Ask The Work Buzz How long should a résumé be?

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QuestionsMark submitted a two-pronged question. We’ll answer the first part next time; but this part of the question is worthy of its own topic: I’ve worked many years in several positions and I know that it’s good to keep the résumé short to one page and to the last 5 years what should I do? Many of the jobs I’ve held have been 10+ years or more!

Oy, the dreaded moment when reality meets the rules. Guidelines are great, as we’re proponents of them ourselves, but they don’t lend themselves to all situations. For example, sometimes you shouldn’t wear a suit to an interview. You know, the exceptions to the rule.

Mark’s dilemma with his résumé is one many professionals face once they’ve gathered substantial experience over the course of their careers. In short, you can exceed the one-page rule. There are pros and cons to doing so, and I’ll break down each side:

When you should go beyond one page:

  • The position demands a wide skill set.
    If you’re applying for a position that requires a variety of experience and expertise in several fields, of course you want to include all relevant information. Don’t leave off important parts of your work history that could seal the deal just because you want to keep it to one page.
  • You have the right experience.
    I don’t care how important you think your childhood lemonade stand was, it doesn’t qualify as an entrepreneurial characteristic. If you’re going to make the hiring manager turn the page, make it worth his or her while. Your experience must be relevant to the position, not just any experience will do. If you’ve been in the work force for 20 years, your high school job is probably not worth mentioning. That means relevant experience that began 10 years ago is still worth  mentioning. The rule with keeping experience only to the last five years is often to remind applicants to keep their information fresh and updated. Sometimes that works, but other times it’s worth expanding.
  • Everything’s digital anyway.
    This is a generalization, so keep that in mind: With so many employers only wanting online applications, concern about reading more than one page of writing isn’t as important. You just keep scrolling on an online application. The rules about relevant content don’t change, but the stigma toward turning the page is dwindling.
  • Lengthy résumés are the norm for my industry.
    I know people who have been in management and sales for decades and their résumés are two pages. On the other hand, I know people in education who have been working for a decade and have four pages. Their résumés, or more commonly CVs, tend to be longer for a number of reasons. It’s the industry norm and getting everything to one page would probably not be a good career move. Know your audience.

When you should keep it short:

  • You’re just starting out.
    I’m not saying young people don’t have experience, but most graduates straight out of college don’t have a strong enough work history to warrant two or three pages. At that age, the bulk of your résumé concerns your course work and maybe internships. It’s not uncommon for new graduates to have a tough time filling a full page.
  • Most of the space is taken up by wide margins and borders.
    You want to present yourself as a professional, not as someone trying to pad the page and force multiple pages. If you have colorful borders (BALLOONS! SOCCER BALLS!) and absurdly wide margins (like the one you used to meet the 5-page minimum on that history report), edit yourself. Get rid of the clutter and see how much actual content is left.
  • The experience doesn’t match up.
    This is the flip side to that second bullet point at the top of the page. Who cares about experience if it doesn’t have any relevant to the job posting? It’s great that you were a line cook, but it doesn’t have much to do with your desire to teach a communications class at a community college, does it? (If you can draw a compelling connection between the two, then be my guest.)

Don’t forget that there are also different types of résumés. You’re probably most familiar with the chronological type, which lists your experience from most recent to oldest. You can also use functional, which means you group experience by skill set rather than in a timeline.

23 Comments
  1. If a job applicant is 55 years old, do they really have less of a chance of getting hired?
    I’ve seen the young work force; it’s not pretty. They often are more interested in discussing their personal lives with copworkers, than working. Older more experienced workers seem to have stronger work ethics; they don’t text or e-mail their friends during work hours; they rarely miss work and they tend to be punctual. Am I really the only one who sees the value in hiring more mature workers?

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  4. How do make sureself look good on a resume when you have a new job every two years? My longest job was over 14 years ago and that lasted 11 years. That position is no longer relevant to what I’m seeking to do these days.

  5. As a professional resume writer and career consultant, I encourage my clients to think outside the box. Most of the resumes I write are TWO pages. I encourage white space, a 12 point font, and nice margins for eye appeal. There are ways to honestly disguise age. Believe in yourself; if you don’t, neither will anybody else!!

  6. Sylvia,

    One thing I’ve learned over the course of my career (I consider myself part of the “young workforce” that you seem kind of eager to disparage), I’ve learned a number of things. One thing, in particular, springs to mind. There’s a great deal of danger in making loose, unjustified, generalizations. Sell yourself on your merits, regardless of your age. It’s not necessary to tear others down in order to justify your skillset.

    -John

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  11. John, you are right about tearing others down to attempt to build your self up but the reality of the job market is discrimination is real and alive. You obviously aren’t in one of those catagories but someday you will be and I wish you well. peace

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  21. Unfortunately, most companies today are operating on the cheap, and young people are cheaper than old people — and easier to not insure. I opted out of employer health insurance until I was 30 years old.

  22. If it makes the older workers feel better, I’m young and underemployed. I’m constantly faced with the “experience factor.” Well paying jobs, including entry-level, require experience, which is impossible to obtain if not given a chance. I think these resume tips will help older and younger applicants. I have many years of work under my belt (for my age), but I only list the last 3-5yrs in an effort to mask my age. I don’t put graduation dates of college/masters and try to even make myself look older and more conservative for interviews (Beard, glasses, etc.) It’s unfortunate I have to be a secret agent ninja in order to get a job, but we all have to do what we gotta’ do to make it in this crazy world.

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