how long can your resume be?

An awful lot of people have internalized the old rule that your resume can only be one page, but it no longer holds true. Times have changed!  Two-page resumes are common now, so if you’re been agonizing over how to stick to one page, agonize no longer.

There is one big exception to this, though, and that’s if you only have a few years of experience. If that’s you, stick to one page.  It looks a little silly to see someone two years out of school with a two-page resume; it’s rarely needed, and you’ll generally come across as a little self-important or unable to edit. There are exceptions to every rule, of course — but in my experience, everyone thinks they’re the exception on this, when only a small minority of people really are. So be brutal about sticking to one if your experience is limited.

I also see a lot of three-page resumes, but I’ve yet to be convinced that anyone is in a situation where they need a third page. (Obviously, if you’re under 30, don’t even think about this. Hell, if you’re under 40, don’t even think about this.) I’m not going to reject someone because they use three pages, but I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen anyone I wanted to hire who used a third page. I suspect there’s a correlation between hireability and the ability to concisely distill your accomplishments down to what matters.

If you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of your third page — or if you’re 23 and trying to figure out how to get rid of your second page — here are some things to take out:
* an objective (toxic!)
* that loooonnnng listing of skills (Pare it down to the essentials. And no, Word and Internet Explorer don’t belong there.)
* lengthy descriptions of stuff you did 20 years ago; your more recent accomplishments trump these anyway

Now, these rules aren’t automatic deal-breakers. If anyone is rejecting candidates because of a resume that’s a page longer than they’d prefer, that person probably isn’t very good at hiring. But length does play into the overall perception of you as a candidate — can you convey essential knowledge quickly, do you know what is and isn’t essential, etc.?  – and that overall assessment is hugely important.

And there’s another reason length matters: The longer your resume is, the less likely an employer is to see the parts you want them to see. The initial scan of your resume is about 20 seconds — do you want that divided among three pages, or do you want it focused on the most important things you want to convey? Short and concise means that employers are more likely to read the parts you most care about.

So while there aren’t unbreakable rules here, what we do have is a place for you to demonstrate some good judgment. Which is often harder than just following a rule.

* By the way, keep in mind that we’re talking about resumes here — not CVs, which are used in academia and Europe and which are longer.

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