Two readers commented last week about efforts to cut their resumes down to one page. “Why would you want to do that?” I replied. For most candidates, a single page resume doesn’t work as well as you may think …
Many mid-level and senior candidates have been misled into believing that single page resumes are critical and are more likely to be read – this used to be true. But like so many things I cover in job search, the times have changed. Here’s why a single page resume probably isn’t your best choice.
Why did single page resumes become popular in the first place?
As a job seeker, why are you sometimes advised to use a single page resume? Because they used to help candidates … about 10 years ago.
When paper or faxed resumes were the norm, if a job seekers could cram all the important parts of a resume onto a single sheet of paper, more of your history was likely to be seen by the reader. In a 15 second scan of a sheet of paper, the reader picks up details on the first page – it requires the reader to spend more time and read the back pages to pick up later detail.
Also, when paper resumes were the norm, your resume could be more generalized – it was expected to be general, because you took it to Kinkos’s to have it printed … on paper. It couldn’t be specific to the employer, because you printed a few hundred copies. You used a cover letter to make it specific back in the day
It worked … then.
When resumes were written on paper …
… and dinosaurs roamed the earth.
But just like many things in job search – things changed. So did resumes.
As job boards proliferated it changed resumes in these ways:
- Resumes were mainly distributed digitally
- Resumes were now mainly read on screen, not paper
- Digital resumes were more easily customized than paper, so customization became expected
- Employers were flooded with resumes, as many as 10-30 times more than before, as the opportunity cost of sending a resume dropped to zero
- Employers implemented Applicant Tracking Systems to digitally pre-screen resumes for keywords
How does this effect resume length?
Now employer-specific keywords and resume customization are more important than length in most cases (No, that doesn’t mean I recommend 10 page resumes). Here’s what that means to a candidate:
- More than 5 or 3: If you’ve been working for more than 5 years, or in more than 3 jobs – how can you present information specific to an opportunity/employer in just a page?
- Sweet spot reduced to 1/2 the first page: Now that resumes are read on screen, you’ve got to make an impression in the top half of the first page (above the fold) to get the reader to continue. Once your resume is more than 1/2 of a page in length, the reader has to scroll to see even the entire first page. Once your resume has conquered reader inertia, having the reader to continue to scroll to page 2 doesn’t risk the information being ignored, as it does with a paper resume.
- Employer-specific customization: With ATS key word pre-screening, customization is now more important than length. How can you hit the employer’s key words in just one page? Or are you hoping that the words on your page magically happen to match the words searched for?
- Ageism: To a company that uses technology to pre-screen resumes, submitting a resume that doesn’t take advantage of the system is assumed not to “get it”. Single page resumes are typically (but not always) submitted by candidates over 40. Either that or by rookies (if you’re a rookie, applying for a rookie job, see exceptions below).
There are some exceptions, where single page resumes make sense:
- Rookies: People early in their career don’t have enough interesting detail to make a solid second page. This isn’t a contradiction from the over 40 comment above. Single page early in your career works – it stops working well after about 5 years of experience or about 3 jobs. Employers expect single page rookie resumes.
Candidates who already have changed careers: If you began your career as an accountant but your last job was starting over as a lion tamer (and you want to continue running away with the circus), you’ll want to emphasize your lion taming skills, rather than your skills to balance the books. Since your earlier accounting career will be irrelevant to most lion tamer employers, you can just list the earlier jobs without detail. Unless, of course, you taught lions how to work a calculator.
- Mailed or faxed resumes: If requested by the company to mail or fax resumes, then the paper rules apply, and a single page resume may make sense. If the employer gives a website or email, always use that. Sending a resume by mail won’t stand out – it will almost always still get sent to HR, unless it’s first misplaced or thrown out.
Do you still think a single page resume makes sense?-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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