How Long Should Your Resume Be in 2021 (Expert Advice)
Your resume needs to market you effectively, which is a lot to ask from a couple of pieces of paper. It needs to include enough about you to prove you are qualified for the job you’re applying for without overwhelming the reader. How long your resume should be is related to how far back your resume should go.
Your resume length is the number of pages your resume takes up. Your resume length can vary based on factors like your experience, your field, and the job you’re applying for. So, how long should YOUR resume be?
This article will walk you through several examples, exceptions, and the keys to success our team of professional resume writers use to get a resume to the correct number of pages. Here are the topics this post covers:
When should your resume be one page?
When should your resume be two pages?
When should your resume be three pages–or more?
How to get your resume to the right length (10 tips)
“The one-page resume standard is no longer applicable in today’s job market,” says Jennifer Johnson.
“The one-page resume standard is no longer applicable in today’s job market,” says Jennifer Johnson, a professional resume writer and veteran recruiter. She spent more than 10 years hiring and developing talent for Fortune 500 companies.
“The strategic goal should focus on keyword optimization, meaning the resume should have a strong mix of skills and terms that support their qualifications. For many job seekers, limiting themselves to one page can mean omitting important keywords, causing their resume to fail ATS scans and therefore lose out on important job opportunities.”
Confused? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of how long your resume should be and exactly what those pages should include.
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When should your resume be one page?
You should limit your resume to one page if:
You’re writing your first resume–congratulations!
Your industry or job target recommends a single page.
You just graduated from college.
Why your resume should be one page
Your resume can safely stick to one page if that is all you need to market yourself. One page resumes can be scanned over quickly by the human eye, so a one-page resume could appeal to in-person scenarios like job fairs and networking events.
If you have a two-page resume with no work experience, it probably contains filler words and information that isn’t relevant to your current job application. Cut your resume down to one page by tailoring your resume to your relevant experience.
If you’re making a career change, your past experience is unlikely to be fully relevant to the new job target. Try to lead with your transferable skills and abilities if you’re in this position, rather than experience. A functional resume format may be better for you.
The same goes for recent grads. Odds are that you don’t have two pages of relevant experience. However, some graduates have multiple internships, volunteer work, on-campus activities, or publications that belong on a resume. If you just graduated, read more about how to search for a job as a recent graduate.
When should your resume be two pages?
Most resumes should be two pages long. Two pages are the standard length in 2021 to fit all your keywords, work history, experience, and skills on your resume.
Here are some situations that indicate you should use a two-page resume:
You are not an entry-level candidate.
You have enough relevant skills, experience, and keywords to fill at least a page and a half.
You’re submitting a resume online.
You’re handing a resume to a hiring manager.
If you’re concerned a two-page resume will slow down a hiring manager during their six-second resume test, remember that this “six-second” figure comes from a review after an ATS scan has determined your fit for the position. If you’re able to bypass an ATS, one study suggests that when time constraints are not an issue, recruiters are 2.3 times more likely to prefer a two-page resume.
Why your resume should be two pages
Your resume will most likely need two pages to show your career progression. If you have more than 10 years of experience, you’ll also want your resume to include a professional summary and possibly a career highlights section. These are both excellent opportunities to fit in more keywords.
For highly skilled applicants, a two-page resume will also fit all your relevant experience, education, certifications, and additional training.
When should your resume be three pages?
Your resume should rarely be three pages or more. Most of the information for a three-page resume is better suited for a LinkedIn profile or a comprehensive CV.
“Though we generally advise against a resume length beyond two pages, sometimes it’s necessary,” says Jennifer. “Some professions and industries have a different set of standards when it comes to resumes and therefore require more information.”
Why your resume should be three pages
You could have more than two pages if you’re a high-level or senior-level executive or in a very complex, technical field. For example, a scientist may need more than two pages to showcase background, education, published work, and studies. An executive resume usually shows a clear progression of responsibility and job titles with many related experiences.
Your professional document can be three pages if you are actually writing a Curriculum Vitae (CV). This is more common if you’re applying for jobs outside of the USA—read more about the difference between a resume and a CV here. In the US and Canada, there are some other industries that use CVs such as academia and medical.
Federal resumes also follow a different format and can easily be three pages or more.
For most job searches, you should focus on your most recent 10 to 15 years of experience.
“Consider utilizing your LinkedIn profile to fit the relevant work experience that is important, but not strictly necessary on your resume,” suggests Caitlin.
“Consider utilizing your LinkedIn profile to fit the information that is important, but not strictly necessary on your resume,” suggests Caitlin, a ZipJob career expert and certified professional resume writer (CPRW).
“Most hiring managers will look for a LinkedIn profile before they call you for an interview, so it’s another chance for you to prove your qualifications. On the other hand, it might convince them not to call you if it’s widely different from your resume or includes additional information that is off-putting.”
Read our article on writing an effective LinkedIn profile for more information.
How to get your resume to the right length
If you’re starting from scratch, check out our advice on how to write a resume first. Once you have a draft to work from, use the 10 tips below to add or subtract your resume length.
1. Focus on your most recent experience
Your potential employer wants to see your most recent skills and experience. You don’t need to include an internship from 15 years ago! If you haven’t used those skills since then, they are not going to help you land this job.
This applies to the work experience descriptions on your resume, as well. If you had the same responsibilities under multiple entries, consider including it only under the position you held most recently.
Put the focus on your most recent professional experience. In general, you shouldn’t include any jobs from over 15 years ago. This will help you keep the focus on what you’re capable of now, as well as minimize age bias.
Exception: education. Your hard-earned degrees are almost always relevant, no matter how long ago you earned them.
2. Focus on your most relevant experience
If you’ve jumped around on your career path, try to downplay (or exclude) positions that aren’t relevant to this particular job description. Your resume does not have to include every place you’ve worked or every job you’ve held–that’s a common myth but isn’t doing you any favors.
If you do want to list all your positions to establish a career trajectory or avoid gaps in your resume, limit the information you include with the less-relevant jobs. Expand the impact and results of your most recent and relevant jobs, and include three or fewer bullet points for the other information.
3. Remove graphics
Some content, while current, doesn’t deserve to be on your resume; when applying online, you should remove all graphics and logos from your resume. These cute images turn into confusing lines of code to an ATS, so save visuals for your LinkedIn or a printed resume.
Your resume does not need a headshot or selfie. Save that for your online profiles (but keep it professional!).
4. Do NOT use a Bitmoji or other “alternative” to a photo.
“I’m stumped by this trend,” says Caitlin, Zipjob’s Marketing Manager. “I love seeing creative displays of personality on a resume, but Bitmoji are cartoons. Stand out from the applicant pool in other ways that will earn you more respect.”
From a technical standpoint, as with other graphics, Bitmoji turn into jumbled nonsense to an ATS. Unlike logos or artistic headers–which can be appropriate for graphic designer resumes in print form–Bitmoji never have a place on a resume.
Keep your cartoon self firmly in the realm of social media and informal communication: your professional resume document is neither.
5. Combine multiple related bullet points into one bullet point
If you have multiple lines on the same subject within your job experience, you can often combine the statements into one.
Example: Optimize your space by combining functions
Ensured our marketing had a positive ROI.
Utilized marketing tools to ensure maximum ROI.
Managed the marketing team to ensure smooth and efficient projects were deployed.
Implemented and managed a marketing campaign with extensive A/B testing to achieve a 190% ROI.
The three bullets can easily be grouped together to form a statement that’s sure to impress an employer. If you have paragraphs, you should turn those into bullet points as well.
6. Remove a ‘references’ section
References are assumed and don’t deserve to be mentioned on your resume [link]. Don’t list them out, and don’t include the line ‘references available upon request.’
Instead, make a separate reference document to provide when asked. A hiring manager doesn’t need this early on in the application process. Your resume’s goal is to get you a phone call, and then to schedule an interview. Keep it focused on you and the value you would bring to this company.
Pro tip: bring a printed copy to your interview, and keep an email draft with names, contact information, current job titles, and your relationship to the person.
7. Remove a ‘hobbies and interests’ section
“Sometimes listing your hobbies and interests can help you stand out from the job-seeker crowd,” says Jennifer. “But tread carefully: Some hobbies/interests can have a negative effect based on the personal biases of your audience.”
If you feel strongly about your hobbies or interests, include them in your summary section as opposed to their own section, and stick to the main one or two that make you stand out as an applicant and a co-worker.
Safe hobbies or interests that can set you apart from other applicants:
Musical talent: if you play an instrument, sing in a band, or write music
Physical activities: If you hike, swim, or kayak
Community-focused work: if you’re involved with charity work, Eagle Scouts, or local theater
Steer clear of anything with a religious or political affiliation.
A better way of including hobbies or interests is to join LinkedIn groups related to the topic, or posting about your passions on LinkedIn or another blogging forum. You can also establish yourself as an expert or thought leader on Reddit and Quora, which will likely come up when an interested hiring manager looks you up online before calling you in for an interview.
Example: Including interests/hobbies in a resume summary:
8. Use an active voice
Your resume should read in an active voice. This conveys that you are a self-starter and that you can connect what you did with the impact it made in your previous positions; it also makes your experience more tangible and effective.
Be sure to use the active voice to emphasize your career highlights. Mention any accomplishments that are financial, a special award or recognition, or simply an initiative for which you demonstrated leadership.
Resumes traditionally aren’t written with any pronouns, so using the active voice simply includes whatever would come after “I achieved…” or “I am proud that I…”
When you start using more active language and quantifiable achievements, you will see that you’re left with a more concise, effective resume.
9. Change your resume’s formatting
If your resume has wide margins and a large font, you’re going to have a hard time fitting all the information you need on two pages. After clarifying the content, read our advice on resume margins and font size, as well as the top 10 resume fonts. This will help your resume appear balanced, relevant, and easy to read.
Many people opt to use templates they find online. The templates you find on Etsy, Canva, or other sites are often very visually appealing and use a lot of white space; however, multiple columns can confuse ATS scans so proceed with caution.
“If your resume includes more than a square inch of white space at any point, adjust your settings. That’s valuable real estate! Play with the margins, tabs, and justification settings,” advises Caitlin.
Note: white space refers to spaces without content, no matter what color you’ve opted to use or any lines you’ve incorporated into your resume.
Finally, be wary of any site or resume builder that offers a subscription service for resume templates–they’re notorious for charging unknowing job seekers month after month. When in doubt, DIY your resume or hire a reputable service.
You can find different price points for resume services on our free resource: 10 Best Resume Writing Services 2021 US + CA (All Industries)
For more advice about your resume from our professional resume writers, start your free resume review from the experts at ZipJob.
10. Keep tailoring
A tailored outfit fits you perfectly. You can only manage that by trimming away the excess. To make your resume length a perfect fit, you need to trim away anything that doesn’t fit for each job.
Look at every line of your resume document from the perspective of a hiring manager: does each line prove you are a good fit for the position? If not: cut it out!
There is no rule set in stone when asking “How many pages should a resume be?”. What is more important is that the information on your resume be of importance and relativity to the position you seek. If you need something to measure by, try to fit your resume within two full pages, including only information that will help you get that particular job.
Good luck with your job search!
Caitlin Proctor, CPRW, Certified Professional Résumé Writer
Caitlin joined the ZipJob team in 2019 as a professional resume writer and career advisor. She specializes in strategic advice for executives, career pivots, and remote workers. Read more resume advice from Caitlin on ZipJob’s blog.
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