Many of the experienced jobseekers I work with still believe the old fable that says resumes have to be only one page, and they breathe a sigh of relief when I tell them that rule walked out the door with carbon paper and mimeograph machines. So, here’s the great news: you should shoot for a two page resume, and for more senior professionals, even three pages is not uncommon. What does this mean? Instant improvement to resumes that were scrimping on accomplishments and projects because the author stuffed 14 years of work history, education, contact info and a summary onto a document the size of a paper towel. A one page resume has its audience, but for folks with job history and results to talk about, two pages give you the room to impress.
U.S. News and World Report chimed in on this “rule” as well in a March 2011 article, “The Death of the One Page Resume?”. We all remember this adage about keeping a resume to one page, but where did that once-important edict come from?
From what I can glean online, one has to consider the employment landscape of the 1960s and 1970s when many of today’s senior leaders were in school: people generally stayed at one company for most of their career. The vast majority of resumes floating around were from those entering the workforce for the first time. And – horrors! – resumes back then were hand typed, which was about the most effective brevity tool ever invented. If anything curtailed length, it was having to peck out a perfect document on a typewriter. Within that generation (and I’m one of them), most of us only received formal resume guidance from a 10th grade typing teacher, who at that point in our young lives, would have of course directed students to a one page document to land their first job.
There are many career counselors who still cling to the one page theory, and actually are livid at a two page approach. They advise that “only the most recent and relevant experience” warrants a mention on that single piece of paper. But I couldn’t disagree more – two pages allows you to show consistent, exceptional results for different employers, in varied industries and roles, as well as your impact as a leader in your community and profession. I bring a marketing mindset to the job search process, with nearly 30 years’ experience selling products and services. You, the jobseeker, are the product, and as a hiring manager I want more, not less, specifics on how you moved the needle throughout your career. I believe that resumes create a rhythm of a candidate’s work history, and your repeating “cadence of success” and transferable skills won’t reveal itself on one skimpy sheet.
Mike Perry, president of Szarka Financial and a frequent speaker and blogger on job search strategies, strongly advises a two page maximum for resumes. He’ll allow for three for individuals who hold numerous patents or are broadly published and wish to cite their work. Perry pokes fun at my own three page resume; but it did generate a significant volume of calls and interviews during a 2010 job search. That length wasn’t a showstopper for my own candidacy within the communications and manufacturing industries.
The key is to always think of the reader, adds Sonya Weiland, PHR, president of WeilandWorks Consulting, an HR outsourcing consultancy. ”If you’ve said enough . . . stop. You want your resume to get them interested enough to schedule an interview for the rest of the story.” For senior professionals, she suggests that a third page could be an “Addendum” including publications, patents, presentations, and civic/community service at a board of director level, for example.
Top Talent Requires Space to Shine on Paper
Corporate HR teams are on a never-ending search for top talent, and a hallmark of that highly-desired candidate is a consistent history of exceeding expectations, inventing tools and processes, and agility with new roles and responsibilities. To convey that theme of repeating high performance for numerous employers, one piece of paper simply won’t do. I’ve seen hundreds of resumes for finance, supply chain, IT, marketing, HR and engineering executives, and none of them were one page.
However, don’t regurgitate everything you’ve ever done, because it has the opposite effect, explains Perry. Someone thinks they’re being impressive by listing ‘captain of the high school golf team’ but “If I, the hiring manager, went through the trouble of listing the specific skills and competencies for my ideal candidate, why would I be impressed with resumes containing a lot of ‘white noise’ and that 30 year old golf accolade,” he says. Focus on results, not a droning list of tasks, for maximum impact.
So who is a likely candidate for a one-page resume? Weiland advises that those with a longer work history, but all at one company with no job change or progression, could likely do with a one page resume. So should a college student seeking an internship, or a new high school or college grad launching their career. “But if a student has decent internship experiences,” Perry adds, “and strong accomplishments/achievements to go along with them, I always recommend that they go beyond one page and try for two. Prospective employers are very interested in seeing examples of how the student applied specific job skills, and what kind of excellent results the student delivered.” However, going beyond one page doesn’t mean the next sheet must be completely filled. A compelling list of results accomplished during internships and student leadership activities may warrant a page and a half, for instance. Don’t stretch and exaggerate just to fill out a page.
Layout Tricks for a Perfect Fit
One of the biggest problems I see on resumes are overly-fat margins, which of course starts to push your content to three pages or more. Some jobseekers waste 2.5 inches on width and another 3 inches in usable height because they treat their text like it was radioactive, requiring a lot of “safe zone” white space to protect innocent bystanders from harmful leakage. A left or right margin can be .75 inches; so can the top, and the bottom is often just half an inch.
Be stingy with your lines: Does each element of your contact info deserve its own individual line on a resume? Heck, no. Be efficient and use two or three lines for your name and contact info, not six. And that list of five types of software under the header “COMPUTER SKILLS” shouldn’t take up six lines on your resume, it should fill up only two: the header, and then directly below a list of software on just one line, separated by commas.
If your resume’s third page has only a few lines of type, you have a job to do: pare back and re-format the resume to get those “widowed” lonely lines back on page two. Tricks that can be used are ensuring that leading between lines is only single, not multiple, space, and shrinking the kerning of a line of text to force that one overhang word on the next line to pop back up to the main body of text.
What Info is Past its Expiration Date?
Do you include every job? For folks with over 20 years’ experience, there are several scenarios where you can start dropping early jobs to conserve space: they were short-lived, or they were in a field outside of your current career focus. But if your first job out of school was with a large, well-known employer recognized by every hiring manager, think twice about booting that “brand name” company as it gives you cachet and says you were hired by a top business early in your career. After three to five years in the workforce, it’s time to start deleting your college extracurricular activities – you’ve made a bigger impact in the workforce by now, and these items can be relegated to your LinkedIn profile if desired.
Seasoned jobseekers can become concerned about age discrimination, and many simply remove some early jobs (and college graduation year) for that reason alone. By the way, that resume I used in 2010 did not include my first two employers, and no one has ever asked where I worked – ahem – 27 years ago. And the next eight years of my career were edited down to only four brief lines for each employer during that time – “ height and weight” were all I included.
A national resume and job search blogger said it well: Roy Miller, creator of Job Search Guidepost, reminds us that resumes are like the old miniskirt length rule: ”Make your resume long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be interesting.”
Kelly Blazek shares job search and work success tips in her blog, http://kellyblazek.wordpress.com/ and is a frequent speaker at jobseeker groups on creating more powerful resumes and LinkedIn profiles. A Six Sigma Green Belt, she is available for one-on-one resume review consultations and is also a manufacturing communications advisor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org