I’ve often said: “Show your resume to 10 people and you will get 10 different, and often conflicting opinions!”
A ‘good’ resume is very subjective to the reader. Everyone has preferences as to what’s appropriate and what’s not. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ resume and it should always be a work in progress… tweaking, tuning, and tailoring it to each position you apply to and for each circumstance. It’s a good idea to have multiple ‘generic’ versions so that you have appropriate ones for different situations.
Everyone has opinions about resumes and I’m no exception. I believe there are some good best practices in today’s job market that benefit anyone. However, I’m certainly willing to concede that other conflicting ideas may at times be valid as well.
One discussion that arises often is regarding an appropriate length of a resume… always one page? Two pages? Are 3, 5, or more pages ever appropriate? I believe there’s a definitive answer to that question: “It depends!”
Different situations can call for different resumes. In my opinion, the length of the resume can vary depending on where and how you use it:
One page: For someone with less than 5 years of professional work experience, I believe a 1 page resume is always appropriate. With only a few years of background to document, it’s likely to appear you’re adding fluff to stretch it out beyond 1 page. For someone with a relatively short work history, a 1 page resume can be used in any situation.
Regardless of the amount of experience you have, if you are meeting a networking contact, or sharing a resume with an acquaintance, a 1 page resume is easiest for them to get a sense of your background without having to dig too deep into a multi-page document. It can be thought of more as a marketing document. Pick the important information to share and choose your words carefully.
For someone with 15 or more years of experience, often a 1 page resume can appear too light. Although brevity can be a virtue, you don’t want to give your experience too little exposure either.
Two pages: When presenting a resume to apply for any direct-hire (as opposed to consulting or contract) position, it is virtually never a good idea to present more than 2 pages. In the vast majority of cases, someone will only scan your resume for less than a minute to make a determination about you. In that period of time they will not read past 2 pages. No matter how carefully you’ve chosen your words on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th pages, they will have no impact if they don’t get read. Even if they are willing to spend time to read more detail, your resume will have greater impact by expressing your experience effectively in fewer words. if you can’t express your experience effectively in 2 pages, it’s not likely you will be able to do it well in 5 pages either.
Three pages or more: Although I find great benefits to brevity, there are situations where 3 or more pages are appropriate.
For someone pursuing consulting or contract opportunities, more detailed descriptions of previous projects and assignments is often called for. Typically, the consideration process for consultants involves fewer interviews, so more has to be learned from the resume. However, occasionally I’ve seen resumes that are 10 or more pages long and that is never called for.
Additionally, it can be a great advantage to take a longer and more detailed resume with you to an interview. Although you may have sent a 2 page resume to get the interview, it can be beneficial to bring a 3 to 5 page document to help guide the discussion. Often, an interview revolves around questions about what they read on your resume. Providing more detail can help steer the direction of the conversation to highlight areas you may want them to grasp about you. It’s a subtle way to gain more control in the process. As you meet your interviewer, you can hand them the longer resume and say something like: “I brought a more detailed resume to help with our discussion about my fit for the role.”
People often get passionate about their opinions regarding resumes. As a job seeker, you have to decide for yourself what advice to apply and what to ignore. You alone are responsible for what you present to a potential employer. Although there will certainly be many that disagree with the advice offered here, decide what makes the most sense for you.