How many pages for a good resume?
A question I get asked quite frequently. And the answer is … it depends.
An effective résumé can be any length as long as it holds the employer’s interest, as long as the employer wants to read it to the end.
The argument for one-page résumés is that usually employers do not enjoy reading them so the shorter the better. But, if you can grab the employer’s interest with the first few lines and then hold that interest all the way through to the end, a résumé that is ‘un-put-downable’, a real ‘page turner’, then the number of pages is really not important.
OK, so how do we grab the employer’s interest in the first few lines and how do we then hold that interest through to the end? To answer that question, let’s look at it from the employer’s point of view. What is the employer interested in? Answer: in finding the right person to fill the specific position.
An effective résumé has to demonstrate how you would perform in the position. The employer is not interested in you as a person, but in how you would do the job. Therefore the résumé has to be about the job and how well you would do it rather than about you and your life history.
Let’s start by grabbing the employer’s interest within the first few lines. There have been a number of surveys that have suggested that employers spend on average between five and 30 seconds to decide whether or not an application is worth further consideration. The figure that I have chosen to work on is eight; eight seconds and, in that time, the employer can read about halfway down page one.
To grab the employer’s interest in this short time, you need to be talking not only about your knowledge and skills that are relevant to the job but also your motivation to do the job well. This is where the Career Summary or Career Objective come in. Whichever style of opening section you use, it will be a brief synopsis of why you are right for the job.
So don’t include a cover page; it tells the employer nothing and it takes up some of those precious eight seconds. Don’t have the word ‘Résumé’, or ‘Curriculum Vitae’, written in big letters across the top. Employers know what it is. Don’t use unnecessary words such as Address and Telephone. They know what they are.
Let’s look at how James Schofield (fictitious résumé in my book How to Get a Good Job After 50) does it:
A cabinet maker by trade, I have nine years experience as foreman at Wildwood Furniture, a high quality furniture manufacturing plant. I have participated in OSH training courses, taken part in skills audits, assisted the factory manager with job procedures, shut-downs and maintenance, and maintained close contact with all the workers on the shop floor.
To ensure that all orders are delivered in full, on time and in spec (IFOTIS), I have been active in all management meetings, including sales budgeting and reviewing performance measures in all areas of the factory – machine shop, assembly area and spray line. I participate in stocktakes and liaise with the Purchasing Officer re inventory control.
It is quite long and takes up a fair amount of the top half of page 1 but it tells the employer a lot about the applicant. It is obvious that he is not only skilled but also highly motivated. His motivation is demonstrated by all the extra things he has done, the skills audits, assisting the factory manager with job procedures, shut-downs and maintenance. This sentence too shouts motivation: “To ensure that all orders are delivered in full, on time and in spec (IFOTIS), I have been active in all management meetings, including sales budgeting and reviewing performance measures in all areas of the factory”. He is obviously someone who wants to see the business succeed and that means motivation.
Interestingly, this résumé is a full four pages long. It was written in response to a real advertisement and the employer was good enough to give me comments. He wrote: “I would certainly want to interview him. I like the layout of the résumé, mainly because it addresses the requirements outlined in the advertisement. Most applications are generic, listing everything a person has done for the last ten or fifteen years. You can waste a lot of time trying to find out whether they have actually done what you require for the position. James seems keen to join our company and that sets his application apart from others.” (The whole résumé is available for free download on this website).
Now we come to holding the employer’s interest through to the end. How does James achieve this? The next section of his résumé, ‘Relevant Skills and Achievements’, occupies two pages. In this section, he demonstrates through the use of specific achievements how he meets the selection criteria for the position he is applying for. This would make interesting reading for the employer – and I rather think that James’ application would get more than eight seconds attention!
A Skills and Achievements section is a feature of a functional or hybrid résumé and would not be included in a chronological one. But the same approach can be taken in a chronological résumé. Here is the career history section of Richard Parker’s chronological résumé:
Account Manager / Sales
Over-the-Top Roofing Centre, Geraldton 2003-2015
- Set up a ‘supply and fit’ service to the domestic building industry throughout the Mid-West Region. This enabled the start-up company to gain significant market penetration against two already well-established, national roofing suppliers.
- Built and maintained a loyal customer base across the whole region. This has enabled me to meet all sales targets in spite of a depressed building market.
Builder / Site Supervisor
Carnegie Constructions, Geraldton, 1993-2003
- Responsible for the construction of the Garth Penderbury project, a $27 million hospitality development at Yalgoo. The project consisted of a 3-storey hotel, 52 self-catering units, 5 restaurants and an information centre. The Garth Penderbury Centre now caters for about 20,000 tourists a year.
By using achievement statements, Richard has demonstrated not only his skills but also his motivation and initiative, and his strong desire to ensure that his employer organisation is successful. (This résumé too is available for free download from this website.)
Telling the employer what he or she wants to learnis the secret to writing a page-turner résumé, one that employers will want to read to the end.