When length matters

When CV length matters

CV length “The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.” said Mr George Bernard Shaw and nowhere is this more applicable than the job search sector when it comes to CV creation. We loves rules. The sector is heavily populated with books, articles and blogs dealing in absolutes, usually including “always”, ” never” and ” how to” tips. Many people invent these rules, some globally famous, some only famous in their own coffee breaks. Large numbers of rules fizzle out just as soon as they are created, others endure from one decade to another. Yet CV length matters.

Technological change

Back in the day, a hard copy CV was the norm. Today, as the triage of candidate applications increasingly uses sophisticated technology and software, new guidelines are required for job seekers, as old assumptions become outdated. When there is human interaction most of the golden oldie rules are clearly still valid. Although times and technology may change, generally people don’t, so strong basics will always have relevance. Now job search needs to be strategic and flexible and each situation viewed on its merits. That’s why it’s called job search strategy! This doesn’t make the job seekers task any easier, because the answer to any situational question will frequently be “it depends on the circumstances”.

Ideal length

One of the most hotly debated questions is on the ideal length of a CV. That also depends! The two most common situations that job seekers will encounter with regard to their CV are: uploading it electronically on to a company data base, or sending it by email to a central HR department, where it will be subsequently uploaded. At some later time, your opus will eventually be screened by ATS , before a human being ever claps an eye on it. Here keyword-searchable content is mandatory to avoid slipping into, and remaining in, resumé oblivion. The second occasion will be where a CV is emailed or given (printed) to a known contact.

One page CVs

For many years having a one page CV in one’s portfolio was considered to be the major weapon in the arsenal. Where this rule came from I have no idea, but I see many people reducing text to size 8 font and eliminating all margins to cram their career content onto 1 page of A4. Today, when most resumés are read on a screen (even a phone) and are uploaded onto company databases and accessed by keyword searches, resume length takes on a new significance. Short in these cases may not actually be sweet.

Much confusion can be eliminated with a clear understanding that the purpose of a resume is generally considered to be the instrument necessary secure an interview or meeting. The purpose of a meeting is to get the job.

Entry level

This poor group is possibly the most beleaguered of all. College and MBA graduates are very often counselled to ensure their CVs are one page only. This definitely depends. Many individuals in this demographic have significant achievements, have worked in multiple internships or volunteer roles, have gained international scholarships, travelled globally and excelled in extra curricular activities. Those success stories are all worthy of succinct mention with metrics, so don’t worry about spilling over into two pages. However, beware, this is not to be confused with listing mundane activities by rote.

In his new resumé, a client detailed the metrics of a student bar/restaurant job, specifying the nightly headcount, staff managed and the number of covers served per sitting. They were extremely high and it takes special skills to deal with that kind of volume. Sufficiently impressed, a hospitality management company called him for interview and offered him a job. The hiring manager factored that experience into the decision-making process. I have also coached entry-level candidates who have represented their countries on national junior teams or started their own businesses, some with pretty good turnover. They are worthy achievements and speak volumes about their talents, discipline, commitment and energy.

A couple of weeks ago I emailed Lee Cooper , author of the Recruiters Little Black Book who has also penned his own thoughts on the subject. He told me he believed that a one page CV involves a risk:

” .. you end up being considered as lacking in experience / content / depth”

Two pages

For most of the job seeking population a two-page resume would be considered to be a good average in which to show case any skills and achievements. Everyone should be able to do this and the discipline will encourage focused thinking. There should be no need to pad a resumé out with extraneous and repetitive vocabulary. Font size should be 11/12 points, with adequate margins to create enough white space to make it readable. Recruiters take on average 15 seconds read a resumé and focus on the mission statement (quite different from the old-school personal objective) for an estimated 8 seconds.

What about longer?

Some C level executives at the highest levels, worry that two pages may not contain enough information to fully detail an extended career history. Once again this will depend on the circumstances. If the search to fill the position is being managed by an executive search consultant, a two page resumé would be best to score the initial interview. Following that , the executive search consultant will write an extensive brief for the client, based on one or even more detailed interviews and perhaps psychometric testing. However, if the candidate has been approached directly via a contact in his/her network, with a face to face meeting as the first step, then a lengthier CV may be completely acceptable. Clare Ireland, Senior Partner at Hansar International suggests

” .. at a senior level, with some highly complex especially technical careers, a more detailed CV can be helpful.”

In general , the best advice I can give is to assess each situation on an individual basis … not forgetting the real basics: no typos and no lies! And in the words of the wise:

A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us” Ralph Waldo Emerson


8 thoughts on “When length matters

  1. Wendy Mason

    “..the best advice I can give is to assess each situation on an individual basis..” As usual Dorothy, you are giving the best and most valuable advice. As a ‘jobbing’ independent consultant, I keep a portfolio of CVs which still need to be adapted for the needs of each client. Given I’ve had a very long career invariable something needs to be ‘left out’. The art is in the picking and it is not always as obvious as chronology. Sometimes work done a very long time ago is relevant and it is always worth thinking things through!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Wendy thanks for your thoughtful comment. All job search is now strategic and the possibilities to be formulaic are minimal. This is tough for the job seeker because very often the choices are not always obvious.

  2. Rasti

    Dear Dorothy,
    thank you for this post and thoughts, very helpful. What should the person do in case that this person have CV longer then 2 pgs (different job experineces, different educations, different engagements)? Whether CV is losing its importance, its effect, if you move/delete some data or?
    Thank you

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Rasti – thanks for your comment. I think you have to bear in mind what you’re doing with the CV – who you’re sending it to how and by what method they are going to receive it. My experience is that most people can easily contain their CV into +/- 2 pages and it’s just a question of tighter editing and more focused thinking.

  3. Sarvani Vempati

    I am very glad to have read this post. I came across a lot of people advising my CV to a single page and as I have 6 years of experience in 3 different companies, I have always felt I was not doing myself any justice.
    Thank you for your valuable advice.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Sarvani – thanks for your comment. The main message is to view each situation strategically. If you are uploading a CV online and have success stories to share covering a number of positions – then keywords take on a new dimension. It’s not a good idea to restrict yourself to one page in those cases. There are other occasions when an outline 1 Page CV will be sufficient.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *