How long can my executive resume be? Are two or three pages in length OK?

How long can my executive resume be?

There is a lot of bad advice online about job searching. One of the most outdated job search adages is “a resume can only be one page in length.” This advice is usually given to students from their university career center staff members, but it’s a message that’s so deeply embedded into our brains as “an absolute truth” like “don’t wear white after labor day” that often accomplished executives with 15+ years of experience and career advancement take too literally.

We know a Vice President of Marketing who spent hours trying to squeeze her experience onto a single sheet. The margins were tight. The text was too small. And it lacked white space or breathing room. Think about it: there is no way you can do justice to a 20-year career narrative when it’s crammed into a one-page document.

Longer resumes are now considered completely acceptable to hiring managers. Forbes now says the one-page resume rule is outdated. The Ladders 100K Club equates using a one-pager with “references available upon request” at the bottom of your document. Unnecessary.

According to science, a longer executive resume could be better

2018 study by ResumeGo found that recruiters are 2.3 times as likely to prefer two-page resumes over one-page resumes, regardless of a candidate’s job level. Recruiters were also willing to spend up to twice as much time reading a resume that was two pages long, according to the study.

But how exactly do you know when to use a one-page, two-page, or even a three-page resume? The answer depends on many factors.  Here are the top things to consider:

Career Length and Experience

Simply put, people with longer careers and more work experience will have more material to include on their resumes. This means that a two-page resume (or longer) will allow people to showcase their extended list of skills and accomplishments.

“Don’t forget your resume is a marketing document.  Be sure it doesn’t read like an itemized receipt.”

Resume Expert Meg McCormick Martin

But how many years of work experience equal a two-page resume? A good rule of thumb is that ten or more years of work experience will require a two-page resume.  But don’t include everything!  Condense earlier parts of your career to prioritize the most relevant material for your current job search on the first page. Recent research by indeed.com says that hiring managers spend a mere 6-7 seconds scanning applicants’ resumes, so what you include on the first page is critically important.

When it comes to choosing which information can be discarded, resume expert Meg McCormick Martin recently suggested on LinkedIn that people cut details from jobs they held over 15 years ago. “Don’t forget your resume is a marketing document.  Be sure it doesn’t read like an itemized receipt.”

Consider The Type of Industry 

Two-page resumes (or longer) are also common in technical or academic fields where lists of certifications and/or publications are necessary.   Cari Pisoni, commenting on a LinkedIn post, said “In the technical arena, it is almost impossible to represent your experience with only one page (assuming you have more than one year of experience or more than one job). In my industry (IT/Technical/Software Development), two pages would be the minimum for someone with more than three years of experience. Three pages is more standard.”

Two-Page Resume Format

If you opt for a two-page or three-page executive resume, your executive summary, work experience, and skills should appear on page one, while early career, education, awards, and board or community involvement can go on page two. 

Additional formatting tips for two-page resumes include:

  • Put your name and contact information in the resume header on page two and three. Do not include contact information in the header on page one as an ATS-system may not parse that space.
  • Avoid a short second page. If you discover that you have only a paragraph or even half a page of information on your second page,  edit it down to fit on one page by experimenting with font size and formatting. As a general rule of thumb, to justify an additional page, my personal philosophy is that the text should be at least a third of the way down the page.

Here is an example of a well-formatted two-page resume:

To learn more about the pros and cons of using a template, click here.

When is a One-Page Resume Appropriate? 

“Administer the Who Cares test. …If you like to read, knit, and play with your cat, leave it off!”

Career Development Expert ElaIne Varelas

A one-page resume is appropriate for recent graduates, entry-level job applicants (or others who have had shorter careers).  According to resume company enhancecv.com, a good rule of thumb is to have a one-page resume if you have less than five years of experience.

For new graduates, career development expert Elaine Varelas has specific advice. “Use bullets, not paragraphs,” she says. “Also, administer the Who Cares test. Will a hiring manager be impressed?  Not every club you were part of matters. If you were a leader , an athlete, led a cause, or raised money, put it in the resume. If you like to read, knit, and play with your cat, leave it off!”

Regardless of the length of your resume, don’t forget to use the following three guidelines for all resumes:

Three-page executive resume?

Many of our executive clients with 20+ years of career experience need a three-page resume to tell their story well. We tend to put the “meat” or the most relevant (to the client’s future career targets) career highlights on page one of the resume. With longer documents, it is essential to incorporate some light design elements such as bolding of text, shading, and call-out boxes to break up the text and make it easier for the recruiter or hiring manager to consume the document.

Three Evergreen Rules for All Resumes 

1. Customize Your Resume For Different Jobs

All too often, people write one resume and think they’re done. But think again! It is critically important to customize your resume to fit the needs of the different jobs you are applying for. 

“Customizing your resume is incredibly important,” says Tom Gerencer, career expert and CPRW. “You need to show in your bullet points that you’ve used the skills the job is asking for to great effect for past employers. That said, don’t grind your job search to a halt by meticulously customizing your resume for every application. Similar job postings will need similar skills, so you can use a one-size-fits-all approach to some extent.”

2. Use Resume Keywords And Phrases

Use resume keywords and phrases to optimize your resume for the Application Tracking System (ATS).   According to jobscan.co, it is estimated that a whopping 99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to automate their hiring process.  This means that it is not a person screening your resume, but a machine, so it is imperative to include in your resume keywords and phrases directly related to the specific job description. 

Be sure to use high-quality keywords, not just ones related to the job title.  According to getfive.com, a job search and HR site, high-quality keywords will help you stand out from the crowd.  Their recommendation? Look closely at the job description as well as the company’s LinkedIn pages (as well as the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile) for the ways they describe themselves and what they are looking for.

3. Convey Your Value By Listing Achievements

One thing recruiters seem to agree on is making sure your resume focuses on succinctly conveying your value.  As resume writer Adrienne Tom shared on a LinkedIn post: “Be sure to address the number one question every resume reader has: how can you help me?”

Tom Gerencer believes the cardinal sin when it comes to resumes is making them read like a job description. “If you only say you did the job duties listed in the online offer, then you’re making the hiring manager guess whether you did the job well or terribly. The good news? It’s so easy to stand out amid the pile of awful resumes…list achievements instead of job duties. Instead of saying “Handled sales training,” say, “Trained 15 sales team members in outbound selling, with a 95% success rate, contributing to a $1.5M annual increase in revenue.”

Resume FAQs

  • How long should a resume be?
    • Increasingly, two-page resumes are not only acceptable but encouraged. If you have more experience or are in a technical or academic field, two pages (or longer) are expected.
  • How should a two-page resume be structured?
    • Keep important information such as work experience and skills on the first page. The second page should include education, awards, volunteer information, etc. 
  • Where do I put my name and contact info on a two-page resume?
    • Include the resume header (including your contact information) on both pages.
  • My second page only has a paragraph or two! What should I do?
    • Edit it down to fit on one page by experimenting with font size and formatting.
  • Should I staple or paper clip my two-page resume?
    • Paper clip it.
  • Should entry level professionals have a two-page resume?
    • No. Generally, if you are entry-level, you should keep your resume one page. Think short and to the point.

Remember that more important than length is the quality of your resume. Make every word count, and make sure it is telling your career story.  If you do that, chances are people won’t even notice how long your resume is.

Authors

  • Sarah Johnston

    I’m a former corporate recruiter and industry “insider” who got tired of seeing talented high-achievers get passed over for opportunities because they did not have the right marketing documents or know how to position themselves in interviews. I have relocated multiple times across the country as a “trailing spouse” and have had to execute job searches in completely cold markets (where I literally knew no one!) I have been named a LinkedIn Top Voice in the career space in 2019, HR Weekly’s Top 100 Most Influential People in HR, named the owner of the “best resume writing firm for experienced executives” by Balance Careers and a “top follow” by JobScan in 2019 and 2020.

  • Sarah Midori Zimmerman

    Sarah is a writer and editor covering hospitality, travel, technology, and work topics. A former editor at Town & Country magazine, she is also a ghostwriter and college essay specialist. She was shortlisted for the V.S. Pritchett Prize and the Mogford Short Story Prize two years ago. She lives in London with her family.

Sarah Johnston

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