It’s a question that has plagued everyone at least once in their lives.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the answer is: It depends.
Your resume needs to sell you effectively within as few words as possible. It needs to highlight your achievements and show the recruiter why you are the perfect person for them to hire.
Does that sound like a lot to ask from a piece of paper? Absolutely, but this article will help you navigate the best resume length for you. Keep reading and eliminate the guesswork.
But shouldn’t resumes always be one page long?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no reason that you have to fit everything on your resume within one page.
If you ask anyone about how long your resume should be, they’re likely to tell you that you should never exceed one page and that everyone abides by this rule.
While this is a widely held belief, and most people try to keep their resumes to one page, there is no logical basis for this.
This obsolete piece of advice made much more sense when the resumes of applicants had to be physically mailed, faxed, or dropped off in a box somewhere.
However, with the integration of technology in the recruitment processes of many organizations, this reasoning no longer holds up. The second page of your PDF resume will not be accidentally torn off after you email it to the employer.
The Ladders Study
Many quote the results of the Ladder study as a reason behind strictly adhering to the one-page rule for resumes. In 2012, Ladders did a study to find out how much time recruiters spent on initially screening the applications sent in by candidates. The result was a startling 6 seconds.
In 2018, they revisited the topic and conducted another study. This time around, they found that the time spent sifting through a resume had increased to 7.4 seconds.
The previous 2012 study was done during a recession when recruiters were flooded by hundreds of applications for vacancies—which explains why the number went up when the study was conducted again in 2018.
Even with this increase of 1.4 seconds, it is clear why a concise resume would be preferred by employers. If your resume is too long or too full of irrelevant information, the recruiter might not properly go through your whole resume.
According to Ladders, recruiters first check a candidate’s current company and position, then the previous company and the title, and then glance at the dates to see the career progression of the candidate. They also quickly check the educational background.
So, experienced recruiters don’t need more thana few seconds to decide if an applicant is worth looking into further.
However, that does not mean that you should cram everything on one page.
Since experienced recruiters are very fast, they can quickly scan through the second page of your resume, too, if it’s necessary.
On the other hand, if you make the font size very small or fill the resume up to the margins with loads of information, that is likely to slow the recruiters down.
A longer but neater resume is going to be much easier for recruiters to read. You don’t want them to be squinting in frustration while reading your jam-packed resume with words the size of ants.
But that’s not to say that one-page resumes are not useful anymore.
Recruiters will not appreciate it if you fill page after page full of irrelevant information but add pretty margins. You should highlight your applicable experience as concisely as possible.
But when IS it appropriate to send a one-page long resume, a two-page-long resume, or one that is longer? Read on to find out.
When can my resume be one page long?
For people who are applying for an entry-level job, one page should be the perfect resume length. These candidates typically do not have enough substance to include in a resume—that’s relevant to the position—that will take up over one page.
Consider keeping your resume limited to one page long if:
This is your first resume as a college student
You are a fresh college graduate
You are switching careers or industries, and hence your previous experience is not transferable
You have less than ten years of experience
You have held one or two positions with organizations so far
There has been a large gap in your career
Since scanning resumes that are one page long does not take much time, they are likely to be well received on occasions like job fairs or other networking events—basically, wherever the resumes will be looked at in person.
Moreover, if you do not have a lot of relevant work experience, you will probably be tempted to include irrelevant information if you increase the length of your resume beyond one page. A two-page long resume that doesn’t have the information that the recruiters are looking for is not better than a one-page long, concise resume.
Think about your experience carefully and consider whether the above bullets apply to you. Nothing is set in stone. For example, a college student could very well have multiple internships, many published research papers, organizing experience in college activities, and projects that they worked on that are all pertinent to the position that they’re applying for. In such cases, even a new college graduate could have a resume that exceeds one page in length.
When can my resume be two pages long?
In 2021, two pages long is a very common resume length. It’s sufficient to fit in keywords and give a proper summary of your qualifications.
Consider having a two-page long resume if:
You have over ten years of relevant experience
You are not applying for an entry-level position
You have to omit valuable and relevant qualifications to fit it on one page
Your resume will be submitted online, not in-person
Usually, candidates applying for mid-level positions or positions that require some technical skills might need to draw up two-page long resumes.
However, keep in mind that writing a two-page long resume is not an excuse to pack in all your accomplishments and experience, regardless of whether they’re relevant or not.
If you’re worried that picking out only the relevant jobs from your career might create an apparent gap in your employment history, here’s what you can do. Write the heading of the sections listing those as “Relevant work experience,” which conveys a sense of inconclusiveness. The recruiter will get the message that this is not your complete employment history and that you are leaving some things out for the sake of relevance.
When listing things on your resume, don’t go back more than 10 to 15 years of professional experience. This is to ensure you feature your most recent achievements, skills, and experience.
A two-page long resume will help you show your career progression. If you have over 10 years of experience, you can also think of including a career highlights section and a resume summary.
Also, if the Ladders study is still bugging you, take a look at this study done by ResumeGo in 2019. This study concluded that employers are 2.3 times more likely to approve of two-page long resumes compared to one-page long resumes. Out of 7,712 resumes that the recruiters chose, 5,375 were two pages long.
Make sure to include most of your best accomplishments or experiences on the first page. A first page that stands out or is interesting is likely to ensure that the second page of the resume will also be read.
When can my resume be three pages long?
While three pages might seem a bit excessive to many, seasoned professionals might need the extra space. It goes without saying that three-page long resumes are rare. Such lengths are usually more appropriate for a curriculum vitae (CV) as that should contain more details about your professional journey.
Consider writing a three-page resume if:
You are an executive or a senior-level executive with a long record of impressive accomplishments
You are in a scientific or academic field with several licenses, courses, publications, or patents
You have a long project management background and need to show some project highlights, case studies, and technical skills
You are a candidate for a federal job that requires a lot more information than usual civilian jobs
Consider including your LinkedIn profile to give the recruiters access to information that you did not feel necessary to include on your resume. But first, make sure that the information on your Linkedin profile matches the information provided on your resume. Any big discrepancies will seem suspicious and can hurt your chances of getting a call.
Such positions may require a CV instead of a resume, as it should be more comprehensive.
Ensure that your resume lists relevant qualifications. Give quality greater priority over quantity.
What things can I change to adjust the length of my resume?
Here’s how to make your resume the appropriate length for you.
1. Adjust the size of the font
When you’re trying to keep your resume as short as possible, yet a bit of the information keeps overflowing onto the next page, consider using a smaller font.
If your headings are too big, reduce the font size a bit. (But keep in mind, the headings should still be a bit larger than the other text.)
When reducing the font sizes, be careful you don’t go too small. You want to make sure the resume is easy to read.
2. Use a resume-appropriate font
Using informal fonts like Comic Sans is obviously a bad idea. For resumes, try to use Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman, or Georgia. These are formal, easy-to-read, and quite ATS-friendly. That is, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can easily read them.
3. Play around with the margin and line spacing
Reduce the margin to increase space for your qualifications. Don’t make them smaller than half an inch, though.
Again, some white space is necessary to make your resume look clean.
4. Change the style of text
Bold words take up more space. See if you can italicize the text instead.
5. Omit filler words
Filler words like “a”, “an,” and “the” can also take up a lot of space. Try using fewer words, too, such as writing “including” instead of “which included.”
However, make sure that nothing is grammatically inaccurate.
6. Remove any references section
References are assumed. Do not list them or even waste space writing “references are available upon request.” You can provide your references when they are specifically required.
7. If all else fails, start over
If you are immensely struggling to cut material, this is a tip that works for many. Start working on your resume from scratch, with the position you’re applying for in mind.
What else can I do to write a concise yet comprehensive resume?
Use an active voice
Sentences written in active voice are often shorter than those written in the passive voice. Active voice also makes what you wrote sound more effective and tangible.
Relevance is everything
Did you notice how many times the word “relevant” has come up in this article? That’s because it’s crucial to include only things that are specific to the position you’re seeking.
Try to answer the question provided in the job description. Show how your skills, accomplishments, and experiences all relate to what they’re looking for.
Merge multiple bullet points into one
Do this when possible and it will help reduce the space caused by multiple paragraphs. You can try converting some paragraphs into bullet points as well.
Some concluding advice
Ensure that the information included in your resume is current and truthful.
Make sure that the resume is easy to read, whether by an ATS or a person.
If you insist on including any hobbies or interests, be careful. And of course, it’s safest to leave out anything with a religious or political affiliation. Such hobbies may cast a negative impression on you due to the recruiter’s personal biases.
For more on taking your career to the next level, check out these resources: