How long should your resume be?

"How long should my resume be?" It's a simple question, but there's no one-size fits all answer. Every individual has unique experience, and the "right" answer to this question will be equally unique based on your circumstances. That said, if you'r…

7 minute read.
Free Resume Staff

"How long should my resume be?"

It's a simple question, but there's no one-size fits all answer. Every individual has unique experience, and the "right" answer to this question will be equally unique based on your circumstances.

That said, if you're just looking for a quick answer, there's a simple rule that shouldn't lead you too far astray: Aim for a one page resume, and never go over two.

Of course there are right and wrong ways to go about trying to get your resume to a single page. For example, you definitely shouldn't shrink the font size beyond the point of readability to squeeze a few extra paragraphs in. Nor should you make up dubious responsibilities just to fill a little whitespace.

I'll talk about how to get your resume to one page soon. But first let's discuss why you should try to keep your resume to a single page.

Why one page is the ideal length for a resume

When you're writing your resume it's important to consider your audience. Who's going to be reading it? In most circumstances, before you land an interview, your resume will need to pass through at least two of the following:

  1. A Recruiter - Before it even gets to the company, your resume may need to impress an independent recruiter.
  2. An ATS (Applicant Tracking System) - An automated system with the power to and move forward with the best candidates, while rejecting others.
  3. HR - A level down from the hiring manager. Before it gets to the hiring manager, you resume may need to make it through an internal HR department or recruiter.
  4. The Hiring Manager - The individual that will be directly responsible for making the decision if you get the job.

Each of these is looking for something different in your resume.

The ATS

An ATS doesn't care about the length of your resume - it's a computer, and does nothing more than seek out specific words and phrases. It will likely reject your application if your resume doesn't tick enough of the boxes.

This means your resume needs to be long enough to adequately address the key requirements that you've identified from the job description - but adding extraneous detail is unlikely to help you out.

Besides, if you're writing a focussed, effective resume (as you should be), you should easily be able to satisfy an ATS in under a page.

Recruiters and HR

How long do you think the average recruiter spends looking at your resume?

This might hurt to hear (especially if you've just spent many hours working on it), but the average recruiter will spend about 10 seconds looking at your resume

Data from Workopolis suggests that recruiters and employers on their site spent, on average, only 11 seconds looking at a resume.

Even worse, A 2018 study conducted by Ladders found that on average, recruiters spend just 7.4 seconds scanning each resume before moving on.

Whichever way you break it down, the data suggests that your resume is not going to get the detailed read-through you probably think it deserves.

This isn't necessarily a failing on the part of the recruiter - they're busy people, and will have a lot of resumes to work their way through for any given role they're hiring for. The reality is they simply don't have the time to spend reading the details of each resume that comes across their desk.

The upshot of this is that you need to grab the attention of a recruiter extremely quickly. It should be very easy for them to identify and parse the important information. Your resume should convey all the most important information about you and your work experience in under 10 seconds.

The Hiring Manager

Eventually, your resume might make it to the desk of the hiring manager.

As the one responsible for making the final decision on hiring and firing, they are more likely to give your resume a thorough read to be sure they're making the right decision on giving you a shot - but a focussed single page resume should still give you the best shot at convincing the hiring manager to give you an interview. You just need to make sure that every word counts.

If you really feel the need to provide the low level details of all your previous roles, it's best to leave this to your LinkedIn profile. If the hiring manager has their interest piqued by your resume, you can be fairly confident that they'll check you out on LinkedIn too.


How to write a single page resume

Now, since you're here seeking the answer to this question,  you're probably facing one of two problems:

  1. Your resume is too short, and you're struggling to fill the space on the page.
  2. Your resume is bloated, and you're struggling to trim it down. This is clearly the preferable problem to face.

Let's tackle these problems individually.

How to fill a single page resume

Are you struggling to fill up the space on your resume?

This is a common problem faced by those with a short employment history, such as recent graduates from high school or college, and those early in their careers.

Don't panic.

The first thing to remember is that the average resume is overcrowded anyway, and tries to fit too much on the page without an appropriate visual hierarchy.

Remember that Ladders study I mentioned earlier? They also looked into the common features of the best performing resumes, and noted the importance of:

...clearly marked section and title headers. Recruiters in our study spent more time focusing on job titles than on any other element.

Furthermore, they specifically noted that the worst performing resumes contained very little white space.

So that the extra space on the page you're stressing about might not be as big a problem as you think. In fact, if you format it so the space is in the right places, it can actually work in your favour.

So, before stressing about a little extra space - make you're following these formatting guidelines:

  1. Your name should be clearly visible. It should generally be the most visually prominent text on your resume. This usually means it should be in the largest font, and should have adequate empty space surrounding it to make it easy to find on the page.
  2. Section headings (ie, 'Employment Experience', 'Education') should be the next most prominent text on the page. Again, this is usually achieved by using a larger font size than the body text.
  3. Sections should be separated by more white space than that between paragraphs or items within the section itself.
  4. Section item headings should be the next most prominent. In the case of an 'Employment Experience' section, for example, your section item headings would be the title of the role, such as 'Senior Site Reliability Engineer'.
  5. Section item sub headings, such as the employer name or length of time you worked in a job, can be slightly less prominent than the section heading.
  6. Body text, containing the details of your employment, should be the smallest and least prominent text on the page, and should be written and formatted in brief, logical bullet points, not long sentences and paragraphs.
  7. Body text should be large enough that it's easily readable at a normal reading distance.

If you've adjusted your formatting so that you're meeting all the guidelines above, and are still struggling to fill the page, then it's likely that you fit into one of these two categories:

  • You're making a career change, and don't have much directly relevant experience.
  • You're early in your career, and don't have much if any work experience to fall back on at all.

For those making a career change, don't feel that you shouldn't include the details of your previous career (even if it is completely unrelated). A potential employer will obviously rather see some experience in the workplace rather than none. The trick is to frame the experience you do have in such a way that you highlight how the skills from your previous career will translate into the new one.

On the other hand, if you're coming straight out of school or university, you may have very little, if any experience in the workplace. In this case, your best bet is to keep the focus of your resume more on your education, and how your achievements in that arena have prepared you for the job you're applying for.

In either case, if you still feel that you're lacking in relevant experience, then it might be worth looking into taking some specific short courses (in person or online) which will both strengthen your skills for the jobs you're applying for, and as a bonus give you more to mention on your resume.

How to trim your resume to one page

First off, let me be clear that there are some situations in which it makes sense to have a resume longer than a single page.

However, generally speaking, you'll be more likely to end up with a resume that effectively communicates your abilities and relevant experience if you put some time into trying to edit it down to one page.

Remember that Ladders study mentioned earlier? Your resume has less than 8 seconds to make an impression; every word on that page needs to be there for a reason.

I'd suggest focussing on the following when trimming down your resume. You

  1. Remove any work experience that isn't strongly related to the role you're applying for. However, you should proceed with caution if this will leave unexplained gaps in your work history - as that can be a red flag to employers.
  2. Reduce the descriptions of your roles and responsibilities to short dot-points that communicate only the most relevant responsibilities you held in that position, as related to the position you're applying for.
  3. Remove any extraneous details. For example - if you've graduated university, then you shouldn't be including your high school, or high school grades on your resume.

To summarise, your resume should be a focussed, targeted document that is designed to showcase your most relevant experience for the job you're applying for.

There is no hard and fast rule that means your resume must be a single page. However aiming to keep your resume to this length will force you to really think about exactly what you include, and how you talk about it, which will lead to big improvements in the overall quality of your resume.


Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash