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Is a 2 page resume the right length?

2 page resume

The resume’s only job is to inspire a recruiter to call so they can learn more about you.

2 page resume format

“Is the 2 page resume still in vogue?”  “Is a 2 page resume too long?”  “I have been working for 20 years, is 2 pages long enough?” I am very rarely asked this question because most of us have a sense of what a resume should look like. We have been writing resumes since we applied for our first part-time job in high school and most of us have consistently used the same format over and over. When it comes time to update the resume, we pull the version used to land our last job, bolt on the most recent experience, and trim to fit. Most of us list the following and don’t give it a second thought:

• Contact info
• Objective statement / Mission
• Experience in chronological order
• Education
• Extra curricular activities, clubs, associations, continuing education

All of the above is pretty standard stuff. The reason for todays post is that I see a lot of resumes that list too much information in every listed category and this is causing our resume to be discarded by the hiring managers. Listing everything in the kitchen sink results in a 2-page resume when a single page is enough, 3 pages when a 2 pager is enough, etc.  This is the wrong approach. With the new economy in mind, todays post answers the question we all wonder about, “Just how long should my resume be?”. 

The traditional way of writing a resume is what I refer to as the “ Bolt On Recent Experience and just keep making the document longer” school of thought. The resume that got us the last job at Acme Publishing is saved until our manager pisses us off and “We cain’t takes no moze!”. At this point, the frustrated employee becomes a motivated candidate and goes into update resume mode. We pull out the resume that got us into Acme Publishing, bolt on the Acme Publishing accomplishments and call it good. Never mind that the experience listed 7 years ago is now outdated and irrelevant to the current job of interest. This is job experience and we are going to list it!

The result of The BORE resume is that this doc just gets longer and longer because we are listing everything that has been accomplished in our professional careers. Ninety five percent of the resumes I read have jobs, titles or accomplishments unrelated to the position of interest. The mindset is that of the following:

  1. We don’t want to leave out any details or skill sets because the company or position might appreciate this secondary particular skill. “This accomplishment might be important!”
  2. Although unrelated to the job, we are REALLY proud of a particular accomplishment so it stays listed.  
  3. Some candidates feel that the longer the resume the more impressive.  

Which brings us to two classic schools of thought. Guess which one has a shot at an offer?

Look ma! See my 4 page resume! I have done some shit!
Quality, not Quantity

As a guy who has literally looked at 1000’s of resumes, I believe that the first attitude only dilutes your skill set. As a candidate we end up looking like a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none. We become the proverbial wide skill set that lacks depth in any one area. Very seldom are hiring managers looking for a jack-of-all-trades. Hiring managers are looking for the dedicated specialist.

Generally speaking I like 1 page of resume per 8-10 years of experience

(I also like well balanced formats.  But HRNasty, I have 13 years of experience.  Am I screwed?)

You are not screwed. Today we are going to reverse engineer a resume directly back to the needs and wants of the hiring manager and the recruiter. Instead of listing everything, we are going to only list what we need. The goal of the exercise is to provide clarity around what the hiring manager is looking for and what they could care less about.

When I work with candidates, I end up making some consistent tweaks to the resume. 

  1. We want the document to be as easy to read as possible. We don’t want to confuse the reader with acronyms or jargon. 
  2. We don’t want to bore the reader with information unrelated to the position.  The technical HR term for this type of information is gobbly-gook.
  3. We only list what will get us the call back. Although the following example is with extra curricular activities, this methodology should be used with the entire document. EG: When I see an entire anthology of volunteer experience, unrelated continuing education, and expired memberships in the “personal” section of the resume, I always ask: Will the company of interest still call us if we don’t list these 3 volunteer jobs and 2 board positions from 5 years ago?” If the listings won’t be missed, we should yank them. Although it shows a good humanitarian, at this stage I am looking to fill a position.  I haven’t every looked for a Ghandi.

The HRNasty dating analogy:

Your resume ONLY needs to create enough interest to keep my eyes on target (your resume) long enough to ask for your digits, AKA set up a phone call (phone interview). If the goal of this document was to land a marriage, as the author I would consider adding a lot more detail. If I only had a single Word document to preview before accepting a marriage proposal, I would absolutely want to read a lot more detail.

With just the first interview (first date) in mind, pop an extra button on your blouse and add some glitter to hold my attention. Remember, the hiring manager isn’t looking for a one night-stand, they are looking for a LTR so we need to show a little style. The “more is not better” analogy is relevant. Popping 3 extra blouse buttons and a lot of make up is the equivalent of a resume with the entire professional histories including jobs and accomplishments unrelated to the position of interest.  More is not better. #TMI people, TMI! The goal of your resume is to land a first interview (date) and nothing more. We don’t want a one night stand and we are not going to get a job offer (marriage proposal) from this document.  We are only looking for a first date, so the amount of information we include needs to be appropriate.

Recruiters and hiring managers have a multiple suitors (candidates) hitting on them so we want to make our resume (online profile) as easy to review as possible. Providing information unrelated to my selfish interests (job description) makes for a boring date. If you stick to what I am into (job requirements) you have a shot.  The job description is your wing man and he is telling you exactly what the hiring managers interests are, so don’t bore me with your big talk about nuthin – Pookie.  Time is a wastin’ cuz there is a white sale at WalMart and mama needs some new linens.  Time is a wastin’!  When we know she wants a bad boy, we don’t show up in a pink polo and khaki’s with saddle shoes.  When we know he likes Victoria Secret curls we don’t chop to a bob.  Give ’em what they want and you have a shot.

The tweaks I end up making to resumes on a consistent basis:

1. Contact info: We only list the info needed to be contacted. We don’t need the physical address because we will be lucky to hear any kind of response back, and if we do, no one is going to send us anything via the postal mail. “It’s called the InterWeb people’s!”.

2. Objective statement: Hiring managers don’t care about your career “Objective”. Managers want to hire someone who is a living breathing clone of their job description with minimal training required. State who you are, not who you want to be or what you like to do. Objective statements set the tone for the rest of the document. I am in a different state of mind if I get the impression you ARE the person that has done the job, vs. someone who is hoping to acquire (on the companies dime) Acme Publishing’s required skill set.

3. Our focus should be on the first few bullets in the job description and the first few bullets of the job requirements. Don’t worry about the last 4 bullets in the job description or the job requirements.  Being a team player, demonstrating strong written or verbal communication skills, and the ability to adapt to changing environments is the generic stuff. Every job description (go look, I dare you) asks for these things which makes every candidate a team player with strong communication skills and the ability to adapt. If your accomplishment is the same as every other candidate, it isn’t an accomplishment.  Focus on the first 3-4 bullets.  This is what the hiring manager is looking to hire. These bullets in the job description are the keys to the city. 

4. In the space created by deleting unrelated experience, we dive deep and list accomplishments that are directly answering the job description and add as many quantifiable examples as possible. The more accomplishments described with numbers the better. We weren’t just the cashier, we were the “cashier responsible for 1200.00 in sales a day with a perfect balance for 42 days straight, and a company record”.   

5. We delete any accomplishments from past positions that are junior or unrelated to more recent accomplishments.  With the room that we saved we list accomplishments that will help us land the job. In the same way we don’t our high school if we have some college experience, we should minimize Bank Teller accomplishment if we are at a more Senior Loan Officer position.

6. Clean up extra curricular activities. Activities are good in that they show personality and character. Board memberships or volunteer work from more than a couple of years ago is tough to relate to from a hiring perspective and frankly makes the candidate look like they “gave up” on their cause.

Stick with the guideline of 1 page of resume for up to 8-10 years of experience and content that directly relates to the job description.  You’ll be golden. 

Hopefully these tips will help you write a more targeted resume. There are a lot of HR professionals out there. In the comments below, please help our readers who are creating resumes and share the mistakes that you see when reviewing resumes.

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Nia

    Hi, I really need advice. I recently quit a job in Chicago to move back to NJ in December 2014. I have been unable to find employment since then. I have been sending out my resume and gotten a few responses, but no job yet. I have an unrelated retail job on my resume to fill a 2 year gap – should I take this off since it is not relevant? I also have other smaller gaps as well, which have been filled with short term assignments. Here is how my resume currently looks:

    XYZ Company 6/13 – 12/14
    *(fired from job I held from 2/13 – 4/13)
    XYZ Company (temp) 5/12 – 12/12
    XYZ Company (temp) 11/11 – 4/12
    Retail Company 3/11 – 11/11
    XYZ Company 6/09 – 10/09

    In between my gaps I’ve worked shorter bouts of retail work and very short temp assignments. I really would like to find a job here, but it’s just so hard. What should I do?


    • Nia,

      Thanks for the great question and sorry about the tough time in NJ. Couple of thoughts. Is your address on the resume? We need to make sure that the reader knows you are in NJ because all of your experience and maybe phone number indicates you are in Chitown. We don’t need your entire address, but make sure NJ is listed prominently at the top. If we want to keep with the current format, I would just drop the “XYZ Company 6/09 – 10/09” experience so it looks like our career started in March of 2011. This way we avoid the gap.

      I am not sure but a couple of thoughts. Outside of our last position, most of the experience is about 6 months long or shorter and this can be a flag. One thing we can try is to just list categories of skillsets at the top of the resume. Then at the bottom, list the places you worked and drop the dates. This way, the short tenure won’t be a flag. Hiring managers want to hire folks that will stick with a job because they feel like they are going to train us up for 4-6 months. We may feel like we understand the job after 4 weeks, but they don’t always feel the same. It may look something like this:


      I am an experienced sales associate that has an amazing presentation layer with an excellent track record of beating quotas.

      -consistently beat quota with my consultative approach
      -accomplishment 2
      -accomplishment 3
      -accomplishment 4

      Customer Service:
      -acknowledged by management and customers for exemplary customer service
      -Accomplishment 2
      -Accomplishment 3

      -accomplishment 1
      -accomplishment 2
      -accomplishment 3

      Chamrming Charlie
      Chamrling Charlie is a 1500 sq. ft retail store catering to young teens and located in the largest mall in the region
      Springfield OH

      XYZ retail


      XYZ retail


      Hope this helps,

  • Taking Responsibility

    I’ve starting cutting my older jobs off my resume to keep it short. With 20 years of work experience, I only go back about 10 years which is 4 companies and I have multiple versions of my resume (technical, managerial). I got this idea by looking at resumes for VPs that I admire. I haven’t noticed a difference in my linked-in peek-a-boos. Thoughts?

    • TR,
      Yes, you hit it on the head. We only need to list info that is relevant to the job. Your first 5 years of work history may be related to the job (same industry) but the level of work is probably VERY junior to the position that we are applying for now. You have the right attitude with multiple resumes as well. One resume for multiple job applications is the kiss of death. Keep the older stuff off, the technology within the job and the level / experience needed for these earlier positions is most likely making that experience obsolete to the jobs you are interested in today. Thanks for the great question! HRN

  • MaryWillis

    This is the opposite of what I have been told in the past. I have always been told to write as much as I can, but this advice isn’t coming from someone in HR. Between my bad source of information and your logic on why we shouldn’t list the physical address, I am a believer Mr. Nasty and will be reworking my resume. I feel like I have been wasting a lot of time applying to positions with ineffective resumes.


    • MaryM
      Sorry, i don’t know how I missed this comment. Thanks for checking out the blog. Generally speaking, I find that most information coming from friends, family, and college counselors is outdated. Even hiring managers have outdated info. I try to provide the business reasons and logic behind my thoughts vs. “just do it this way” so that you can believe and get behind what I am saying. After all, it is you that needs to believe in the resume, not me or your friends. I really believe that folks that have recruiting experience and work inside hiring companies vs. outside recruiters are your best insight to what happens within the hiring process. Good luck and thanks for stopping by. HRN

  • Jackie

    This makes a lot of sense. I was using a 4 page resume and have only worked for 4 years. I definitely had too much listed and a lot of duplicates. Thanks for the tip, I will work on cutting it back. Great post.

    • Jackie,
      i am not sure how I missed this, but thanks for stopping by and glad the content is resonating. Resumes should NOT be a complete work history but a reference for what is directly relatable to the position of interest. 🙂 HRN