One size doesn't fit all, but how do you determine how long your resume should be?

If you run a Google search using the keywords “how long should a resume be?” you're bound to come across a number of different opinions. Some people declare that an ideal resume should be one page long, regardless of how many years of experience you have, while others have no problem sending out a three-page resume chronicling every detail of their professional journey.

Let's set the record straight. When it comes to the ideal resume length, size does matter. Here's everything you need to know to answer the question, "how long should a resume be?"

How long should a resume be? The one-page myth 

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to squeeze 15 or more years of work experience into a one-page resume. In fact, until recently, only entry-level candidates were urged to keep their resumes to one page, as most employers assumed someone who was new to the post-college workforce wouldn't have enough information to justify more than one page of resume real estate. But this resume-length rule may no longer apply to job seekers at any level, as career experts claim. 

These days, recruiters generally prefer two-page resumes over one-page resumes, regardless of a candidate's years of experience. 

So, why the change in opinion? There are two factors to consider.

1. Graduates have more opportunities

First, unlike the graduates of 10 or more years ago, today's young professionals are entering the “real” working world with more experience to boost their resumes and impress employers. From internships to co-ops to freelance gigs and even contract work, students are encouraged to secure opportunities throughout their collegiate journey to help explore potential career paths, build their skills, and meet the one to three years' experience requirements that many “entry-level” jobs now demand. They're also more likely to have personal blogs or online portfolios, group projects, volunteer work, leadership programs, and relevant campus activities to boost their resumes without adding any unnecessary fluff. 

2. Hiring managers want clear career stories

Second, a study by TopResume on professional vs self-written resumes found that employers value resumes that provide a strong career narrative. In other words, recruiters want to see more than merely a timeline of your professional and educational experience; they want to be able to read your resume like a story. In order to create that story, your resume requires additional components such as a professional summary, a section to list your relevant experience, skills, and so on — all of which take up more space.

But is the one-page resume dead?

Not exactly. Though it's true that the answer to “how long should a resume be for a college student or recent grad?” is no longer a single page, it still needs to make sense to go beyond that. While entry-level candidates should no longer feel pressured to cut their resumes down to one page, they shouldn't try to stretch to a two-page resume if it doesn't make sense. Career changers might also need to keep their resume to a single page.

College students and entry-level candidates

If you recently graduated from college and did not participate in many of the resume boosters mentioned above (e.g. internships, co-ops, volunteer work, extracurricular activities), then you likely won't have enough material to warrant a second page. The last thing you want to do is add irrelevant details, include outdated information, or get creative with your format in order to extend your resume to a second page. That's a waste of your time and will not impress employers. You're better off sticking with a one-page resume. 

So, if you're a recent college graduate, remove any references to your high school awards, scholarships, and extracurricular activities. Employers are more interested in the internships you completed, odd jobs you held, relevant experiences you had, and activities you participated in on campus while pursuing your degree. 

Career changers

In addition to recent college grads, if you're further along in your career and have decided to make a major career change, your resume may be reduced to only one page. The focus would be to highlight your transferable skills and parts of your experience that are relevant to this new job goal.

How long should a resume be? The golden rule

If you've been in the workforce for a number of years, you're entitled to a maximum of two full pages of resume real estate. This rule applies to most senior professionals, whether you've been in the workforce for seven years or 27 years.

The reality is that most recruiters spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before deciding whether the applicant should receive further consideration. With so little time to make the right impression, it's important to present a succinct document that highlights the recent - and most relevant - parts of your professional experience, skills, and education.

How long should a resume be? Exceptions to the rules

While it's strongly encouraged to limit yourself to a two-page resume, there will be instances where this is near impossible. This often happens to professionals who have never-ending lists of technical skills and proficiencies, a large number of consulting gigs to explain, or a series of published works to include. If you fall into one of these categories, you may need to use the first part of a third page. However, try to avoid this if possible since there is still a limit to how many pages a resume should be.

There are three additional scenarios when your resume length is likely to exceed two standard 8.5" x 11" pages:

  • If you are looking for a job in academia or the sciences, your academic CV or resume should be more than two pages long. In fact, your resume could be up to 15 pages!

  • If you're applying for a job with the US federal government, your federal resume might be 3 to 7 pages long in order to fit all the required information. 

  • While an international CV — the type of document used to apply for positions in most countries outside of the US — should also be 1 to 2 pages long, the size of the paper is different. International CVs should be 1 to 2 pages of A4 (8.27” x 11.69”) paper, while resumes should be 1 to 2 pages of standard letter (8.5” x 11”) paper.

How to make your resume fit the appropriate page length

In order to help you meet these resume-length tips, limit the amount of experience you include to the last 15 years and tailor your resume to a 15-year window. Employers care most about the recent work you've been doing and how it ties back to their role's requirements, so place the emphasis of your resume on your current and relevant experience.

There are a number of ways you can incorporate your earlier experience into the resume without spilling over into a third or fourth page. Below are three considerations to do so.

Include a “Career Note” in a senior-level resume

If you only held one or two positions before the 15-year cut-off, you can provide a short career note that mentions the roles and titles you held.

This format gives you some flexibility, as you may decide to summarize a few very similar roles into a short blurb to keep your resume length under two pages. For instance, you may say that your earlier experience includes “... Executive Assistant work for companies including Company A, Company B, and Company C.” If you worked with some name-drop-worthy clients, you have the ability to work those details into a blurb like this as well. However, the rule of thumb is to keep this note short and sweet, so eliminate unnecessary details such as employment dates. 

Click on the following link to see the entire two-page sample resume for a senior professional.

Create an "Earlier Work History" section 

If you have 20+ years of experience or changed jobs frequently at the beginning of your career, you may need more than a one-liner to cover the work experience. An alternative is to add an “Earlier Career History” section at the bottom of your professional experience that lists the job title, company name, and location of each role.

Experiment with different format techniques to meet the appropriate resume length

There are a number of additional resume-length tips and tricks professional resume writers use to help their clients meet these length restrictions. If you're having trouble making your resume fit within a specific number of pages, try experimenting with the font size, the spacing between paragraphs, and the margins. When experimenting with different design elements, make sure it's still easy for a reader to quickly scan the resume and identify the most important selling points.

  • Font Size: Depending on the font style you choose, you can usually shrink its size down to 10 or 10.5 points without turning your resume into a frustrating eye chart for the reader. Headers can similarly be reduced to 13 or 15 points without looking bad.

  • Font Styles: Fonts such as Calibri, Calibri Light, Trebuchet MS, and Arial Narrow tend to take up less space than Times New Roman, Verdana, and Arial. By switching your resume over to a different font, you may be able to gain the extra space you need.

  • Spacing and Margins: Experiment with the overall spacing of your resume. You can decrease the margins of your resume down to 0.5 of an inch and reduce the spacing between different sections of your resume by 0.5 to 1 point without losing the document's white space.

  • Eliminations: If you're still listing your references or a note such as “References available upon request” at the bottom of your document, it's time to stop. This information is unnecessary and takes up precious resume real estate. Similarly, there's no need to list your street address at the top of your resume. If you're searching for a position in your current location and want employers to know you're a local candidate, include your city and state. However, leave your street address off to protect yourself from potential identity theft and free up another line of text.

How long should a resume be? A few final words

You now know the answer to the questions:

  • Is it better to have a one- or two-page resume?

  • Is a three-page resume too long?

  • How long should a resume be for senior professionals?

  • How long should a resume be for college students and entry-level candidates?

To sum it up, a two-page resume is preferred for most candidates at any level. As noted above, there are a few exceptions where a three-page resume is acceptable, and in rare instances, your resume might be even longer. In the case of recent college grads and career changers, your resume might only be a single page vs. two. All that to say, unless you clearly fall under one of the exceptions listed above, it's best to develop a two-page resume to share with prospective employers. 

Did these resume-length tips answer your question about how long your resume should be? Submit your resume for a free resume review to make sure it meets current best practice standards. 

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and has been updated by Ronda Suder. 

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