It happened again. I was listening to a pretty good interview on career issues when the adviser suggested limiting resumes to the last 10 years, “because no one wants to read a three-page resume.”
Which sent me to the internet, just to see what’s happening these days. I was hoping to find studies about the effectiveness of resumes at different lengths, but not very many have been done. Those that have seem to indicate a preference for at least two pages on the part of recruiters and hiring managers.
Not surprisingly, some of the studies contradict each other. Less surprising: Most of the studies were undertaken by job boards, resume companies or other not-unbiased groups, using such scientific methods as sending out social media polls.
I did run across a pretty interesting compilation of resume data, gathered by Nestor Gilbert, a contributor to FinancesOnline. It’s titled “83 Must-Know Resume Statistics: 2023 Data on Length, Cover Letters & Valuable Statistics,” which pretty much signals what the article is about.
Gilbert presents the stats largely without commentary, although you can guess his thoughts in some of the phrasing (“A resume that is longer than two pages would set off 17% of hiring professionals” – which means it wouldn’t bother 83%? That’s a green light in my book.) Quite a few of the statistics seemed off to me, but reviewing the actual studies might provide the context to make them feel more aligned. Other statistics seem almost certain to shift according to who’s being polled, such as the number of resumes that have “irrelevant buzzwords.” It’s a fun list to poke around with; try it yourself: https://financesonline.com/resume-statistics/
How long is long?
If you search a browser for “how long is too long for a resume,” you’ll get a lot of articles, blogs and answer forums with hits that are basically personal opinion. At a glance, they seem to run about 70/30 saying more than one page is too much. When you read the reasons, you’ll find they’re nearly always speculative – no hard statistics or proof other than “after one page, it’s probably all fluff” (an actual quote, but based on what?).
You’ll also find the reasons are predominantly rooted in the writers’ individual experiences from hiring others – but rarely framed as, “My preference has been ….” The wording will be more like, “Based on my 30 years in hiring, resumes longer than one page should be reserved only for those with extensive experience.” OK – all industries, all workers, all the time?
Those who do allow that a longer resume can be useful usually admonish you to stick to two pages, if you must (emphasis mine). At this point, the advice morphs into something like, “Two pages is fine at a certain point, but never more.”
That said, a refreshing sub-group notes that resumes are better if they’re not cramped and that it’s difficult to present some careers meaningfully in a short space.
Hilariously, one blogger unhelpfully asks, “If Elon Musk can fit his resume on one page, why can’t you?” Um, because the rest of us don’t have PR teams and media coverage already telling our stories in endless detail?
An article from the U.K. on the same subject headlines: “The resume for Elon Musk proves you don’t need your CV to be longer than one page.” Well, no, it actually proves nothing, since Musk isn’t using his resume to find a job. And seriously, Elon Musk is the standard we’re using for resumes? Why not George Santos so we can call it a creative writing project instead?
But going back to Musk, the company that made his one-pager presents it here: https://novoresume.com/career-blog/elon-musk-one-page-resume. And, just to prove my point, the resume they’ve built for him is immediately followed with a 2,041 word article describing his accomplishments – which would be the length of about a six-page resume according to one of the data points on Gilbert’s list of 83 resume statistics. Well, OK then.
Why not stick to one page?
I can see I’m pushing against the tide here, but absolutely nothing I’ve found proves that short resumes are the gold standard. While creating a one-pager can be a nifty random outcome, to use length as the goal makes me question one’s overall strategy.
A better guideline is to ensure your resume answers these questions: “What can I do that the employer needs done? How can I prove it?” Find a way to get that information into something resembling a resume and call it day, length be damned.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com.