How Long Should a Resume Be?
Resume lengths are faddish. In the fifties and early sixties, long resumes—sometimes two or more pages—were the rule, and the resume of a solid, experienced worker might easily have run three to five pages. In the seventies and eighties, when everything about our lives seemed to become more abbreviated (thanks perhaps to the soundbites that made up the evening news), resumes became shorter. A one-page resume was best; at most no one wanted to read more than one-and-a-half pages.
Today, there seem to be no rules on this subject, and the best advice I can give you is to put your ego aside and write a resume of the length that serves you best. In large companies, your resume is usually read by a representative in the human resources (also known as personnel) department, who looks for depth and a certain (but not unreasonable) amount of length. Busy executives, on the other hand, want information in the shortest possible form, and often won’t take the time to read a resume that runs on more than two pages, something to keep in mind when you know your resume is going directly to the head honcho.
As a general rule, two pages is safe; more than that runs the risk of abusing the reader; and one page (unless you are a new graduate) may not give those cautious human resources people enough to work with.
Move Your Ego Off the Page
If you’re having trouble paring your resume down, the problem may be more than your accomplishments. It may be your ego. Often a big ego goes with a lengthy resume—and both can seriously diminish your job opportunities.
If you’ve managed to move your ego off the page, and you’re still having trouble shortening your resume, here are a few hints:
- Pare down your language. Say more in fewer words. Drop some of the modifiers. Write in resume shorthand.
- Elaborate on one major achievement (usually relating to your most recent job) in your cover letter, so it can be a smaller entry on your resume.
- If you’ve published a lot, list your publications on a separate sheet. That way, they’re not part of your resume proper.
- If all else fails, thanks to desktop computers, you can play around with margins. Reducing the size of the margins on the sides and the top and bottom of the page will help you fit more words onto a page.
The actual physical appearance of a resume is also important to its overall attractiveness. A clean, consistent, well-organized resume looks as if it comes from a consistent and well-organized mind. Here are a few hints on producing a good_ looking resume:
- Leave a sizable margin—one to one-and-a-half inches—all around (unless there’s a reason not to).
- Double-space between categories, blocks of type, or entries, but unless your resume is very, very short, don’t double-space the whole thing.
- Use white or very pale colored paper. If you’re thinking of going online with your resume, use only white paper. Probably the only rea-son to use colored paper is that it coordinates with your stationery, but that isn’t really necessary. In many conservative fields, such as banking, business, and law, both your resume and your stationery should be on white paper.
- Use at least 20-pound weight paper. Anything less seems chintzy. You can go to heavier paper, up to 60-pound weight, if your resume is only one page. You can use printer paper or copy machine paper if it’s of high quality, that is, 20-pound weight.
- Use 81/2-by-11-inch paper. This is no time to stand out from the crowd.
- Use a standard typeface, and at least 10-point type, preferably 12 point.
- Boldfaced type looks businesslike while italics type looks a little social—to say nothing of being a problem if your resume is online . Skip all other fancy or unusual typefaces or devices.
- Single-space your resume, but use double spaces be-tween blocks of copy for easier readability.
- Use parallel heads for parallel sections. For example, if your Employment History is boldfaced, then your Work History and all other major categories should be as well. Don’t boldface one and italicize another.
- Finally, strive for the utmost in consistency in your resume’s physical format—and also in its content, for that matter. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds everywhere except in a resume. There, it’s utterly You’ve got about thirty seconds to put yourself across, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, a resume that’s consistent in its layout looks as if it comes from a consistent mind.
Study the examples that follow. Which ones look least cluttered to you? Which resume has the most pleasing appearance?
Resume 1 in picture below is the most pleasing to the eye, because it follows standard guidelines used by graphic designers and typesetters to organize type for magazines, books, and other printed materials. The white margins are equal on the top and two sides and slightly larger at the bottom. Identical heads are used to introduce parallel sections of information. It also makes the most efficient use of space.
Resume 2 won’t hurt the reader’s eyes, but it does waste valuable space that might better be put to use selling your job skills. This is a popular format and actually works fairly well for a one-page resume. If your resume is short, this may be the perfect layout for you.
Resume 3 is cluttered-looking. The margins are too small; the arrangement of type on the page appears to follow no set pattern. Initially, subheads are aligned with the left margin; then they are in the center of the page. All in all, this is a messy-looking resume, better avoided.
Draw several rough sketches of your resume once you have culled enough information so that you can begin to visualize how you might arrange it. The resume may turn out differently when you actually type it, but drawing it first will give you an idea where copy blocks should go and how much space to allot for everything.
Using Headlines to Divide the Resume
Draw up a list of other heads you will need—usually these include Education, Work History or Employment, Personal, Honors or Professional Honors, Publications, and Military Service. These heads are all similar—that is, they introduce blocks of descriptive copy—so they should all be identical. You can choose to underline them, capitalize them, put them flush left or right or center them on the page. But make sure that they are all exactly alike and in the same position on the page.
Building a Resume with Information Blocks
The next step is to organize the information blocks that will go under the heads. Anything not used to label a section is an information block. Information blocks are the paragraphs that contain information about your education, work history, and so on.
They should be organized to look as much alike as possible. There will be some problems: for example, the sections on your employment history and your education will contain dates, whereas the personal-information section and the professional-honors section may not. Just remember that the dates must be done in exactly the same way in all sections with dates.
Information blocks may be written in paragraph form as follows:
October 1985-June 1995, ABC Company
After a six-month training period, I went to work in the department responsible for purchasing machine parts. I was promoted to assistant buyer for machine parts in 1988. In 1989, I assumed direction of all buying for the company.
Information blocks may be organized into lists, as follows:
1990-1994 Duke University, B.A., literature
1994-1995 Indiana University, M.A., cultural anthropology
These two examples show several points you need to consider when planning your resume. First, decide whether you want information blocks indented and if so, how much they will be indented. You can also decide what kind of indents you want. You can indent the first line three to five spaces, as follows:
Established new approaches, systems, and procedures in product development at ABC Publishing Company.
Developed a step-by-step approach to planning…
You can use a hanging indent, in which the first line is flush left and the remaining lines are indented, as follows:
Established new approaches, systems, and procedures in product development at ABC Publishing Company. Developed a step-by-step approach to planning…
Or you can decide not to indent at all and use space only to separate the paragraphs. Whatever you do, be consistent— do exactly the same thing to every paragraph.
Second, decide whether you want to use periods at the end of information blocks. Since complete sentences usually end with periods, the answer is nearly always yes. But if you have several lists that are not complete sentences, you should omit periods. Here is an example of a list where periods would be incorrect:
Familiar with Macintosh and IBM computers
WordPerfect, WordStar, Xy-Write
Data entry, word processing, newsletters
Study resumes in this book to see how periods and other punctuation are used.
Try to keep information blocks similar in size. If one does run longer than the others, it should be the one describing your most recent position. Detailed descriptions of early jobs should gradually be pared down as you gain more experience.
Once you have decided what goes into each information block, how you will indent it, and whether you will use periods at the end, decide whether you want to emphasize anything within the block. In your employment section, for example, you will probably want to emphasize the titles of the jobs you have held. You can do this with space:
December 1987-November 1995 Senior editor
Or you can use other devices:
Senior editor, Olympia Publishing, 1987-1995
The best way to add emphasis within an information block is to underline. Capital letters are too strong to use except as a headline.
But be careful about adding too much emphasis. Many people make that mistake in a resume. Underline only those words or numbers that you truly want to stand out—such as a title or company name—or headline.
The best way to learn about resume formats is to study other resumes and magazines and books to see how the type is handled in them. Gradually, you will develop an eye for what looks pleasing on the printed page and what looks messy.