Even though there are hundreds of articles professing the beauty and efficiency of the one page résumé, not a day passes where I don’t see a five pager. The issue of length has even surfaced amongst college undergrads applying for internships, who seem to have increasing difficulty trimming their list of accomplishments and experiences into a single page (really). This is a troubling sign for future HR and recruiting professionals tasked with selecting applicants, as job seekers who are unable to shorten their credentials will continue to have difficulty in their search.
The amount of time a recruiter or hiring manager spends reviewing any single résumé varies by the individual. When offered a single page résumé, the reader is much more inclined to give that page a proper scan to make a fair assessment. A two page offering should get a proper review as well.
The moment a reader realizes that a résumé is more than say two or three pages, negative impressions flow and the reader becomes less inclined to give the document their full attention. Just the appearance of several pages in a preview pane causes the résumé’s owner to lose favor instantly. The applicant has made the reader work harder than is necessary to make a simple yes/no decision on their candidacy, which leads to this negative impression.
This does not mean that a long résumé will never get positive results, but positive results are in spite of (and not due to) the résumé’s length. The decision to interview a candidate can usually be made within seconds if the résumé is properly written, and any content beyond that only serves to lessen the impact of the vital material.
Why is it important to have a shorter résumé?
The biggest problem for applicants using several pages is that important content gets lost. It’s a simple signal-to-noise issue, perpetuated to some degree by candidates being afraid to omit an item that has a small chance of garnering interest from a manager or the inclusion of several words/phrases that may attract the virtual eye of ATS software. Highly qualified candidates are passed over every day due to untrained or impatient screeners not readily finding the content sought.
The inability to distill work history and qualifications could also indicate poor communication skills. Someone using a five page résumé may be deemed more likely to write lengthy emails, reports, and employee evaluations, not to mention the possible correlation to verbose code and comments.
Both candidates and those that assess them benefit from shorter résumés.
What are the most common reasons for long résumés?
Bullets and formatting – Bullets are an effective way to highlight a few accomplishments. Unfortunately, writers frequently misuse and overuse bullets to bring attention to items that would be better displayed in combination or as lists. This is notably a problem in Summary or Profile sections, where two or three crafted sentences would be infinitely more effective than perhaps five to ten bullet points. (Aside: Today I saw a résumé with a Summary section of 23 bullet points that occupied an entire page of a seven page résumé, where most of the bullets detailed proficiency with individual technologies later listed in the Skills section. A summary should be brief by definition. The last bullet, of course? ”Strong written communication skills”)
Improperly formatting an entire document or sections can also lead to length issues. White space is always suggested to assist in readability, so it may require some creativity to try and maximize your use of the available space. A poorly designed table can take up much more space than is needed. Experimenting with line spacing, fonts, margins, and indents can help your cause.
CVs and cultural differences – Another explanation for multi-page résumés is the common use of CVs outside North America, as CVs are often much longer and more detailed than what US companies expect or desire. In my personal experience, it has become apparent that candidates raised and educated in foreign countries are much more likely to use several pages than candidates from the US and Canada, which is entirely understandable given the customs in many other countries. The unfortunate consequence is that foreign candidates face yet another hiring challenge based on this difference which could be easily avoided.
When making decisions about interviews and forming opinions about candidates based on the résumé alone, it’s important for recruiters and hiring managers to consider cultural differences as an attributing factor. It will also be helpful to inform applicants who submit a CV that the preferred document in the US is a shorter résumé. When CV users in the US start using the more accepted and brief résumé format, the industry will be better off as a whole.
Redundancy – Many technical résumés include multiple redundancies when referring to skills and proficiencies. You may see one bullet “Proficient with Python” followed by a bullet saying “Proficient with Ruby” instead of simply combining them, or several lines in a paragraph that use identical or similar phrasing to introduce an experience or skill. Other résumés list a text block containing identical company name and location information with different job titles due to promotions and movement within an organization. Listing the same information several times on a résumé does little to reinforce your experience on the reader.
TMI, relevancy, and prioritization – Most résumés include passages that are entirely unnecessary and only serve to occupy space in areas where more useful data could be provided. For experienced job seekers, this extraneous material may be college details (coursework, GPA, honors) from many years ago or dated past employment that has become irrelevant to your current skill set. Some job seekers feel the need to write descriptions of an employer’s line of business and history, even if that company is widely known. (Aside: The résumé with the 23 bullet points mentioned above included four sentences on what Google does.)
CV formats often used by foreign developers are more likely to list minute details of each technical environment. This includes languages, operating systems, IDE’s, frameworks and libraries, app servers, databases, methodologies, and build tools, sometimes complete with version and release numbers. The sheer volume of this data can be quite cumbersome for contractors and consultants who work for several clients in a year, which is the norm for many new arrivals to the US. This information is rarely a major factor in interview assessments, wastes valuable space, and portrays the writer in a negative light due to a perceived inability to prioritize the minimal importance of this information.
Résumé reuse – Candidates who might apply for a range of positions typically use a single résumé during the application process. When you possess the qualifications for many roles, it’s best to create multiple versions that stress a primary role while also referencing the other roles you could handle. Using one résumé for web dev, sysadmin, and devops roles will water down your real value by trying to appeal equally to each set of requirements. Customizing a document for each of those roles, while giving careful mention to your experience in those other areas, is more effective.
Everyone is able to distill their career into a one or two page document if they are willing to prioritize what is important, pay attention to formatting, and be efficient with words (said the guy who wrote the 1200+ word essay on résumé length).