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Resumes: One Page, Scannable, Relevant

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I recently interviewed a candidate for a position in my company who had a resume that was four pages long. Not only was it four pages long but underneath each job title, the description was not a bulleted list of responsibilities or accomplishments but instead a paragraph of prose describing what he did in the post. Until that day, I never realized why job sites recommend resumes be limited to one page with accomplishments and responsibilities bulleted… it’s to help the reader understand what you’ve done and what you’re capable of without having to digest your writing like they’re taking the SAT.

I think the hard and fast rule of one page isn’t so much as important, especially if you have many years of experience, as the bulleted rule but two pages is really the maximum you can have on a resume. If your resume is longer than two pages then you’re really putting too much on that sucker and no one is going to be able to give it the level of attention they should if pressed they’re for time. While a long resume isn’t a deal breaker, you had better make it easily scannable by using bulleted lists or other visual cues. Please please please use bulleted lists or people looking at your resume simply won’t be able to review it effectively – especially if you’re just one in a stack.

Lastly, make sure you only put things that are relevant. If you’re going for a position doing software development, your experience as a retail sales clerk at Gap when you were in high school isn’t relevant. In fact, it’s a distraction because the reviewer will wonder why you even have it on there and whether you’re just taking up space. If you want to show a soft skill, such as sales experience even though it’s not 100% relevant, you had better make sure your bulleted list of responsibilities highlights those soft skills in a quantifiable way in order to dispel disbelief as to its relevance.

Lastly, look at your resume as if you were going to hire yourself for the position and you only had one shot to get it right. Would you give yourself the time of day or would you move to the next resume in the stack?

{ 7 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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7 Responses to “Resumes: One Page, Scannable, Relevant”

  1. eROCK says:

    Couldn’t agree more! I have one resume I use to handout during career fairs and such that’s one-page, but I also have a two-page resume that I use when I apply on-line because for the most part, only scanners will be reading it.

    -E

  2. NRF says:

    I generally agree, but for more seasoned folks (i.e. 10+ years of work experience) or for folks in an academic setting, a longer resume can be both warranted and acceptable. It really does depend on the industry and the experience level of the individual involved….

  3. mapgirl says:

    Last time I went on an interview, I was a little crushed that they had taken my beautifully formatted Word resume and all of its elegance and stripped it to an ASCII text file.

    I should have known. It was with a bunch of UNIX geeks. At least they didn’t print it in LaTEX.

    ONE page. An absolute must. Feel free to flesh it out to two pages that you give them later on, but no more than 2. Just use a really small font that’s not too blinding. If it’s electronic format, I’ll zoom it bigger, but I’m a page counter. If you can’t distill yourself into a page of text, you’re not going to be effective doing a presentation with slides or communicating in email either.

  4. Terry Piatt says:

    The last time my resume got me a job interview was about 20 years ago. I have had two dead-end menial jobs and nothing which could be considered “career-related” experience. Currently I work in a convenience store and we don’t have benchmarks by which our achievements can be measured.

    I also have a liberal arts degree which today seems superfluous.

    Questions: Is including my degree on my resume a negative or a positive? (Should I just drop any mention of having gone to college?) Is there any hope for me at all?

  5. Master Allan says:

    An addendum to the article. Avoid the fancy resumes. For a position in an I.T. support company one of the applicants submitted his resume on a printed sheet of paper complete with fall foliage border. The hiring manager saw it and responded with a confused look and an “EH?” Maybe if your future employer is a graphic design company but most organizations – forget it.

    Terry – regarding posting your degree on your resume, even though it’s liberal arts I’d do it. Granted most managers would not hold it to the same level as a degree in mathematics, computer science, electrical engineering…etc. But the degree proves you can work through a structured educational environment toward a goal. Holds more weight than joe blow with a mere high school diploma. Any younger readers out there, consider that degree in chemical engineering. It’s real hard work but it will pay off more than a college education focusing on English, history, music, psychology (B.A. only), and so on.

  6. Very relevant topic to me, as I am currently sending out resumes. I have had a few people look over my one-page resume and some insist that I need not limit myself to the “one-page rule.” On the other hand, I am a big believer in the one-page rule. In most instances, there is no one who cannot communicate their experiences and accomplishments on one page.

    To limit size, only the most relevant jobs within the last 10 years should be used. I am lucky in that I have only had two jobs in the last 10 years, but anything older than 10 years is often considered padding, anyway.

    Of course, the one downside to too many people reviewing your resume is that you get too many chefs in one kitchen.

    Thanks for helping me realize that I am on the right track!

  7. Matt says:

    Never follow generic advice on how long your resume should be or how it should be formatted. If you don’t know the needs and desires of the hiring manager you’re applying to better than some web article-writer, you shouldn’t be applying for the job — you haven’t done enough research yet.

    I always maintain at least two versions of my basic resume…one long-form, for managers who want to read about what I’ve done and which technologies I’ve worked with (this fills six pages), and one short-form, for managers who just want a list of companies they can call and verify that I had Job Title A during years B through C (I managed to keep this to one page for most of my career by continuously shrinking the font, but I’ve finally had to give up and concede that it’ll go to two pages).

    For what it’s worth, I’ve had about equal resume-to-interview conversion rates with both, but better post-interview luck with the latter sort of managers. (A man who expects applicants to distill everything worthwhile they’ve done in 15 years into a page count he could reasonably be expected to handle while retaining persuasive power is either underestimating the abilities of his applicant pool or accustomed to making unrealistic demands. A man who knows that for any candidate worth hiring this would be an impossible task is going to be more open to hearing things in the interview that didn’t make it into the resume, and more prepared to be impressed.) But both kinds are out there, and before sending a resume in, you need to know which kind you’re dealing with.


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