know how to pare down your resume to what matters

Five-page resumes: common among senior-level candidates.

Two-page resumes: common among senior-level candidates who actually get hired.

And I’m not saying there’s a cause-and-effect — it’s more that strong candidates just don’t write overly long resumes. They know how to edit and they know what matters and what doesn’t.

{ 81 comments… read them below }

  1. Greg*

    I have two rules about resume length, none of which involve the number of pages:

    1. It should be exactly as long as it needs to be, and not a word longer.
    2. It could probably benefit from being shorter than it is now.

    1. Josh S*

      “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” –attributed to Einstein, though he probably didn’t actually say it

      1. Jamie*

        This is one of my all time favorite quotes. I write it on my white board when I am mired in a particularly troubling bit of code – as a reminder.

        It applies to everything, though.

      2. Kelly O*

        I think this one is going on my list. I’ve not heard it before, but I like it. Lots.

  2. Student*

    Do we get to institute a counter-rule that says there can only be a limited number of key words in the computer system that sorts these resumes? Like, 10 or less?

    Frankly, I make my resume a bit longer mainly to hit all the computer screening key words rather than to appeal to the human who might get stuck reading it. Page 1 is for the human, but page 2 gets added for the key words I missed but have relevant experience for in the last 10 years. Maybe I’m too paranoid about the filter systems, but after focusing my resume on getting past the filters instead of on talking to humans sanely, I started getting a lot more phone interviews. The humans seem to read the cover letter instead.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      If you give me a two page resume for an entry level job I will laugh at you and then file it.

      1. AD*

        Ha, I said this same thing in an earlier discussion here, and people jumped all over me for being “unfair”. I’m glad to hear that someone else on the hiring side is in agreement.

      2. Greg*

        I understand where you’re coming from, but I feel like kids coming out of college get so much bad resume advice these days, I hesitate to ding them just for that. But I definitely notice it when it happens.

        1. mh_76*

          Colleges have been giving out bad advice for years and years…or, in the case of where I went to school (finished ’99), no advice whatsoever. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my wonderful and well-intentioned parents weren’t the best advisors for my job searches (and I’m still trying to convince of them of that). They’re two of the smartest (self-employed) people I know but neither has had to job-hunt since I was a baby (dad) or before I was born (mom) and reading a few of the many contradictory articles on the internet does nothing to equip one for the latter-day job search.

      3. Student*

        I’m a grad student in science. My entry level jobs are a bit different than the standard for someone with a bachelor degree or an MBA, and my grad education comes along with ~7-10 years of relevant work experience. They’re still entry-level positions for the field, but not at all similar to an entry-level job in business, non-profits, IT, or most other fields.

        That, and I can get away with some resume bloat because of the “academics are long-winded” stereotype. Hiring managers are forgiving of the overrun because they were in academia at one point, too. The longer resume gets me better results than the shorter one, primarily because their stupid computer screen systems lack an appreciation for that human-oriented one-page limit.

        1. Michael*

          For new grad students, I expect their résumé to bleed onto a second page, because I expected them to have some publications, conference papers, et cetera

            1. fposte*

              I think for private-sector research science/tech stuff, the two can blend together, since Abbott et al. are hiring scientists to do sciency jobs.

              1. Wilton Businessman*

                If you’re doing research, they’re probably requesting a CV in which case it absolutely makes sense to include publications and conference papers. Resume means summary, not exhaustive accounting.

                1. fposte*

                  Actually, they often use the term resume because the applications are centralized in a big corporation (again, Abbott uses “resume” more often than “CV” on its website). Whether they observe the conceptual difference when it gets down to the actual job tasks, I dunno.

                2. M-C*

                  Resume means American, CV means European, or American trying to sound snobby. There is no such thing as different pieces of paper to summarize your work experience. And if you want to be hired for research/science stuff, you’d better list your publications, because future publications will be expected of you.
                  “Businessmen” should perhaps stick to business advice..

                3. Jamie*

                  Actually CVs are used in America in some positions – and they are not interchangeable with resumes.

                  Doctors use CVs and they are far more extensive (and are intended to be) than resumes.

                  It seems from reading here over the years that the phrase CV is more common in Europe for what we would call a resume – but they do exist in the US as well.

        2. Wilton Businessman*

          Entry level job, to me, means somebody with a bachelors. I want to see where you went to school, what your degree is in, and the internships and summer jobs you had. That’s it. I don’t care that you played field hockey or you like long walks on the beach. One page.

          7-10 years experience with a graduate degree puts you solidly in senior position territory, or a 2 page resume.

          A graduate degree with a few internships and no other experience: 1 page.

          1. Josh S*

            By the time I left college with my BA – Psychology & Business, I also had significant work experience.

            3 years retail – including a promotion to supervisor
            1 year in a print shop
            College Student Union (leadership, planning, & event management experience, along with vendor research)
            Internship/Fellowship with significant independent research responsibilities
            Volunteer leadership positions

            Many/most of which positions had significant, concrete achievements involved.

            By the time I left my first job post-graduation (2 years later), I had another 2 promotions, significantly more achievements (including company-wide recognition at a 25k-employee business), had helped with fundraising for a specific organization at my alma mater, and had started and led a non-profit organization.

            I was still ‘entry level’ by most job requirement standards (only 2 years of direct experience), but it was DANG hard to keep the resume to 1 page, and ultimately made things too cluttered. I moved to 2 pages and got WAY better responses.

            Now, I *still* have a 2 page resume. It stays trimmed to the recent/relevant accomplishments, and my older accomplishments (even the really cool ones) drop off.

            Just because someone is a recent grad doesn’t mean they haven’t done anything that would merit a 2 page resume.

            1. Wilton Businessman*

              I disagree.

              3 years retail: 3 lines
              1 year print shop: 3 lines
              volunteer work: 3 lines
              internships: This is the bulk I am interested in.

          2. Anonymous*

            Not everyone goes to college full time starting at age 18, flipping burgers with a few internships in between. Many people newly out of college may be non-traditional students, graduating in their late 20s or older with (in some cases) close to 10 years of professional experience (NOT in retail).

            1. Wilton Businessman*

              We’re talking generalities here, we can’t cover every specific situation.

          3. Tekoa*

            Now that’s funny, I was told (am being told) in university that mentioning things like sports on a resume is a good idea will impress your hiring manager. Because if you have extra curricular activities and a full course load with good grades it shows you have good time management skills. That being said, Alison already wants to murder my career center.

            1. V*

              This sounds like the type of advice that was given out at my high school to the juniors and seniors applying for college. Way off base when it comes to “real world” employment and hiring. *sigh*

            2. M-C*

              I’d never hire someone who put sports on their resume. Would give me the impression that they’d be harassing the office with football metaphors and trying to organize outings to baseball stadiums :-). I’d only forgive it if they were so young that they likely had been misled by their college career center…

                1. mh_76*

                  I’m reminded of the “stop telling me that you work well independently and in groups” post (…

                  Team sports and music groups are both examples that showcase a person’s ability to both work well both independently and as part of a group/team. Someone I talked to recently said that golf is a good thing to have on the resume because so many people play (which is true, though I do not).
                  I don’t put music on my resume because people sometimes ask too many stupid questions or make assumptions that I’m more serious about it than I am (I don’t always suffer fools well…though I do try…sometimes).

          4. NickB*

            But what about a Bachelors degree with 10+ years of experience? I don’t find that to be entry level in the least and I’m not sure how you would have a 1 page resume with that much work history. What’s your take on that?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep, that’s not “new to the workforce” and therefore you don’t need to limit yourself to a page the way someone less experienced should.

  3. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter (Career Trend)*

    Hi Alison,

    For full-disclosure, I write executive resumes for a living (and have done so, full-time, for 15 years).

    I appreciate that typically, people who write resumes that are longer than a couple of pages often make the mistake of rambling on with detail that isn’t relevant or focused, and often lose the hiring manager’s interest.

    My experience, however, is that with targeted, pithy resumes, less is not always more, as long as the writing is focused, meaty and elicits a call to action from the reader. In fact, winnowing down a 15-30 year career to 2 pages to maintain a subjective page-length rule can be detrimental to the career search.

    This is simply my respectful opinion/feedback from the context of my background, and I receive a great deal of resume ‘assessment’ from hiring decision makers, board members and executive recruiters as to what is working well in resumes.

    I value your viewpoint and manager’s perspective, and agree that many resumes are well served by a 2-page length; however, I’m also concerned about the ‘fear’ emplaced into executives who are looking to advance their careers that they must fit into a subjective, 2-page length rule.

    Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As I said above, it’s not a cause-and-effect thing — like if you write a long resume, that makes you a bad candidate. Rather, it’s the other way around: It’s an observation that the best senior candidates stick to two pages because strong candidates know how to present their background and accomplishments concisely, picking out only the things that matter. In other words, the strongest candidates know how to edit and tend to have the skill of writing shorter resumes and still being impressive. The weaker candidates tend not to know how to do that.

      1. Michael*

        The director of my center, and my boss, who’s a world leader with a lot of clout in our field, has a 1-page résumé that’s really impressive and gets straight to the point that impresses corporate execs.

  4. Kristi*

    I’ve whittled down my resume to one page (plus my cover letter) but have one on-going challenge. How to describe the previous companies I worked for. Recently relocated, prospective employers won’t be familiar with the size and reach of one company, or particular event/job. My goal is to always include enough to pique their curiosity. I know they can look up the companies it they’re interested; its just a matter of getting them there. I find that the more detail I try to include, the more confusing it becomes to write or read.

    1. Josh S*

      Recruiters care quite a bit less about the companies you worked for than for what you did at the companies you worked for.

      As a market researcher, it matters a whole lot less if you know what WMS or Altria do (they make slot machines and own tobacco companies, respectively). But if you hear that I spearheaded a research project that allowed WMS to introduce a new line that raised revenues by 10%, or helped target an ad campaign that helped boost regional sales of snus among the target demographic of 18-30 yo males by 5% over 3 months…well, that speaks VOLUMES about my ability to do my job.
      (I don’t work, and never have worked, at either of these companies. I just grabbed them as less-than-well-known companies that I could have worked for…)

      Don’t worry about explaining what your employers do. Worry about showing why YOU are awesome. If you do that, you’ll have the chance to explain your former employers’ industries in the interview. :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree. I sometimes see resumes that devote quite a bit of space to explaining what a company does (like a whole paragraph — and paragraphs don’t belong on your resume either, but that’s a different issue), and I’m always baffled by the thought process that led them to do that.

        1. Kelly O*

          You’d be surprised at the resume examples out there that have a short description of what your company does included for each entry, or the resume advice to that effect.

          1. Alisha*

            Late last year, a young man came to me with a resume written by a self-described “resume expert.” Said expert touted, in particular, her expertise at writing information in an enticing and irresistible way. One look at the kid’s resume and I knew he’d been cheated, because while his experience was quite extensive for a recent grad, each entry on his resume read like a sales pitch for the companies he’d worked at, interned with, and volunteered for. He was having no luck getting jobs, he’d said, and upon seeing what he was sending out, I wasn’t surprised. I re-worked it, and three months later, he got a part-time job in his field. It’s not perfect – he still wants full-time – but it’s a great start.

            1. Alisha*

              ETA: I thought I was alone in eschewing this “company summary” for each position…I’ve always thought it wastes precious room that could be used for achievements and results, but now I’m glad to see I’m in good company!

          2. Suz*

            I was always told to do that when you were applying to companies who may have never heard of your current/previous companies. If the company name was well known it wasn’t necessary.

            1. danr*

              I’m astounded that anyone would think this is necessary in today’s connected world. A fast search in one of the web search engines would give a hiring manager all of the information that is needed.

              1. Alisha*

                Exactly. Everywhere I’ve worked is literally one mouse click away on Google. My husband’s worked for two companies now that went out of business (he used to be a tradesman) so maybe the rules differ there, but in tech, if you don’t have a website, you shouldn’t be in the field.

        2. mh_76*

          What about if you’re briefly describing a Project in 1-2 resume-style sentences (vs. “proper” English) / 3-4 lines max. (pref. 2-3 lines)? Also what about one line to briefly describe a company if it isn’t abundantly clear -or- (for some strange reason) doesn’t have a good web presence? First question, I have a couple of brief descriptions; second question, I’m just asking for curiosity’s sake.

  5. fposte*

    It’s also worth remembering that your (the general “you”) arguments for why it’s okay for your resume to be longer don’t matter to the hiring manager. I’d say at least make sure, if you’re running long for your stage, that you absolutely kick ass right up front on the first page and don’t build up to the strengths that come at the end, because I’m pretty sure some managers simply won’t read past the conventional limit.

  6. The Guy that screens the resume for the Hiring Manager*

    First time Commenter: So glad I found your blog!

    To your point, I agree. One of the criteria I am asked to use by one Hiring Manager I support is whether or not the required/relevant experience has been within the last 7-10 years. That’s just what she wants from her ideal candidate (I’m just the messenger). So, by design (or default – depending on how you look at it), that means that if it is not on the first page or two, chances are the experience isn’t “recent” enough. But if you keep things quick and to the point, you increase your chances that I see it on the last half of that second page so even if it was “11 years ago” it WILL increase your odds of getting a phone call.

    Also here’s some free advice from someone that receives over 150 applications for 1 open position – and I have 20 open positions within different departments:

    To mitigate discriminatory risk in screening candidates, the process that I have to follow is to look at the application first, then the resumes and cover letters because the application is the only standardized document of the three (again, I’m just the messenger). When I am screening I don’t go looking for a reason to pass on “you” so much as a reason to want to look at your resume.

    So in addition to keeping the resume short, because I have 3000 applications to look at (150*20), I encourage you, PLEASE, do not short change ANY document in the process, especially the application. Each should be given its due attention. If there is a position you’ve held, please don’t NOT put it on your application because you think I’ll see it on your resume. If it’s not there on the app I have no reason (or time) to think it would be on the resume.


  7. Tekoa*

    *feels daunted* I have a 2 page resume trying to get an entry level job. My topics are Education (4 lines), Internship (6 lines) , volunteer and work experience (18 lines) , Skills (12) and Relevant Classes or Certificates and Seminars (5 lines). With spaces that comes to 2 pages. The most important stuff is on the first page. Still, it seems logical I head to the career center.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At a minimum, you can get rid of classes and seminars; in most industries, hiring managers don’t care. Education should just be one or two lines. And 12 lines for skills? Something needs to be fixed there — that’s way too long; it’s 2/3 the length of your work experience.

      1. Victoria*

        Agreed. As a person who routinely hires entry-level folk (in the nonprofit sector, for non-technical roles), I simply skip over skills sections. I literally don’t read it. I’m going to make my own judgments on the skills that are relevant to the job, and the skills that aren’t relevant don’t matter.

        As an aside, at the entry level in my industry there is a very tiny set of skills that I care about. Truly, the only skill that affects my decision-making is a level of computer/tech comfort that allows someone solve their own minor tech questions without help (i.e. “this spreadsheet is printing in a weird way,” or ” not “my computer just crashed”) – and that’s as much an attribute (problem-solving) as a skill.

      2. JT*

        But Tekoa said “Relevant Classes.” It seems to me that’s worth listing when they are really are relevant, though I think it could one to three lines by having commas between each class. I see this for library jobs, where some people list advanced classes they took that are relevant with something like: “MSLIS with honors. Coursework including advanced cataloging, information architecture, metadata standards, and participatory design methods” or whatever.

        This seems concise and strong to me, but I don’t due hiring for paid jobs….

          1. Lee Zaruba*

            Thanks for clarifying that and saving me several sentences trying to justify it. :-) Working in technology for a long time, I can verify that relevant specific courses, certifications, and skills experience are needed for technology field resumes. This is ESPECIALLY true if you are coming in “entry or low level” and have experience with certain programming languages, or courses that count toward expensive certifications you have already paid for and passed.

  8. Tekoa*

    My education is two bachelors degrees from two different schools. But I will think about that.

    My career center said to list 5-6 skills, explain them and provide an example.

    I also have feeble work experience.

    They also said to put certificates, seminars and travel experiences in so the employeer can get to know me better. And also know I’m constantly upgrading.

    I’ll be you’re face palming right now, and maybe reaching for an alcoholic beverage.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What?! Oh no, no, no, no! Do not listen to that, or to anything else they told you, since you can’t trust anything else they’ve said if they told you this.

      This makes me want something more substantial than an alcoholic beverage.

      1. Tekoa*

        And my cover letter used to have the phrase “works well independently and in a group”, as suggested by them. Fantastic. I’m just winning all over the place aren’t I? -_- Great. Well, if I can’t trust the assistance of people the school hired to help me get a job….now what?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Schools often really don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to helping students get jobs. That’s not always true, but it’s true enough that it’s a pattern to watch out for.

          I think the best thing you can do is find sources that seem knowledgeable and reasonable to you, but use your own judgment. (This blog is a good start, if I may say so!) If something feels wrong to you, it’s fine to ignore it.

          1. Tekoa*

            I’m reading the Resume section right now. Any quick explanations on what a Skills category is and the proper length?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Don’t feel obligated to have a Skills section. I don’t think I’ve ever had one myself. You only need it if you have specific skills that you want to highlight (objective ones, not anything subjective like leadership or writing). It’s good for stuff like software programs.

              1. Tekoa*

                I’m just boggling right now. All my (previously) listed skills were subjective, as in how I can communicate effectively.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, you don’t want anything subjective there because hiring managers won’t believe it, since so many people can’t accurately self-assess. They’ll ignore that stuff and will decide on those things for themselves :)

                2. fposte*

                  It sounds like they’re describing a Skills section as a summary of the talents you displayed throughout your work/experience history. I think the history itself should do that, and if you do use a Skills section it should be for stuff that didn’t make it in to individual jobs (languages, software competencies, etc.). I want to know your achievements, not what you think your achievements make you.

                3. EngineerGirl*

                  Skills should be assertive hard items – 8 years team leadership, 10 years embedded software, etc. These are the ones you want to advertise strongly.
                  Then your work experience will back up the assertions:
                  Elmer-Perkins: May 2009 -Aug 2013 Team lead.
                  Managed 12 engineers in creating proof-of-concept space telescope mirrors. Developed new techniques that reduced schedule by 3 months, saving the company 2.1 million dollars.
                  Big Bang Industries: April5 – May 2009 – Lead engineer.
                  Led a team of 5 scientists in creating the Bazinga Box used for deep space exploration on the NASA Ulysses probe.

    2. EM*

      I would honestly think twice about listing both bachelors unless they both are directly relevant to the job to which you are applying. It’s great to have a BA in French Literature, I suppose, but if you also have a BS in Accounting, it seems silly to also list the French Lit degree, for example.

      1. mh_76*

        The International Business field might like seeing both degrees but I can’t think of any other examples…

  9. Tiju*

    Both good and bad resumes are SO interesting. The 1 page resume rule (or 2 pages maximum) is very US. I am a corporate recruiter in Australia and 1 page resumes are the exception, even for graduates or entry-level roles; I easily read 80~100 resumes per day and would come across 1 or 2 only (as I said, I love resumes).

    I found that candidates from different cultural backgrounds include different things on their resume. I wonder if it would link back to their respective conceptions of the individual and what is important in someone’s work and personal history. Maybe what you include (or don’t want to remove) from your resume tells something significant about yourself or your own perceptions.

    1. M-C*

      Big roll of the eyes there. When I first got to France, I had a really hard time with the resume, not because of the French but because they didn’t want to hear about what I had actually done. You’re supposed to “make them feel like finding out more about you”… I could do my job, but this kind of thing I could never swing in a million years :-).

  10. Kelly O*

    I was thinking about this yesterday, particularly Tiju’s comment, because I see this happen quite a bit on LinkedIn. It’s the great thing and the difficult thing about the internet connecting us all globally.

    The guidelines for resumes and CVs are so different depending on what country you’re in, and I see a lot of “State-Side” questionable advice given from those who at least appear to be a different nationality. It’s not that their career advice wouldn’t be helpful to someone in their country, but it’s something that doesn’t translate well across cultures.

    Seems that’s another caveat to consider when preparing your resume, or even working your way through the job search process. Even regionally or through different industries you’ll see the “norm” change. So what works in oil and gas in Houston wouldn’t necessarily be applicable to software development in Palo Alto, or game designers in Seattle, or advertising in Boston, or fashion in New York. It certainly would be different for engineering in Mumbai, or shipping in Nigeria, or energy in Tokyo.

    The main bullet point of this would be – know your industry and your market, and use common sense. Writing a resume is not “rocket surgery” even if does feel that way sometimes.

  11. ChristineH*

    Ugh I am so paranoid about resume length!! Mine is 2 pages; I just looked and noticed that my last permanent job is on the second page! Whoops! The first page has my summary, and all of my volunteer work plus the one temp gig. Wow. I’m just now feeling like things are slowing piecing together, but I just hope it’s not too late.

  12. Tami M*

    Right now I’m working on revamping my resume for the bazillionth time. Yeah, I said it – bazillionth. hehehe Seriously though, I’ve got about 6 different drafts, based on the 6 different opinions I’ve gotten. (Yes, some from the career center). Eeeeek!

    With all of the seeming rules and regulations as to what should or shouldn’t be on a resume, how long it should be, what verbage to use, which format to use, etc…. I’m honestly ready to pull my hair out.

    I feel as though the resume and cover letter are test answers to questions we don’t know. There are several correct answers and more wrong answers, but not all correct answers are the right answers. I’m exhausted!!!

    And just fyi, it all for a customer service rep. position. I’m not a brainiac with degrees, I’m just a working stiff trying to move up a bit.

  13. Tami M*

    Ok, I guess I shouldn’t post messages at midnight, because I left off the whole point of the post. I apologize for that.

    The point, is that I’m trying to keep my resume to 1 page, because I really don’t look that impressive on paper, and to go to 2 pages might be overkill. But to do a Chronological format, I have to go to 2 pages, even if I only give 2-3 lines to each employer.

    So do I stay with the Functional at one page, or go to Chronological and use 2 pages? I REALLY want to get this right, because there is a position I feel very qualified for, (and am excited about) and I don’t want to be passed by merely because I couldn’t represent myself in a ‘stand out’ way.

  14. Tami M*

    Hi Alison,

    My work history spans more than 30 years. Several different fields, with emphasis on clerical and customer service.

  15. Rana*

    I have to say, page length is the least of my concerns when it comes to confronting the task of dealing with my resume. It’s far more worrying trying to figure out how to translate over a decade’s worth of multiple short-term positions in Field A into a resume for an entry level job in unrelated Field B, especially when I’m not entirely certain that I know enough about B to effectively translate the skills from A into something of interest to people hiring in B.

    I readily admit my work history is a mess on paper — too many part-time positions lasting only a year or two — and it’s my own damn fault… but it still leaves me clueless as to how to escape that situation.

Comments are closed.