Conventional wisdom says you should limit the length of your resume to one page. That works if you don’t have a lot of experience. But, what about after you’ve worked for 10 or even 20 years? You’ve heard that you should only list the last 10 to 15 years of work experience on your resume. But is that because that early work history is irrelevant? Or, is it to limit the length of your resume?
Surprisingly, there is an ideal resume length that recruiters (both human and machine) prefer. But what is that maximum length? Can a resume be more than one page? Is it OK to have a three-page resume? How long should a resume be when you don’t have a lot of work history? What happens to resume length when you’ve been working for 30 years?
How Long Should a Resume Be?
We asked the Career Coaching team at FlexJobs what they think the ideal resume length is. As it turns out, there are times when less is more and times when longer is better.
Betsy Andrews says, “The general rule is a maximum of two pages. However, we have found that in some cases, employers want to see career progression, so those can be longer.” But she also cautions that “the information should be precise, not pages and pages of information the employer won’t care about.”
“An example might be if the career experience has been consistent over 25 or more years, showing continuous growth and demonstrated value or achievements, along with heavy involvement in the profession,” adds Tracy Capozzoli.
Doug Ebertowski also points out that sometimes, an “extended resume” works for people who have “non-typical experiences, such as academic appointments.” But, even then, he cautions that “three pages is generally the max.”
And, lastly, Brie Reynolds states that “certain professions require longer, more CV-style documents than resumes. But, for the vast majority of professionals, two pages ought to do it!”
So, these experts agree that, in general, two pages is the ideal resume length. But why do so many people think that a resume should never be longer than one page?
Can a Resume Be More Than One Page?
When you’re early on in your career, your resume will be “thin,” because you won’t have a lot of professional-level work experience. However, as you gain more experience and work at more jobs, your resume will fill out and, eventually, you’ll find that you can’t fit it all on one page.
For years, job seekers and resume writers were advised to keep their resume to one page and only one page. The thought was that only the most important and most relevant experiences and skills should be on your resume. Anything that didn’t fit on that one page wasn’t important or relevant enough to include.
However, times have changed. Because technology plays such an essential role in work life, many people have an extensive technological skill set that needs ample space on a resume. Even people who don’t think they have a lot of technology skills discover they have far more than they realize, once they start listing it out.
If you’re creating or updating your resume, don’t try to force a one-page resume. If you can’t fit all of your relevant skills and experiences onto one page, you’re probably better off going to two pages, which may be to your benefit.
Two-Page Resumes May Be Better
A study from ResumeGo revealed that hiring professionals are more than twice as likely to prefer two-page resumes to one-pagers. In fact, recruiters will spend about twice the time reviewing these longer submissions.
This is true not only for managerial positions but for entry-level jobs as well. Not only were recruiters 2.3 times more likely to prefer a two-page resume for entry-level jobs, two-page resumes were also preferred 1.4 times more for all positions.
While the study didn’t delve into the “why” behind the preference for a two-page resume, the findings suggest that recruiters prefer longer resumes because it conveys more information about a candidate. With more information about a candidate, it would seem logical that a recruiter would feel more confident in their decisions about applicants.
Machines Like Them, Too
Another advantage of a two-page resume is that it allows you to add more relevant keywords to your resume. This is important not only for when a human recruiter reads your resume but also for when an applicant tracking system (ATS) reads it.
The ATS is programmed to look for specific keywords. For example, for a customer support role, the ATS may be programmed to look for the keywords “customer relationships,” “resolved,” and/or “conflict resolution,” among others. You might have a ton of customer relationship experience. But, if you’re trying to make your resume fit onto one page, you might use “client relations” because it’s shorter, allowing you to fit in at least one more word.
While that makes sense from a formatting perspective, it will not help you with the ATS. The problem with a machine is that it’s not going to understand that “customer relationships” and “client relations” are pretty much the same thing. And if the ATS can’t find “customer relationships” on your resume, it’s probably going to rank your resume lower than those that use “customer relationships.”
Is It OK to Have a Three-Page Resume?
Generally speaking, no. The exception would be if you fell into one of the above examples given by the FlexJobs career coaches. You should only use a three-page resume when everything on your resume is relevant, which often doesn’t happen until late in your career. And, even when that’s the case, you need to write your resume carefully to make sure you aren’t repeating yourself. No recruiter wants to read about your clear and concise written communication skills under every section of your resume.
Even in the case of a long work history, ask yourself if every job is still relevant to your resume. For example, the fact that you were a summer camp counselor during college might be an interesting fact, but it’s probably not doing much for your resume when you’ve been working in corporate finance for the last 9 years.
When every job is relevant or important to your resume, you may not need to include every job duty or experience. Consider highlighting only the top three or four major achievements from each job. Use the STAR method to describe how you solved problems and how these actions benefit your employer. This will help keep your experiences small, meaningful, and compelling.
Can I Use a One-Page Resume?
With all this talk about “longer is better,” you’re probably wondering what to do if you don’t have a lot of work history, since you may not have enough to create a full one-page resume, let alone a two-page resume.
Most employers know that newer job seekers won’t have a lot of experience, so they understand your resume may be shorter. However, there are certain sections you can add to your resume to help fill things out and tell a fuller story of you as a job candidate, without adding unnecessary fluff.
For example, if you volunteer, that can count as a type of work experience. While it’s not a paid experience, it is experience and demonstrates that you’re a responsible individual that people count on. If you were active in any clubs or extracurricular activities at school, add those, too. Even if they weren’t competitive teams or you didn’t hold a leadership position, you were still a part of a team, and teamwork is a much valued and sought after soft skill.
While it may be tempting to help plump up your resume with a larger font size or even wide margins, be careful with these tricks. Recruiters are used to seeing them and may eye yours with a little suspicion if they see that the entire resume is in 18-point font. As a rule, one-inch margins are fine but don’t go beyond that. And, don’t use anything larger than a 12-point font, the exception being your name or contact information, which can go as high as 14- or 16-point font.
The Ideal Resume Length
In the end, your resume length isn’t nearly as important as the resume content. If you can concisely and intelligently sum up your experience and skills in a one-page resume, don’t expand to two pages “just because.” And, if you need two pages, you should absolutely do that. The “one-page rule” is becoming a thing of the past—as long as you aren’t filling your resume with irrelevant fluff that an employer doesn’t need to know.
And, of course, we’ve got career coaches that can give your resume a once over and help you figure out if you need a one- or two-page resume.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
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Robin Madell, Corporate/Executive Writer
Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report…Read More >
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