Resumes: Length Does Matter

There are a lot of opinions floating around about the appropriate length for a resume. Some argue that anything beyond a page is a deal-breaker, while others say at least two pages is necessary to fully articulate one’s previous experience.

Hurwitz Strategic Staffing President and CEO Bruce Hurwitz is the first person I’ve seen to declare that the length of a resume does not matter at all.

In a recent article, Hurwitz describes a candidate he worked with who, after being told that her resume should be limited to one page, she submitted a document with quarter-inch margins and 6-point font. Hurwitz couldn’t print it with these extreme parameters, so he asked her to resubmit a “proper resume,” with one-inch margins and 12-point font. This increased the length by two pages. He called the new version “excellent”.

What this anecdote fails to recognize is that you’re not supposed to try to fit a three-page resume into one page by stretching the limits of Microsoft Word’s formatting. You’re actually supposed to condense it, cut from it and edit it in a way that tells the story of your career in a succinct and meaningful way.

His second example: Two well-qualified candidates submit their resumes. The first is one page and the other is seven pages. According to Hurwitz, the seven-pager landed the job, and “there was nothing that could be removed from the seven-pager without diminishing quality and content.”

Really?

To me, a seven-page resume sends only one signal: Everything I’ve ever done, in any capacity, including my short stint at a print shop in 1987, is so important that I can’t possibly remove it from my resume. And I’m not creative enough to do so.

The point of a resume is to score an interview. It’s a summary of your job experience with enough details to demonstrate you know your stuff, enticing the hiring manager to learn more about you as a candidate. It’s not a collection of your job descriptions from each and every employer. And it certainly shouldn’t be long enough to be a short story about your life.

Also, a hiring manager pouring through a stack of resumes shouldn’t be equated to someone casually reading a Harry Potter book, as Hurwitz does in his post. The J.K. Rowling reader is reading for pleasure. The hiring manager is paid to put a well-qualified butt in the seat, filtering through dozens of under-qualified candidates, those with emails like hotgurl954@hotmail.com to find people who are a good fit for the position. Sure people enjoy reading, but don’t pretend HR folks and recruiters have enough hours in the day to read 7-page dissertations from every candidate.

What’s the moral of the story?

We’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating: recruiters have limited resources, so it’s important to effectively illustrate who you are in the least number of pages. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all page count for every candidate, but I assert that the length of a resume most certainly does matter.

If you’re having a hard time cutting back, my best advice is to have someone qualified to help read your resume and look for superfluous language and places where you can cut back. Even if you end up keeping something they’ve suggested you ax, you’ll know that it was important enough to fight for.

What has your experience been with resumes? Should there be a one-page rule? Should more experienced candidates be allowed to have five-pagers? Let us know in the comments section.

 

 

About the Author: Erica Moss is the social media outreach coordinator for the Masters Degree in Nursing program at Georgetown University, which has one of the nation’s leading nurse practitioner programs online. She is passionate about photography, community building, and University of Michigan football. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

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  • Food for thought – I once sent a one page resume to a recruiter & before it got sent to the client he was hiring for, I was asked to expound on some of my experience and it ended up being accepted at 2 full pages and called an excellent resume by the recruiter. At my interview with the client I noticed that one of the interviewers had HIGHLIGHTED many portions of the resume that I had added in to my final draft. Needless to say I got the job. This leads me to firmly believe that one size does not fit all positions, especially if the job is looking for extensive experience in a specific field. 

    • Erica Moss

      That’s a great example, Kat! I felt compelled to write this post after reading the original article, simply because I can’t imagine a world where a 7-page resume is a good idea. It’s important to be able to edit yourself.

  • Depends on experience!

    • Erica Moss

      Definitely agree, Brian! I can see why it would get tougher to pare it down if you have many years of experience, but I think it can be done — without 6-point font.

    • A summary targeting accomplishments is a great solution to highlight experience over a longer work history.  Recruiters are busy.  A thoughtfully crafted summary grabs the attention and can cause them to spend more time reviewing.

      • Erica Moss

        I like the idea of a summary as a way to tell your story in a succinct way, Maggie! Thanks for the comment.

  • I still say the correct answer is: one page.

    Telling that our friend Bruce lists his name with a PhD. I have nothing against folks who’ve spent a lot of time in school, but in my experience, they seem to come from a culture where they think more is always more.

    In the working world, often, less is more.

    Thanks for the interesting post Erica!

    • Erica Moss

      Thanks for the comment, Eric! I often subscribe to the less is more mantra as well. It’s all about strong language and qualitative examples of contributions you’ve made to your previous employers.

    • Eric,

      With the exception of Veterans with whom I work pro bono, I most enjoy career counseling recent college graduates. That’s probably because of my former life as an academic.  The most important career move they can make is getting an internship.  The good ones always have a two-page resume.  Why?  Because they not only had two or three internships where they had a number of accomplishments of which they were proud, but just as importantly they have a number of things to list under “Community Service.”  And, for the record, my resumes – the resumes I help my clients and candidates prepare – contain neither Objectives nor Professional Summaries, only subjective facts. 

      • Thanks Bruce! Your article raises some great questions.

        Must say though, I know Members of Congress who have resumes that are still just one page.

        A good resume is just a business card that says, “I know you don’t care about my life history, so let me succinctly say all the things I can do for you.”

        Thanks very much Bruce (and thanks Erica!) Eric

  • Guest

    Bruce — If I ever sent my boss an email or an Executive Summary that was more than a page long, I would at best be asked to summarize the message better. 

    The resume is a marketing document, and the product is you. How many advertisements have you ever read that are 7 pages of text?

    The resume isn’t a diary. It should be a quick executive summary of you as a candidate that will give the recruiter enough information to know that they want to hear more from you. 

    I’ve done recruiting for my firm. If I saw a 7-page resume, my first thought would be that, despite whatever amazing history lies within these pages, this person doesn’t have the common sense to know that a 7-page resume is absurd. 

    • Erica Moss

      I love the statement “the product is you.” So true. Thanks for the comment!

    • Truth be told, when I submit a candidate to a client – and I have been doing this since 2003 – I prepare what I call a “Submission Document.”  It has three sections.  In the first, I explain my rationale for supporting the candidacy.  Then, in the second section, I summarize my interview with the candidate.  The third is the person’s resume.  On average a Submission Document is about ten pages (12 if the reference summaries are included).  I have never had a client complain about the length.  I have, in fact, been recommended by one client to another precisely because of the thoroughness of the documentation which I provide. 

      I agree with your boss that an Executive Summary should only be a page.  A resume, however, is certainly not an Executive Summary.  It is also not an advertisement. To continue that analogy, it is doubtful that a company would ever produce a seven-page ad to get a customer to buy their product, and it is just as unlikely that a company would produce a document less than seven-pages to get someone to invest in the company.  And that is the accurate analogy – the employer isn’t buying the candidate, he’s investing in him.

  • Good points, Erica. I think it definitely depends on the number of years in the industry and number of positions. However, I don’t think any number of experience warrants a seven page resume (I would cap it at two, even if you have 20+ years). Highlight the most recent and relevant experience, particularly if you’ve been in the industry for awhile. Tailor what you choose to feature to the job you’re applying for. For newbies with 1-2 years experience, you can trim up your resume by removing anything from college that does not directly relate to the position.

    • Erica Moss

      Great points, Nikki, and I completely agree: Even with an extensive amount of experience, I think it’s important to edit, edit, edit. Capture my attention at the top, and then fill in the gaps with some quick hits about why you’re a rockstar.

  • Thabo Hermanus

    I am a context person, so a one pager might not be meaty enough for me to give me a sense that there is substance to the candidate. While I do not expect a thesis, if you can keep me engrossed enough, I will read the CV that is more than two pages. To have a hard and fast rule that you do not read any CV’s that are X pages long can get you to sift through a lot of paperwork, but with a high risk of missing out on talented people that are the better fit for the job.

    • Erica Moss

      You make a great point, Thabo, in that it’s important to tell an interesting story from the get-go. Your cover letter also can be a great way to expand upon your experience and fully articulate what you can do for the potential employer.

  • Erica Moss

    Thanks for the comment, Bruce! I was hoping you’d join the conversation. I agree with what you said about the hiring process being all about the employer (to an extent). I think it’s still important to illustrate who you are, but by framing it in the context of your potential employer. Each resume you send out should be specifically tailored, and I also think you can expand upon what you can offer in the cover letter.

    Further, I still can’t get behind the 7-pager, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one! And I think CVs are a whole separate barrel of monkeys, designed for a specific purpose and specific industries, so they don’t really play into this discussion. I think that in 2012, for the average job-seeker, it’s possible to tell your story in 2 pages or less, with a few exceptions, of course.

    Thanks for opening up a discussion about this, and I look forward to future articles!

  • Erica Moss

    Well said, Patti! Thanks so much for the comment.