Common questions: How long should my resume be?

length of resume represented by stack of documents

‘How long should my resume be?’ is one of the most common questions that every job applicant has when he sits down to write his resume. It’s important to realize that the length of a resume can make or break your chances of landing the job. Sure, the length of a resume can drag out if you have worked in a vast array of relevant projects in various workplaces. However, the most common piece of advice that every employer will give you is this: KEEP IT CONCISE. 

Imagine a busy employer having to flick through hundreds of resumes that potential applicants have sent. Will he have the patience to read each line of your carefully tailored and immaculately presented document? The answer is NO. So please, no more than 2 pages maximum. Ideally stick to a single page;  especially if you are a student or a recent university graduate. 

 Several candidates have approached me demanding profusely that they NEED TO include every detail about their employment history and cannot fit the content within the 2 page limit. Well, my answer to them is to follow the steps below:

 1. Read the job description again

This step is self-evident but its surprising how many job applications include a lot of waffle that is not required by the job description. 

Yes, it is imperative to highlight areas where you have demonstrated the skills and knowledge the employer is looking for.  However, if you are struggling with space, take note of any additional information that has not been asked for by the employer. Write these down separately and assess them as outlined in section 2 below.  

2. Value-adding words only 

 Your resume is a story that helps the employer form an image in his head about you. Determine if  every single point on your CV is adding value to that story. Each word should only help to make the story and image richer and sharper.   

Turn your attention to the list of points you have written separately and ask yourself: ‘If I omitted this line from my CV, would it impact on the outcome in any way?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then definitely consider removing the line from your resume. Alternatively, if the answer is ‘yes’, then you should probably include it in your resume but consider if there is a better way of including it so it flows better and adds value to the overall story.

Another tip to make your sentences more emphatic and stronger is to use power phrases. Power phrases are verbs (action words) that you can use in your resume to make it stand out from the crowd. These phrases will help to catch your employer’s attention and also improve readability. 

Indiana University Southeast has compiled an excellent list of power phrases to build your resume that you can refer to here. Refer to my blog article on power phrases to gain a greater understanding of emphasizing your strengths and skills in a more positive light.

3. Be creative 

Look at templates that allow you to make use of the entire page. There are hundreds of templates out there and a quick search on Google or Microsoft Word will point you to them. But beware that not all templates are suitable for resume writing! I have listed down some of the risks of using customized templates below. Please read them so you know what to look for when deciding on the template to use.

One of the resume templates that I am quite fond of is the Minimalist template offered by Office 365. The template is clean, neat and minimalist as the name suggests.   

If you come up with your own template, make sure that it’s not too loud or crowded. The risks involved in using customized templates are as follows:

  •  Lack of sufficient white space in document. White space is essential in a resume to allow for readability. 
  • Strong color or contrast that turns off the employer. A drastically different layout means the employer needs to take time to find out where all the sections are and this could cost you some brownie points! Adding some color to the resume will make it look nicer but when it starts detracting from the content, you have gone too far!
  •  Not ATS (Applicant Tracking System) compatible. Applicant Tracking Systems are used by most companies these days to store, scan and rank job applications. As a result, if your template is too fancy and the ATS cannot track down the keywords its looking for, your resume could be discarded.

If you have any further questions on this topic or wish to receive feedback on your chosen resume template, send me a message. You could also comment on this blog post.