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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
• Extracurricular activities, clubs, associations, continuing education

All of the above is pretty standard stuff. The reason for today’s 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, today’s 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 Never mind that the experience listed 7 years ago is now outdated and irrelevant to the current job of interest.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 callback. Although the following example is with extracurricular 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 ever 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.

Recruiters and hiring managers have 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 wingman 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. When we know she wants a bad boy, we don’t show up in a pink polo and khakis with saddle shoes.  When we know he likes Victoria Secret curls we don’t chop to a bob.  We know what the hiring manager wants because it is in the job description. 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 extracurricular 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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