When writing your resume, one of the top questions on your mind is probably what length it should it be. But if you try to find the answer by consulting the many resume advice books and articles out there, you may feel a bit confused. Some people will suggest a resume that is a maximum of one page, and other sources will say that is too short.
The good news is that when it comes to resume length, there’s actually a pretty wide margin of success. For the vast majority of job seekers, a resume should be between the better part of one page and three full pages. Within that range, the best resume length will really depend on your particular job goals and experience.
Filter Your Job Details
You don’t need to think of resume length as a rigorous rule to follow. Instead, it’s the natural result of your following a precise process designed to filter out all but your most relevant details, with two key steps:
Step 1. Brainstorm all career details you’re proud of, and gather them into a single long document. You can name this document something like “Master Career Document.”
Step 2. Any time you’re drafting a new resume, save a copy of your master document. Then review all the information one item at a time, always asking yourself if it is relevant to your job search. If not, delete that item.
For the purposes of your resume, it doesn’t matter how recent or lengthy (or even how objectively impressive) any given career experience was. If the experience doesn’t have much relevance to your current job goals, it doesn’t need much detail at all on your resume. Strictly speaking, the only information you’re required to give on your resume is your name, contact information, and basic outline of recent work history. Everything else is optional and should depend on this “relevance filter.”
Declutter Your Resume
This process of filtering information has a surprising resemblance to the home decluttering method championed by expert organizer Marie Kondo. She recommends clearing your living space of clutter by holding one object at a time in your hands, asking yourself if it sparks joy — and tossing out anything that doesn’t. For your resume, the equivalent question could be: “Does this spark relevance?” In other words, does the detail describe an activity you’ve done that’s similar to the activities you’ll be doing in your next job?
Kondo’s approach resonates with resume variability because two different people can follow the exact same procedure yet arrive at completely different results. It’s acceptable if a resume reaches two pages, or even three, as long as all the information is truly relevant to the person’s job search.
Remember Your Audience
Resumes are flexible, taking whatever shape and structure is needed to serve their sole purpose: getting you interviews for jobs you want.
Don’t let anyone tell you your resume is wrong because it’s a certain number of pages. The only way a resume is ever wrong is if it’s not getting you interviews. And that happens primarily because the resume is not providing or focusing on qualifications that matter to a hiring manager. For this reason, avoid adding irrelevant details to your resume just to reach a certain length, and never take out crucial details just to get it down to a number of pages. Give the hiring manager the information they need to make an informed call about your candidacy, and you’ll maximize the chances that your resume gets you traction in your job search.
Condense Your Text Further
If after completing the filtering process your resume is well above three pages (or just seems too long), some additional pruning may be in order. Here are three types of relevant information that you may safely take out:
- Early career details. All other things being equal, your older work experience is less relevant than your newer roles, so try condensing those early positions first.
- Standard job duties. Under any given job description, your standard duties are less important than your results and achievements. Try paring back your task-based information for a more concise look.
- Repetitive details. When you have a long list of similar items that are all equally relevant to your goals, it’s often a good idea to select just a few of them to highlight on your resume. A common example of this is presentations. If you’ve given a lot of talks and seminars, consider removing all but the most important ones and naming the section “Select Presentations.”
Tighten Up Format
If you’re still looking for ways to shorten the look of your document (or if your text runs just a couple lines over the last full page), consider adjusting these formatting areas:
- Font style. Some fonts occupy more space on the page. If you’re looking for a font style that takes up less space, try Arial Narrow. It can tighten up the overall format while retaining a clean, professional look.
- Font size. Many assume that their name and section headers need to be a large font size on their resume. But if you’re already setting off those elements with different formatting (such as bold, italic, or all caps), they don’t need to be much larger than the body text.
- Headers and footers. These are optional, and can add unnecessary space at the top and bottom of the page. Consider taking them out entirely.
- Character spacing. You’ll find this in the Advanced tab of the font dialog box in Microsoft Word (to access, just click Control-D on a PC or Command-D on a Mac). This lesser-known tool lets you reduce the amount of space between letters. Try setting it to “Condensed” by as much as 0.3 points.