Over time I have written a lot about résumés. That is why I am surprised at myself for not writing this sooner. Most résumés I receive are the right length, but many are way too long and contain too much information. I saw something on television last week that said a résumé should always only be one or two pages. That isn't necessarily correct, either.
When I get a résumé from someone only two or four years out of college and it runs to two or three pages, it is too long. Most of the length is taken up with unnecessary verbiage and descriptions. If one is changing jobs within the same profession, résumés should never tell the obvious – most résumés, especially from junior account executives, say things like, “liaison with the client” or “handle budgets” or “responsible for job status reports”. Those are things which are taken for granted by anyone who knows what a junior account person does; they are also easily addressed in an interview. More important is to put down what you actually accomplished or did that you are proud of and what is important. The sign of a successful executive is one who can separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. And your internship during high school at Dairy Queen, unless relevant to your career is unnecessary (it can always be brought up on an interview if necessary).
I wrote several years ago that résumés need to only contain where you have worked, how long you were there, what you worked on and did, and maybe a brief accomplishment or two. Sadly, the average person who reads a résumé will only spend six seconds on it; that's right, only six seconds. That is why it is important that résumés be no longer than they have to be.
For most careers two or three pages is sufficient. Occasionally I receive résumés from senior people that go on for five or seven pages. No one cares what you did fifteen or twenty years ago, unless it is totally memorable and momentous. I see plenty of very senior people – presidents, EVP’s and senior vice presidents – that have only only one page résumés, which is often sufficient.
There is one exception. It comes from format which came to my attention many years ago. In his excellent book, “Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1,000,000” author John Lucht, described a wonderful format which works best for senior executives. It is a narrative, starting with current job and working backwards. But it starts out (I am paraphrasing), “I was hired to….” And then goes on to describe what was done and how it was accomplished. This format can run to over a dozen pages for a senior executive. It isn’t too long if it is well written. This is a particularly effective format if you are considering a change in career into a completely foreign field. The book is worth reading for anyone who is considering changing jobs, even within their chosen field.
However, for most people who are staying their current course, shorter is better. Remember, one of the principle uses of a résumé is as an interview guide, so put down what you want to be asked about. And keep it to a page or three.