Contextualized, Envisioned

    The list goes on, so read the article for the rest, plus lots of additional advice.

    Good luck following Nick’s advice… but I wouldn’t count on it.


  17. @Len: You left out “Implemented” and “Engaged.” And I’d include Chicago and Newark, NJ in the list of important cities.