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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.