In a culture dominated by short posts, videos, and other content on social media, we all face enormous pressure to communicate ever more briefly. When it comes to resumes, recent trends have lowered preferred lengths to two to three pages. If your resume is long, how can you possibly condense it without losing value?
As a certified and award-winning resume writer, I face this dilemma on a daily basis. Most resumes contain a lot of “fat” in the form of run-on sentences, unwieldy skill descriptions, lackluster branding, and unnecessary details. By trimming these problem areas, your resume can become a lean, mean, brand communication machine.
But isn’t it better to include more content so you can weave in more keywords throughout your resume? No, actually.
When it comes to resume writing, less is generally more. Here’s why:
- Recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers are, like most of us, overworked and inundated with information overload. Crisp, lean sentences filled with the right details will stand out more in a sea of candidates.
- Too many keywords in a document can actually be a negative thing because it may make it appear that you are stuffing your document for the sole purpose of ranking high in resume searches. The database systems, or Applicant Tracking Systems, that recruiters, companies, and job boards use to store and analyze incoming resumes are sophisticated enough to identify which documents have the right range of keywords specified in applicant searches—enough to meet their needs but not too much to raise eyebrows. In other words, keyword density is important, but too many keywords is a red flag.
- Important details stand out more when there is less text, especially if those details have been whittled and shaped wisely. Clogging up your resume with unnecessary information and vague details impairs its ability to communicate your brand in the four to five seconds it is screened by humans.
Let’s take a look at a few length targets to give you an idea where your resume is out of balance. While there are few hard and fast resume rules, these are general guidelines that most highly experienced and credentialed writers and career coaches follow.
Resume & Content Length Guidelines
Most recruiters expect resumes to be two to three pages in length, with a strong preference for two pages in North America. While this varies from recruiter to recruiter, most like to see two-page resumes for job seekers with up to 10-15 years of experience. For those with considerably more experience, a three-page resume may be necessary to capture and present all relevant details.
One-Page Resume Rule
There is (and never has been) a one-page-only resume rule, though. Those with limited experience may find that length most appropriate for their needs.
Career summary statements have shortened since the 2008 recession and now trend at three to six lines of text. In mid-career, mid-management, and executive resumes, it is often appropriate to add branding content to this section of the resume, though generally such material is best restricted to up to the first half of the document’s first page. Work It Daily recommends ditching the career summary entirely and focusing on a headline instead—a short summary of the problem you solve that highlights your personal brand.
Core competency sections are best limited to six to eight skills. At Work It Daily, we call this the “Experience Summary,” which is a list of any skills and requirements you possess that are needed for a certain job and are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
Bullets Per Role
Too many bulleted statements in a resume overwhelm your reader. Limit bullets to five per role if possible, but don’t list fewer than three, either.
Ideally, bullets should be limited to two lines of space. If additional critical details must be included, consider separating content into different bullets.
Amount of Work History to Include
Recruiters typically are most interested in the last 10-15 years of your experience, so this is the amount of experience you will want to profile on your resume. Older relevant experience can be briefly summarized in your “Additional Experience” section at the end of your resume. In most cases, any irrelevant work experience can be safely eliminated altogether. The usual exception is recent college grads and young professionals just starting out their careers who already have limited work experience to quantify and show off.
Resume Shortening Strategies
1. Say More with Less
Cut out words that aren’t needed and delete words that are repeated. When you’re fighting a two-line bullet length, every word counts.
2. Leverage Action Verbs
While all verbs convey action of some sort, some contain more energy and action than others. It may be accurate to say you wrote the company’s five-year plan, for example, but it’s more powerful to say that you strategized, authored, and executed the company’s first-ever five-year plan.
3. Eliminate Passive Language
Passive language on a resume masks the true role you played in the task you’re describing. The sentence, “I was exposed to different cultures, people, and challenges” is weaker than, “Gained cross-functional and cross-cultural exposure to 5 ethnicities in 12 countries,” for example.
4. Be Specific
Avoid vague descriptors and phrases such as “a variety of,” “many,” “others,” and “successfully.” Replace them with specific details that add value and meaning to the text.
5. Use Numbers Whenever Possible
Numbers talk, so it’s imperative to use them in resumes to quantify key achievements and context information. Don’t tell your reader that you exceeded sales targets. Show them how much you surpassed goals year-over-year. Every bullet point under your “Work History” section should contain at least one number. If you only follow one tip in this article, this should be the one.
Many old-style resumes and built-in MS Word templates don’t use the most effective format to get a hiring manager’s attention. In your resume, make sure you’re using a clean, 11-18 pt. font (Arial, Calibri). Also, don’t shrink your margins to fit more text on a page. This will sacrifice white space and make your resume harder to read. Finally, place your titles and employer names on one line if you held only one role with the company, and eradicate widows and orphans (stray paragraph lines and single words on a line by themselves).
Some content can be categorized or sub-categorized to convey information in more powerful ways. Subdividing a long series of bullets, say, into three to four categories that emphasize the cross-functionality of your skill set will not only make your achievements easier to read, but it will also showcase your multi-function brand while adding industry-specific keywords to the resume.
Give your readers the right quality and type of detail to help them understand the full scope of your impact. For instance, if you turned around an operation, that’s a critical accomplishment to include. But including before and after context details will automatically strengthen the presentation. How much money was the business losing per month or year prior to your tenure? How much profit or revenue was it generating by the time you left?
9. Focus on Results
In real estate, it’s location, location, location that is critical; in resumes, it’s achievements, achievements, achievements. Numerically quantified statements communicate volumes of information in fewer words while conveying your accomplishment in specific, measurable terms. Here’s a sentence from a client’s original resume: “Managed multimillion dollars business and IT initiatives from inception to implementation to increase productivity, reduce operational cost, and improve service quality by collaborating with IT staff, C-level executives, business users, and external healthcare service providers.” Here’s a revamp that shortens the sentence from 35 to 25 words while adding content to dramatically improve its results focus: “Ramped productivity 15%, cut operational costs $7M, and strengthened service quality 14%, leading $25M to $50M cross-functional business and IT initiatives from inception to rollout.” Notice that the original bullet spanned three lines while the revamp needs just two.
10. Ditch Extraneous Details
Choose carefully which details you include and how you do so. For example, in the original client sentence included in the prior bullet, you’ll find a list of folks this person collaborated with in his position. The results he achieved are more central to his brand so I substituted the word “cross-functional” to cover my client’s list of four groups that required 11 words to describe. A distinction that underlines many of the above points is to recognize the difference between resume content that is important versus that which is critical to include.
There simply isn’t room for all of your skills and entire work history on a resume, so sooner or later you have to choose which important details are must-haves. By following the 10 tips above, you’ll know exactly what to include and omit so you can successfully condense your resume without losing value.
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This post was originally published at an earlier date.
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