Resume Length: The Debate Continues

Tastes great.  Less filling.  Remember those advertisements for Miller Lite, from way back when?  Perhaps I’m dating myself.  But just as long as this very important beverage controversy has been around, there’s been another major controversy that’s been swirling around in the job-hunting world — which is the question or whether one’s resume should be ONE PAGE or TWO PAGES (or more) in length.

This debate has been going strong at least 1993, the year when I first stuck my toe in the resume-writing waters.  Even certain folks at that time seemed adamant that every resume should be only a single page long, and should tease the reader with a “less is more” approach, in contrast to the views of other highly-regarded experts who insisted that this was terrible advice — and that most resumes (especially for management and executive-level types) needed to contain at least several pages of content.

Want to see the latest flare-up of this debate?  Take a moment to click the link here and read both the article that comes up, as well as all the many interesting and assertive comments posted below it.

Now here’s where a little common sense comes in.  How can one even argue with a straight face (as some of these people do, as do many quote-unquote experts) that there’s a “right” resume length when millions of people have such a different point of view on the subject?  It’s not like resumes are an exact science, after all.  This is far from a “2+2=4” type of situation.  At one level, from my point of view, every person’s opinion is equally valid when it comes to questions of what should be on a resume, since each and every one of us could be put in charge of a hiring scenario, at which point our own preferences about resumes would obviously win the day.  While one person might argue that they only interview people who include the dates on their educational credentials, or show some form of community involvement, the next person can poo-poo both of these things and express a preference for candidates who send their resumes in on pink paper, instead.  Everybody’s vote therefore counts, in a sense, and there isn’t (and likely never will be) a consensus on this particular subject.

So where does this leave the average professional in transition?  Well, as I’ve said for years, the main decision about resume length comes down to YOUR OWN preferences and which approach YOU feel will represent your background most effectively, and confidently, on paper.  If you’re the type who likes things more concise, just pack all of your best stuff on a single page and run with it.  As for those who feel such an approach would be the equivalent of cutting off a limb, no worries, go to two pages.  Or possibly even three, if you feel you’ve still got oodles of relevant information to share.

The key point and ultimate tie-breaker, however, is the word I just used a second ago: relevance.  There’s a big difference between packing 2-3 pages or more with STUFF versus RELEVANT STUFF.  No matter how many pages your resume might end up consuming, make sure you’re not just padding it with facts, history, and information that would have no real relevance to your next employer or your future career goals.  That’s where a lot of people go wrong.  They fail to target their piece toward the needs of their potential customer, versus their own egoic need to have their whole autobiography on display.  But plenty of professionals I’ve met can easily fill more than a page with useful, relevant material, as well.  So at the end of the day, trust your gut and perhaps solicit some feedback from people you respect in terms of which of your credentials may be relevant (or not) to include, but don’t let the simplistic “tastes great vs. less filling” arguments in articles like the one above color your judgment in any way!

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2 Responses to “Resume Length: The Debate Continues”

  1. Mike: I greatly appreciate your comment, but I’m afraid I have to largely disagree, based on the rationale I shared in my posting. Since the vast majority of the world is completely split on whether they like shorter or longer resumes, I don’t see how the average candidate can “take their audience into account” in the way you’re suggesting. Obviously it would be a bit weird to call a hiring manager in advance and ask what length they prefer a resume to be — and I don’t think somebody would likely get a response, even if they were to be this assertive. So how is the person supposed to know what YOUR particular preferences would be, in advance of sending something to you? As the comments posted after that one Guy Kawasaki article clearly indicate, there are plenty of experienced hiring managers who prefer two-page resumes as opposed to one-page, and that’s what leaves the average job hunter in the lurch. Since there’s usually no way to know which side of the fence somebody is on, in advance, you just have to use your best judgment and run with the format you think sums up your background most effectively. That’s my take, at least, after watching this debate play out for a great many years…

  2. I’m not sure I agree that it’s all about your own preference — I think you need to take into account the likely preferences of the hiring manager for the role to which you’re applying.

    I’ve been hiring people for strategy roles at a local tech company for the last couple years. My overwhelming preference is to see one page resumes. While I won’t throw away a longer resume if it’s good enough, I am immediately put off. In an environment like we have today, you definitely don’t want to start off on the wrong foot like that.

    Part of it may be the kind of role I’m hiring for. I want people who are highly structured and can synthesize information — not just summarize it. So for me, a crisp, concise, direct, well-written single page resume is actually an indicator of an applicant’s ability to do the job I’m hiring for. This may not be a lesson that’s relevant for other roles, but it’s worth considering.

    At the very least, I would think about your audience as much as yourself. Both votes count. I would argue that if you’re thoughtful, you can probably make a good guess about what your audience is looking for, pink paper and community involvement notwithstanding.

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