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The Scoop on Resume Length

How Many Pages Should Your Resume Be? Part I

Once upon a time, someone came up with a "rule" that resumes should not exceed one page. No one really knows who came up with the rule, but a great many job-seekers still seem to live in fear of this supposed edict.

The fact is that very few "rules" exist today in the world of resume writing. Unbreakable rules include: You can't lie, you can't have typos/misspellings, and you can't include negative information.

Just about every other rule you've ever heard about resumes, however, is breakable, including rules about how many pages your resume should comprise.

Times have changed, after all, as Grant Cooper, president of Strategic Resumes, notes in the Resume Critique Writer software that he authored. "Brief resumes are simply no longer effective in today's increasingly competitive job market," he said. "The advice that 'They only want to see one-page resumes,' is perhaps the single most outdated and incorrect statement job-seekers hear today."

But if you've come to this article looking for the definitive word on how long a resume should be, you'll probably be disappointed. We informally surveyed experts -- members of Career Masters Institute and the Professional Resume Writers and Research Association -- about resume length. And their consensus:

It depends.

This situational view of resume length is pervasive among resume experts. The comments of Marnie McCown-Guard of Profile Career Services are typical: "I have written one-and-half-page resumes for senior-level people with 20+ years of experience, and I have written a three-page resume for a recent college graduate."

Virtually every expert in our research said each individual situation dictates resume length. From their expertise, however, we developed some guidelines to help you determine the right length for you.

It should be noted that length is primarily an issue that pertains to the traditional, formatted, "print" version of your resume. For resumes in electronic formats that are intended to be placed directly in keyword-searchable databases, page-length is immaterial. So this article's guidelines apply either in situations where your formatted resume is screened by human eyes without having been placed into a keyword-searchable database or after a keyword search has narrowed the field of applicants.

The guidelines:

Resumes for new grads and entry-level job-seekers are often, but not always, one page: Most college career-placement centers tell students to limit their resumes to one page, notes resume writer Sharon Pierce-Williams, 75 percent of whose business is writing for the college population. Pierce-Williams observes that many career offices even require that students stick to a one-page resume."

Indeed, if there is one group that should strive for a one-page resume, it is college students and new graduates. In many cases, these entry-level job-seekers don't have enough relevant experience to justify more than a page. Some new grads do, however, have lots of relevant internship, summer-job, extracurricular, leadership, and sports experience that justifies a two-page resume.

Pierce-Williams takes an unusual approach to new-grad resumes. "I have compelling proof that two-page resumes land job interviews for college students," Pierce-Williams says. "Length depends on extra-curricular involvement and leadership. It takes a certain 'go-getter'-type student for a two-page resume."

Pierce-Williams designs college-student resumes in which page one "often looks like a 'regular' resume, but page two is entitled 'Key Leadership and Project Management' or simply 'Key Leadership'" Pierce-Williams says she uses this page-two section to list three to four projects in which the student made a difference in an association or sorority/fraternity.

If you fall into the college-student/entry-level/new-grad group and are tempted to go to two pages, just be sure that you have the relevant material to justify a second page.

A two-page resume may be the best bet for the vast majority of job-seekers who are above entry-level but below the executive level: "Once someone has been in business for 10 years, particularly if they have switched jobs, I find it difficult to keep it on one page," says coach, speaker, and trainer Darlene Nason of Nason Career Management. "I think a two-page resume is a good average."

In his Resume Critique Writer software, 'Strategic Resumes,' Cooper offers this view of the growing acceptance of the two-page resume: "The resume has now taken the place of the initial interview, and only those with significant qualifications and strong resumes are even invited to interview. As a result, more, not less, information is now needed on the resume, and the past insistence on short resumes has now given way to more in-depth, two-page resumes for most professional positions," Cooper writes. "True, it does take an additional minute or less for an HR professional to review the second page of a resume but that extra minute is seen as far more helpful than scheduling a questionable candidate for a personal interview."

One-page resumes have typically been expected at job fairs, but that tradition seems to be falling by the wayside: "Even the job fairs that claim to accept only one-page resumes seem to be more and more accepting of well-crafted two-page resumes," says Cooper, "and the candidates that present them at those events often stand out above the crowd with simplistic or crammed one-page resumes."

Even among employers, there's no consensus on preferred resume length: Surveys show that employers who prefer a one-page resume are in the minority, and the situational view is prevalent, as writer Susan Britton Whitcomb discovered while researching her popular book, Resume Magic (JIST Works).

"I conducted a survey of HR managers from some of the Top 100 Companies to Work for in America (from the book of the same name by Levering and Moskowitz)," Whitcomb relates. "One survey question asked their opinions as to the length of a resume." The results revealed that 12 percent of respondents felt resumes should be "one-page, never longer;" 67 percent felt resumes should be "kept to one or two pages;" and 21 percent responded "as long as needed to convey the applicant's qualifications."

Resume writer Tracy Laswell Williams found similar results in her December 1999 survey of 40 HR managers and recruiters in Colorado. Twenty percent of Williams' respondents said a resume should be one page; 20 percent said two pages; and a whopping 60 percent said resume length "depends on the level of the position."

For executives at the highest levels (senior management, executive VP, and "C-level" positions such as CEO, CIO, CTO, COO) even two pages is probably not enough; three,four, or more pages may be required: "At executive levels, the resume must be long enough to deliver the extensive information that decision-makers need to make an initial assessment of suitability for the position/interview (typically a director-level to C-level job)," Dib asserts.

Experts like Dib who specialize in executive resumes cite several reasons for multi-page resumes at the top echelons:

"Decision-makers have a much larger scope of need than just skill sets or even accomplishments," says Dib. "They need to see the 'intangibles' that make a great leader, including ... vision, proven long-term leadership, agility and flexibility to proactively meet the lightening-fast changes in the marketplace, well-honed change-management skills, thought leadership, demonstrated ethics and integrity, the guts/ability to make and implement tough decisions, and even a dash of charisma. This cluster of tangible and intangible skills cannot reach critical mass in a one-page resume or even in a two-page resume."

Adds Roberta Gamza of Career Ink, "The hiring company will be making a huge investment and risking quite a bit on a candidate, so they need to know much more about the candidate than can fit on two pages. A chief executive resume can go to three, four, or more pages, or may have a portfolio of several documents."

It's just too risky to make a blunder in hiring a top executive, says Smith. "In today's unforgiving economy and cutthroat markets, a mistake in hiring of top-level leadership can spell doom for a company. To make an informed hiring decision, a greater level of detail on a candidate's experience, education, management style, problem-solving skills, and delivered results is critical."

Further, Smith points to the negative way a senior-level job-seeker may be perceived if his or her resume is not a multi-pager: "I have spoken with multiple recruiters over the years who have remarked that when they receive a one- or two-page resume from a high-level candidate, the immediate question they have is: 'What's the matter with this candidate and why don't they have more to tell me?' To adequately present a senior executive's qualifications commonly requires a three- to four-page, sometimes even a five-page presentation."

Smith also observes a lack of success in landing interviews among execs with puny resumes. "As a specialist in executive resume writing, I occasionally encounter an executive who is under the mistaken impression that he or she needs to restrict his or her resume presentation to one or maximum two pages. Typically, this executive has been looking for quite some time with no results."

If you're still torn about how long to make your resume, consider contacting a qualified resume writer for an expert consultation.

- Katharine Hansen

Katharine Hansen is Chief Writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters and Creative Director for Quintessential Careers, where this article initially appeared. She is a Credentialed Career Master and Certified Electronic Career Coach. She can be reached at