There is debate over the ideal length of a candidate’s resume. Below, Gartner’s Dan Clay discusses the drawbacks of a multiple-page resume and shares insights about how long your resume should be.
It’s one of the most commonly debated topics among career experts: Just how long should a candidate’s resume be, really?
People who have an informed opinion on the matter generally fall into one of two camps: Those who believe that your resume should be only one page long, or those who believe that it’s okay for a resume to extend beyond just one page to two, three or even more pages.
So which one of these opinions is correct? Well, there’s a reason that this debate continues to rage on despite perfectly valid rationale coming from both sides — it depends.
To unpack this, we need to take a step back and think about what a resume is designed to do to determine the role that page length plays in its intended purpose. Let’s dive in.
Despite what you might think, the goal of your resume isn’t to land a job, it’s to land an interview.
In an ocean of millions of job candidates, employers need a way to quickly and efficiently evaluate a candidate’s potential fit for a role before they decide to invest more time and resources into evaluating them further.
And how do they do that? That’s right — your resume.
Your resume is a marketing document whose sole objective is selling an employer on putting you through their process of assessing a candidate’s fitness for a job. It only needs to convey just enough information to pique the interest of an employer and make them want to learn more about you as a person and a professional.
Many candidates make the mistake of thinking that they need to include every last bit of information from their work history to provide a complete, well-rounded resume.
But that’s what the interview process and background check are for. Getting in the door is your top priority first and foremost, so you need to do everything you can to ensure that it accomplishes its objective. But there are a few compelling reasons why a lengthy resume might interfere with this objective.
The Problems With Multiple Page Resumes
Short Attention Spans
On average, recruiters spend just six seconds reviewing your resume on the first pass. If your resume is longer than a page, guess what? You’re making their job harder, and you run the risk that they’ll skip over crucial information completely.
In the age of bite-sized TikTok videos, Snapchats, Instagram stories and other snackable media, attention spans are shorter than ever. Poring over a multipage resume will be excruciating for someone who’s used to consuming content quickly and effortlessly.
You need to respect this dynamic and produce a resume to fit the preferences of the end user (that is, recruiters and hiring managers) rather than yourself. Know your audience, and make it easy for them to find the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
The second problem with producing a resume that spans multiple pages is that it tends to lead to fluffy, watered-down content that doesn’t do a great job of selling you as a candidate.
When you hold a magnifying glass up to the sun, what happens? The glass focuses the sunlight into a highly concentrated beam capable of burning through wood, plastic and various other objects (we won’t talk about the poor ants who fell victim to the curiosity of my five-year-old self).
Forcing yourself to contain your resume’s content to a single page has a similar effect to holding a magnifying glass up to the sun. It ensures that only the most relevant, impactful content ends up in the final document, which results in a resume that really packs a punch.
You want the recruiter to get excited when they pick up your resume and start reading it, and the way to do that is by setting an extremely high bar for the content that ends up there. Otherwise, it runs the risk of falling flat and landing in the rejection pile.
Have you ever eaten at a restaurant that only has a handful of items on the menu? With so few items to choose from, you naturally expect whatever you order to not just be good, but amazing.
The opposite is true when it comes to resumes. Recruiters who come across multi-page resumes think to themselves, “This had better be good!” If it isn’t (which is the case far more often than not), into the black hole it goes. The burden of proof is on you to show that your off-the-charts awesomeness really did justify more than one page which, unless you’re an absolute rockstar, is a pretty tough barrier to overcome.
The major downfall of a multipage resume is that it will be judged by the same criteria as that of a single-page resume. That’s like putting a Porsche against a Ford Pinto in the quarter mile — the Ford is doomed from the start!
How Long Should Your Resume Be, Really?
Your resume needs to be just long enough to convey your suitability for the type of role you’re targeting, and not a word longer. For most people (especially those who are in the early to middle stages of their careers), that means keeping your resume content to just a single page.
As a rule of thumb, your resume content should always extend to the bottom of each page. Ending your content in the middle of the page makes your resume appear incomplete. So, your options are really only between one or two complete pages (or more for certain roles like those in academia, government or executive positions).
If (and this is a big if) you have enough impactful, compelling and relevant content to fill two (or more) complete pages, then by all means, feel free to extend your resume beyond just a single page. But if you’re having a hard time finding enough content to fill multiple pages, chances are the content that will end up in the final version won’t meet the standards you need it to reach. That means reverting back to a single page to ensure that only the best, highest-quality content ends up there.
Your resume (and your career) will thank you for it.
Looking for more career advice like this? Visit Dan Clay’s blog to read more of his posts and receive his latest updates.