How Long Should a Resume Be?

By Marc Cenedella  on Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Marc Cenedella

Marc Cenedella is a nationally recognized thought leader on careers, resume writing, job search, career management and recruiting, Marc is frequently sought out by national media organizations for his expert commentary on employment, resumes, the job search and the job market.

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The length of your resume is directly dependent on your total years of experience. If you have less than 10 years of experience, your resume should be one page. If you have more than 10 years of experience, your resume can be two pages. However, it still can be a good idea to keep it to one page.

You should never have a three-page resume.

While you should always use concise phrases and sentences on your resume, it can be difficult to fit everything on the appropriate number of pages if you have varied experience, certifications, and skills.

The key is knowing what to include (and how to include it) and what to skip. For example, any work experience older than 15 years should not be on your resume.

And not every skill, achievement, and work experience is relevant to every job. Knowing which skills to include and how much detail to give is almost an art form.

In this article, we’ll further explore the ideal resume length and explain the best way to craft each section.

Let’s dive right in.

Why it’s important to keep your resume short

Imagine you’ve been in your career for a few years. You’ve gained some skills, you’ve worked for a few companies, you’ve made some achievements, and you’ve won some awards. Time to pile all that into your resume, right?

Not if you want to get past the recruiter.

Recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds deciding whether to take you seriously as a candidate or skip to the next resume in their (digital) stack. So telling them everything you’ve ever done professionally, and listing every single certification and award you’ve ever earned, will make them miss the things you should be drawing attention to instead. You will drown your career chances in the details.

Instead, keep every section of your resume short and concise; practice brevity at every step.

Recruiters go through tons of resumes. You have a small window where you can show the recruiter that you’re the right person for the job.

To make the strongest case for the recruiter, keep your resume short and be sure individual sections complement each other. For example, if your professional headline states that you’re results-driven or detail oriented, show that to the recruiter in your work history section by listing quantifiable accomplishments.

How to trim (or expand) your resume to the right length

A three-page resume will never do you favors. And while a brief and concise resume will help you stand out, a resume that feels thin and doesn’t include the right skills and keywords won’t represent you well to your four audiences — screener, recruiter, future boss, and applicant tracking system (ATS).

Here are some ways to craft the perfect resume for the job you’re applying for.

1. Be selective about which skills you include

What you need to include on your resume can vary depending on the job you’re applying for. If you’re exploring multiple options at different companies, or even different fields, an essential skill or credential at one may be irrelevant at another.

For example, if you have expert-level skill in Adobe Illustrator that would be important to mention if you’re applying for a graphic design job. But if you’re applying for a general manager position at a restaurant, it would be better to give that place to a more relevant skill.

That can also be true for the same job at different companies. Each organization has a different style and approach. For example, one marketing agency may be strategy-oriented while the other favors creativity over everything else.

Select the skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for and leave the rest off your resume.

2. Cut outdated or irrelevant work experience

It’s a similar situation with your work experience. Not every job in your professional history should take up prime real estate on your resume. Likewise, if you’re at the beginning of your career and there are tumbleweeds blowing through your work history section, you may need to think creatively about how to present the achievements you’ve made to show your four audiences why they should hire you.

To choose which jobs to include, and how to include them, keep the following things in mind:

  • Avoid adding any work experience older than 15 years
  • Only add work experience that directly reflects the abilities required by the company
  • Remove any work experience in a different field, regardless of how well-regarded it is
  • If you don’t have enough experience, fill the section with achievements that showcase your general skills
  • Try to add relevant work experience for each of the four audiences

The work experience section is how you prove you have each of the skills and abilities you mention throughout your resume.

3. Focus on material rather than length

After you’ve made big cuts to lose the dead weight, take a scalpel to your resume and remove filler words that pad the word count. Start by cutting adverbs. Also, words like “then” and “that” are rarely needed, so see if you can cut them. And remove “filter words” that make the text feel indirect. These can include phrases like “I think” or “it seems.” This is your resume, so some subjectivity is expected!

To stay concise, always ask yourself if there’s a way to shorten a sentence or phrase.

Your goal is for your resume to be simple to read but provide all necessary information. You’ll be surprised at the new ways you find to trim your writing.

4. Use active voice and simple tenses

Active voice uses fewer words than passive voice. For example, “I developed the algorithm” vs. “The algorithm was developed by me.”

And so do simple tenses: “I led the team” vs. “I was leading the team.”

Using fewer words makes your phrases and sentences stronger, and it can make it easier to fit everything you need to say onto one or two pages.

Your work history section should contain 10-15 bullet points if you’re writing a one-page resume, and up to 25 bullets if you have a two-page resume. Start each bullet point with a success verb like “accelerated” or “maximized” and include a numerical value that makes your achievement quantifiable.

For example: “Generated a 5% increase in revenue.”

Success verbs get to the point and better present your achievements by showing the recruiter or hiring manager how your accomplishment benefited the organization. (Hint: The main thing they care about is how your past successes might be replicated for your new employer.)

5. Replace the objective with a professional summary

Traditionally, applicants have included a two-to-three-sentence objective that summarizes themselves as professional and states their intention. The objective told recruiters the reason for your application and your career aspirations.

However, a professional summary is a much more concise and effective way to write about yourself, your career, what you’ve done, and what you plan to do.

Your professional summary should be three to four lines. It should include easy-to-digest phrases, explain your professional purpose, and tell recruiters why you’re the right person for the job. Learn how to write your professional summary here.

Resume still too long? Here’s what to do

On top of the best practices above, here are some guidelines that will help you maintain the right resume length based on your work experience, regardless of your profession.

1. Focus on recent and relevant work experience

Always list your current or most recent position first, and then work your way back in time. However, keep in mind that even your most recent work experience may not be relevant for some jobs you apply for.

You never want your resume to have a gap of more than 12 months since your most recent job. If this is the case, very briefly mention what you’re doing right now to show the recruiter that you’ve been busy. Here’s some advice on how to manage gaps in your resume and spin them to put you in the best possible light.

Never exceed seven bullet points to describe a single job, but your most recent relevant work experience should take up the bulk of your bullet points. This job tells recruiters where you are in your career, shows what you’re capable of at that level, and points to what you’d be capable of if you advance.

If something in your work experience outshines other past jobs, like if you had a prominent position at a famous or well-respected company, allot more bullet points to it. And if your work history includes tenure at a company with a tarnished or negative reputation, its bullet points are an opportunity to show how you weren’t involved in the scandal or what you’ve learned from it and how you’ve grown since then.

2. Limit your bullet points

As we’ve mentioned, the work history section of a two-page resume must be limited to 25 bullet points, while a one-page resume must condense everything into 10-15 bullet points.

Each starts with a success verb and tells the recruiter exactly what you did in a quantifiable way. Did you improve something? Did you achieve a goal? Did you accelerate growth? Did you increase something? Or did you introduce something? Tell the recruiter this with a dollar amount, percentage, or other numerical value.

This shows recruiters and potential interviewers that you can quantify the results of your hard work. It validates your skills and helps your four audiences see that you’re the right person for the job.

Present your bullet points through the lens of what the company is trying to achieve. Are they growing quickly? Are they expanding into new territory or adding new products or services? Use your bullet points to show recruiters that you’ve already achieved this, making you a strong candidate for the open position.

If you’re having trouble limiting an entry to seven bullet points, see if any can be combined in a natural way without being too wordy. Also consider which accomplishments will be most relevant to your future employer. While it’s normal to want to mention all of your successes, recruiters want to see accomplishments that improved the company’s standing.

3. Focus on your most impressive (and relevant) achievements

People with a lot of work experience tend to have a lot of achievements, numbers to prove their worth, and results to showcase. However, adding every single achievement is not an option, especially if you’ve had a lot of work experience.

Similar to how it’s important to focus on relevant work experience, you need to pick achievements that would impress the recruiter, and this needs to be tailored for the specific job you’re applying for today.

An achievement may impress a hiring manager at Company A may mean nothing to Company B. A lot of this depends on organizational goals. If one company intends to increase revenue through marketing, any achievement where your marketing prowess led to greater revenue will be put in high regard.

However, if a company’s primary focus is increasing conversions, the same achievement may not mean as much.

4. Craft custom resumes for specific jobs

Always craft customized versions of your resume for each job you apply for. Do this when applying for the same role at different organizations, and when applying again for a job again that you applied for previously.

Each company will list its own job description and have specific company rules and work processes. Even if you’ve applied for this position at the same company before, these may have changed since you last did your research.

Tailoring your resume may include using different terminology, highlighting different skills, and prioritizing different achievements in your work experience.

Study each job description, read through the company website, and search for any recent news reports about the company. This will help you determine the company’s direction, what they may be looking for, and what a good cultural fit may look like.

Then, edit your resume according to what you’ve learned.

5. Keep adjusting your resume formatting

Simple formatting is the best way to condense your information and tell your four audiences everything they need to know.

Recruiters are used to going through hundreds of resumes, and they have a rough idea of where they can find specific information. That’s why they prefer simple formatting and a standardized resume style so they know exactly where to scan for relevant information.

For example, you should always list your contact information at the top of the first page.

However, minor changes in the formatting can help you. For example, adding or removing bullet points, skills, or educational history. You can also add or remove the optional fourth line of your professional summary, which is extra space to list skills and achievements.

Don’t add sidebars or footers. And never indulge the temptation to add a photo of yourself or any chart, graph, infographic, or other image. Not only will this needlessly clutter your resume and send your human audiences searching for information that should be plainly visible, but also automated parsers or the ATS will be unable to read them, meaning any keywords will be ignored and valuable information will go unnoticed.

On that topic, be sure you submit your resume as a Microsoft Word document, Google Doc, or another text-based format. Never submit your resume as a PDF, scan, or other image-based format as these will be useless to the AI.

How to know when your resume is the right length

Your resume is the right length when it includes all the important information while being as brief and concise as possible. Since you get only a few seconds of the recruiter’s day, this will improve the chances that they see what you want them to see.

If you’ve been in your career for more than 10 years, just because you can fill two pages with information doesn’t mean you should. It may be wise to go with a single-page resume even if you’re a seasoned professional.

Write a solid professional summary starting with a strong professional headline. Craft your work experience section carefully. Tailor everything for the specific job you want. Read it again and again to remove any fluff and fix any typos.

When you’re finished, you will have a strong, effective resume that will show recruiters and hiring managers why you’re the best candidate for the job.


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