The Most Commonly Asked Question About Résumés: 1 or 2 pages?

As a career counselor and resume-writer, I’m often asked this question by my clients: Should my resume be 1 or 2 pages?”. Their concern is valid, especially since lengthy resumes can make an applicant appear arrogant, unfocused, out of touch, old, or overqualified.

So how do you know when to stop writing?

Understanding your position as a jobseeker will help to determine whether a one-page resume will be sufficient. For example, if you fall into any of the following categories, you might want to think twice about reaching for that stapler, since a one-page resume will probably keep you in better standing:

  1. Entry-level Candidates. Keep in mind that when hiring managers advertise for a “self-starter who works well independently as well as in a team environment” they really mean they want someone with the potential to learn the industry from their perspective and complete assignments in the preferred manner of the company. It’s assumed that candidates with one-page resumes have less industry experience and therefore less formalized methodologies, positioning them for training, mentoring, and skill development.
  2. Recent Graduates Lacking Real-world Experience. Whether it’s graduate school, college, adult education, high school, or the military, if you’re just now stepping out of academia/training into the working world, remember to keep it short. There’s plenty to say and share about your internships, scholarships, projects, course descriptions, summer jobs, field studies, leadership ability, and technical training but nothing that can’t be condensed to one page.
  3. Career Transitioners. Career transition resumes succeed when a job candidate draws parallels between the job functions of their existing career and the requirements of their newly discovered career. This tactic works best when done in a direct and concise manner. For this reason, whether you’re going with a functional, chronological, or hybrid format to highlight all of those transferable skills, you should try to minimize the page count. Short resumes create an image of modesty—acknowledgement that you have much to learn in your new field.
  4. Moms and Dads Re-entering the Workforce. Job candidates in this category are akin to career transitioners. In a sense, you’re shifting from a full-time stay-at-home parenting role (requiring 80+ hours a week!) to a salaried position that’s perhaps much less demanding. Nonetheless you still have the challenge of impressing your prospective employer. As a general rule, emphasizing experience that’s over 10 years old is dangerous. You’re better off highlighting skills you’ve used recently even outside of the working world. For example, discuss your expertise in coaching your daughter’s softball team, contributing to local community events, multi-tasking family responsibilities, or building membership for the Salsa club. The bottom line is this: recent, relevant experience trumps all else. So stick with what you’ve been up to lately and truncate your older career accomplishments.
  5. Employees with One Job in Their Work History. Regardless of how many positions you’ve held or how long you’ve stayed with the company, there’s usually no need to use two pages. Try to show the progression of your responsibilities while emphasizing only those skills/positions relevant to the job for which you’re applying. In other words, you needn’t wax philosophic about the “foot-in-the-door” gig if you’re applying for a management position.
  6. Overqualified Candidates Looking for Less Responsibility. If you want less, say less. It’s not a bad idea to “dumb down” your resume in order to reinvent yourself for another position in the same line of work. For example, a VP of Engineering who’s tired of the management stress should focus on her ability to develop systems, applications, networks, etc. and downplay (or omit) her people-management skills. By reducing her page count, this VP will lessen her chances of being screened out due to her age, seniority, and (gasp!) ambition.
  7. Sales and Marketing Professionals. When numbers are your game, let the numbers speak for you. Illustrate how you’ve affected the bottom line and move on to the next job record. More than any other job family (except perhaps executive management), you need to show the monetary results of your achievements. Limit yourself to 1-line bullet points with as many digits and dollar signs as you can muster. Everything else is fluff.
  8. Career Professionals Looking to Pay the Bills by Any Means Necessary. When things get rough, it’s sometimes necessary to find a job—any job—that will pay the bills. Examples of these types of positions, also known as “stop-gap” jobs, include server, bartender, clerk, cashier, salesperson, customer service agent, and administrative assistant. So if you’re an out-of-work Business Analyst looking to moonlight as a Radio Shack sales clerk to pay your mortgage, your current resume isn’t going to get you an interview. You’ll need to create a simple one-page resume geared for your new, albeit temporary, sales job.
  9. Administrative/Support Personnel. As someone supporting another person or group of people, it’s dangerous to appear overqualified because your boss-to-be may worry that you’ll want his job, somewhere down the road. Sadly, ambition can work against you. To lessen this possibility, submit a one-page resume.

Okay, so maybe you and your job search don’t fall under any of these categories. Then what?

Trim it down. Place your resume next to a target job description (or several) and read through your accomplishments line-by-line, highlighting any statements that fail to directly address one or more of the requirements in the targeted job description(s). If you’re not comfortable omitting such statements, make sure that they’re presented as succinctly as possible, so as to not take up much of your resume real estate.

If you’re still spilling over onto two (or three) pages, print out the first page only and scan it as if you’re hiring yourself. Is your candidacy strong enough without the second page? It needs to be, because the second page often gets skimmed over (if that!), and usually just to locate evidence of a college degree or industry training.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate second-page experience on the first page. For example, you can fold certain accomplishments into your objective/summary section, create a brand new introductory section, tighten your formatting, or build a functional resume to replace your chronological one. Another option is to develop what’s called a networking resume which is a 1-page shortened version of your extended resume that you can pass out in place of, or alongside, your business card.

Still, if you feel all of the accomplishments stated on your resume are relevant to your current job objective, having a 2-page (or even 3-page) resume isn’t going to knock you out of the race; just make sure your first page is strong enough by itself to get you the interview.

Whatever the length of your resume, make sure it tells a compelling story. Make sure it reflects the real you. Honestly and completely.

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What NOT to Include on Your Resume

Generally people think about their resume and feel that as much information as possible should be included. While this may be your first instinct, it is probably not what you should do or you could be ruining your chances of landing an interview, never mind a job. Since it is a good idea to create a resume that gets positive attention, it is helpful to know what not to include in your resume:

Information about personal beliefs
While it may seem like a good idea initially, it is never a good idea to include information that can cause friction. This includes information about religion, politics or sexual orientation. Including this type of information on a resume may result in you never being called for an interview. While there are laws to protect applicants from discrimination, this does not mean that these beliefs should be flaunted.

How spare time is filled
Many employers place high value on volunteer work or other work done in the community. However, unless your hobbies are related to the position that is being applied for, exclude them from your resume. While reading may be a great skill for someone applying for a library assistant or teacher, chances are reading will not help land a job as a line-chef. You only need to list your hobbies if you have achievements demonstrating competences which transfer to the workplace such as leadership under pressure.

Job descriptions

Too many people prepare a resume by copying their job description, which is a list of tasks you are meant to perform. If someone is recruiting for the role of Bookkeeper they will already have a good idea of what bookkeepers do. Your resume must not list these tasks; it must focus on your unique achievements.

Personal information that is not helpful
Family information, age of children, marital status or unusual circumstances (e.g, aging parents etc.) should be excluded from a resume. Generally, this information is not useful for potential employers and could have a negative impact on the decision of whether to call someone in for an interview. There is no point in creating any doubt that you are prepared to accept a full-time role due to personal living circumstances.

Extensive education or employment
Generally speaking, education or employment that is not related to the job that is being applied for can be excluded if it is more than ten years old. For example, if you worked as a day-care provider when you were in your twenties and you are now in your mid-forties, applying for a department head position, it is probably good to exclude that position. Unless this resume is for your first job out of high school, it’s not worth listing it or GPA or seminars (unless you organized it in which case it should be listed as experience). Keep educational accomplishments brief, for example:

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry – December 2003

Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

Deliberately misleading information
Never lie about anything on a resume. Experience and education should be recorded accurately and should not be “enhanced”. For those concerned about low GPAs, they can be excluded by simply stating that a degree or certificate has been earned. Generally speaking it is a good idea to exclude information that you feel may be harmful versus embellishing the real information.

Grammar and usage errors

Finally, do a good check of your resume to make sure there are no typos, incorrect usage of words (it’s instead of its or they’re instead of there or too instead of to) or improper use of grammar. Word processing programs like Microsoft Word have tools to do this so it’s worth the time to use them. Follow this advice and you’ll find it will help your resume appear more professional.

Resumes should be considered a marketing tool to land an interview with a potential employer. There are no guarantees about what will spark a recruiter’s or employer’s interest, and sometimes an unconventional approach to presenting a resume will work. But most of the time it doesn’t, so take that into consideration when deciding what include and omit from your resume.

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