Resume Length – the Long and Short of It (Nov 04)

In the recruiting business, our first contact with a job seeker is most often a resume received via e-mail. We all know what they say about first impressions. Even though most recruiters realize that many technology professionals are not necessarily experienced resume authors, the resume is still something that you should take very seriously. And resume length is a common and growing (pun intended) problem.

The length of your resume should be directly related to the length of your career. This sounds obvious, but in the past few weeks we have seen six page resumes from Java programmers with two years of experience as well as one page resumes from senior professionals with a twenty year career.

Why is this a problem? Neither recruiters, HR professionals, or technical managers want to or are willing to read several pages to understand your background. Typically, your resume only gets scanned over before a decision of some kind is made. The better you can condense your experience, the better your shot at getting in the door.

The Long of It…

The biggest culprits responsible for resumes that read like a Tolstoy novel are redundancy and TMI (too much information). In regards to the most common redundant resumes, they typically start off with the usual suspects – objective or summary (we prefer a summary) and a technical skills section or matrix. Good so far, but then the problems start. After the technical skills listing, the resume lists the the companies he/she has worked for with the job titles and corresponding dates of employment WITHOUT any details of the accomplishments and responsibilities. Then, the resume lists the project details (often ‘ad nauseam’) for each employer, again including the job titles and corresponding dates. If this candidate has had five or so jobs, the redundancy is quite evident and costs perhaps a page.

TMI is a different problem altogether and falls into a couple categories. The first TMI category is the resume that lists every significant and insignificant detail of a project. What is significant? Your role on the project, the technologies you used and how you used them, any business implications of the project (which can give you an advantage if applying for a role in the same vertical industry), and the results/accomplishments of the project. If you extract the most important details of this, you should be able to turn a project into a moderately size paragraph.

The second TMI category is what we would classify as ‘old jobs’. Chances are, what your role five or ten years ago isn’t the same role you are in now, and your skill set has changed drastically during the course of your career. It is unnecessary to spend a lot of words on detailing positions that are not relevant to your current skill set or positions you are currently seeking. If a job is more than ten years old, a couple sentences should probably suffice.

The Short of It…

A one page resume is usually appropriate for entry level candidates or professionals with under a few years of applicable experience in the field. Trying to stretch your short career into a two or three page resume would probably require too much detail. If you have had between five and ten years of professional experience, your resume should probably be between two and three pages. A one page resume for you would be insufficient to provide the necessary details to market your accomplishments effectively.

Summary and the Law of Diminishing Returns

A very simplified example of the Law of Diminishing Returns could be demonstrated by a restaurant – if you put 4 cooks in the kitchen you can probably get a good meal out quickly, but with 100 cooks you lose productivity. With resumes, too many words and too much detail begin to water down your message and provide a diluted version of who you are. Choose your words carefully and think about whether or not your resume efficiently portrays who you are today. And – very few exceptions – no one needs a resume longer than three pages!

5 thoughts on “Resume Length – the Long and Short of It (Nov 04)

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