How long should a resume be?

measuring tape sm.jpgHow long should a resume be?

Sounds like a simple question, right? Well, it pops up more often than you would think. I often have wondered why. After all, a resume's length should depend on what a job hunter has accomplished in his career. So, shouldn't it be as long as need be?

Not so, say the experts. Some claim that a resume should be only one page long. Why? Because a resume is really a qualifications brief. It shouldn't tell everything--only the important points of a job hunter's career achievements. Let a job interview fill in the details.

That platitude sounds simple enough. But how many people actually limit themselves to 1-page resumes? Few. And those who do many times cut out the meat of their job experience simply to conform to an arbitrary standard.

I used a Web search engine to find an answer to the above question. (I used the keywords: recommended resume length.) My search pointed me to a number of websites. Most said: Keep it to 2-3 pages, never more.

In general, I've found the following to be a good rule to guide a resume's length: 1 page long for every 10 years of experience.

This means that young people should have a one page resume. Mid-career people, two pages. And late-career (military retirees) folks, three pages.

In fact, most people I work with have 2-page resumes.

However, there are exceptions. Experienced technical people usually have three-page resumes. The additional page is normally used to describe their equipment proficiency/software/projects, etc.

I personally think a resume can keep on rolling as long as it is providing important information, not fluff.

Speaking of fluff ... I think the "long" question is the fluff. The more important question to ask is: How deep should your resume be?

Say, what?

Well, if I had two, 8-inch long books sitting on my desk, and one book was one half inch deep and the other was 4-inches deep, which book would you think provided the most information about its subject?

I know this is a loaded question with many variables. But most people would say, the 4-inch deep book.

My point is the depth of your resume (information) determines its length.

Good resumes provide a lot of rich, detailed career information.

Good resumes communicate the information in such a way that even non-military people can read it and understand the author's job skills.

Good resumes are searchable. To be searchable, they must be written with keywords in mind: the words that hiring managers are likely to use when searching for a viable job candidate in a resume database or on a jobs website.

Good resumes are deep!

To illustrate my point, let's compare some resumes.

Here's one from a Marine Corps food specialist:

  • Responsible for monthly inspections
  • Responsible for monthly inventory of dining facility equipment
  • Responsible for feeding 350 marines Ground Defense Security Force Company
  • Responsible for feeding over 375 Cuban refugees during my tour of duty

Too many "responsibles" are making this resume fluffy. Aren't work responsibilities simply components of a job description? That's what I think. Why lengthen your resume with the laundry list of your job description? Doing so makes it shallow, not deep.

I know this guy is a responsible person. But I don't really know why he should be hired because he has not told me anything about what he achieved in the position--"deep" information.

Let's be fair to the food specialists! They aren't the only ones with shallow resume information. Here's one from a Navy computer specialist:

  • Main frame operations, Scheduling, Microcomputer Support
  • Performed all duties as primary operator for IBM main frame computer.
  • Performed all duties as in scheduling for jobs to be run for IBM main frame.
  • Primary technician responsible for 300 PC LAN.

This resume provides a bit more information than our food specialist's but not much more. The first question that popped in my mind when read this resume-excerpt was: What are these duties? Explain them. Enrich the description with particulars.

Now, let's turn to the Army. In a recent article, I discussed how to "really use the Web to get hired" and featured an Army satellite communication specialist as my example. Here's his resume:

  • Worked at a medium satellite communications earth terminal.
  • Provided real-time voice and data communications for various subscribers.
  • Maintained both earth terminal satellite communications equipment and baseband equipment.
  • Developed and implemented a training program for on-site personnel resulting in greatly increased overall site technical ability.
  • Tested and analyzed carrier signals using modern TMDE equipment.
  • Troubleshot many satellite trunks resulting in minimal circuit outages.

Wow, what a difference! I can really picture this guy. Why? He's told me in detail what he has done and what he CAN do. He uses lots of descriptive keywords. This resume is "deep."

Let's take a look at an Air Force vet's resume. This person is also a computer specialist, but he has been out of the service for eight years and his last position was working for a major computer consultant:

  • Advised equipment sales software development team.
  • Upgraded and enhanced custom application suite installation dramatically reducing install time.
  • Coded third-party controls, ODBC connections, and network connectivity installations.
  • Solved third-level technical support problems.
  • Supported custom Sales Force Automation suite, Windows 95/98 and NT/2000; Microsoft Office 95, 97, and 2000; NetManage Chameleon; Internet Information Service; Personal Web Server; Visual Studios; and Outlook 98/2000.
  • Setup, configured, and administered Windows NT/2000 including BackOffice and SQL 7.0 servers in TCP/IP workgroup.

Re-read what the Navy computer specialist wrote and compare it to this one. Do you see a difference? I do. In this example, the author explicitly described what he did in the organization and then he listed all the products he has a proficiency with. These are the all important keywords. Both components give me a clear picture of this job candidate.

By the way, this person is no longer a job hunter. He found a computer job several months ago.

One last example:

  • Software Developer:
  • Visual C++ object oriented representation of real time mathematical model for device parameters optimization
  • Developed and implemented the algorithm for per frame adaptation of camera parameters (gain, integration time, illumination) to external conditions variations (distance to target, ambient light intensity, sensor technology variance est.).
  • Optimization of frame contrast (dynamic range), motion blurs, amplifier noise, saturation level and targeting LEDs light intensity is based on calculation of captured frame exposure (results were estimated with MATLAB)
  • Significant increasing of barcode depth of reading (decoding) was achieved. Embedded side debugging was performed with Code Warrior for Strong Arm CPU.

I included this resume-excerpt to illustrate when a resume is too deep.

This is a very talented computer scientist. He articulates exactly what tasks he has performed. One could not ask for more. But compare his text to the Air Force computer specialist. Whom do you have a clearer picture of? I vote for Air Force vet.


In the previous example, he eased us into his qualifications by first telling us what he did for the organization. Then he told us what skills he has. There is no easing-in for this example. We know this guy is a brain, but we don't know who he is or what he might be like to work with. His text is too deep. To improve it, he needs to soften it up so the reader can see a fuller picture of him.

Remember, a resume is a tool both to inform and to persuade, that is, it has two dimensions. It should inform the reader that you are indeed qualified for the position the employer is trying to fill. It also should persuade the reader you are an interesting candidate who is worthy of an interview.

While the length of a resume is important, the above examples illustrate that the depth of a resume determines its length.

Never sacrifice important information about your career skills for the sake of some arbitrary "length" standard.

Conversely, if your resume is looking like a long, Russian novel, it's time to take a step back and grab your fluff-buster (a red pen) and start crossing out anything that is not essential information.

Good Luck In Your Job Search!

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of or the publisher.

Copyright Randall Scasny. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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