The Debate Over Resume Length, Unraveling the Truth

National Experts in Resume Writing & Career Coaching

The Debate Over Resume Length, Unraveling the Truth

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The debate goes on over how long the resume should run. Some say stick to one page. Others say 2-3 pages. Then, there are those who say let the resume run as long as it warrants. Each has a valid point depending on the situation, but the fact is times have changed and how the resume was once received and reviewed by employers is not the same today. Resume writing needs to change with the times and the situation it’ll be presented under.

In a recent blog post on “Applicant Tracking Systems: What’s Changed and How Does It Impact Resume Writing,” we talked about how many of today’s employers are relying on applicant tracking software. If your resume were to follow the one-page resume rule, under the ATS your chances may be significantly hurt. The ATS does not care how long your resume is. It only knows to rank your resume based on how it meets the terms of the search criteria. But then, what about employers who don’t use ATS to filter resumes? Either way, job seekers are in a tough situation having to decide what’s right when it comes to their resume.

Here’s what you should think about in finding the right balance for your resume:

Level of experience
Are you a new graduate fresh out of school with only internships to speak of or do you have 20 years of experience under your belt? Clearly, there’s more information to work with having have several years of professional experience, but that doesn’t mean it warrants a 10-page resume.

Regardless of how much experience you have, the focus must first be on getting the most important information into the resume. If you’re not capturing the attention of the employer and ATS with relevant experience and skills, you’re not going to make it to the top of the stack. Once you have the right credentials and details presented to seal the employer’s interest, everything else can be an afterthought in determining if there’s value to include it. So, in the case of the experienced professional you may simply focus on the most recent 10-15 years of your experience. All experience beyond that may not need as much detail on the resume, and you may decide to not even include it.

Cramming all your information into one page is not the answer if that means it’ll take away from the document’s readability. Whether the employer is relying on ATS or manually going through resumes, in the end it still needs to get pass the review of people. If your resume is crammed with information making it hard to read because of lack of white space or the size of your font is too small, your opportunity is lost. Even the most qualified candidate for the job doesn’t win when the resume isn’t easy on the eyes. For more tips, read: “Is Your Resume Easy on the Eyes” and “Tips to Crafting and Effective Resume for the Cursory Glance and Deeper Read.”

Paint a clear picture
Too little information on the resume can hurt as much as too much information. Whether it’s a machine reviewing your resume or a person, specific information is sought to tell that you’re relevant. If your resume lacks detail, the ATS may find insufficient information to give your resume a good score. Any person reviewing your resume may also come to the same conclusion. On the other hand, having too much information may give the ATS more opportunities to find keyword matches, but then it comes back to hurt you when the human reviewer has a hard time digesting the numerous pages of information. Ultimately, they get lost in the information and the desire to paint the picture that you’re a well-fitting candidate for the job is not met.

The final word
How long the resume should run will be different for everybody. Generally, we advise that it stay in the 1-3 page range. The key point in deciding how long the resume should run needs to be based on 1) your content, and then, 2) readability. What you choose to include to your resume should be justified – does it serve a purpose that builds your overall story and informs the employer you’d make a good match. Then second to that, make sure your resume is presented in a manner that welcomes people to read it. If you don’t want to read a text heavy document, neither will the recruiter or hiring manager.

As for overcoming the ATS, if you’ve properly provided the details to showcase experience and skills then naturally many of the keywords the software is looking for will be in your resume. Of course, having the help of a professional resume writer ensures your resume is maximized to bring out the best results whether it be in the hands of the ATS, recruiters, hiring managers, or the department head.