C-level Executive Resume Length: One, Two, or Three Pages?

by Meg Guiseppi on October 18, 2010

New clients often come to me to “fix up” and help them brand their existing resumes. Many have resumes that are 4 or 5, or even more pages. I counsel them that we should keep it as close to 2 pages as possible.

But, they ask me, how can we possibly distinguish my career and do me justice in 2 measly pages. Does it have to be 2 pages?

My answer? Let’s collaborate on what information really needs to be there to best position you as a good fit for your target employers and the kind of position you’re seeking, and see whether we can keep it to 2 pages. Formatting and length are driven by the content and who will be reading the resume.

For a time, I was stuck on the absolute 2-page rule. But often enough I found that to best present and market my clients’ unique value promise, content had to spill over to a third page.

Among resume length considerations:

How you’re using the document – A one-page, to-the-point resume may work better than a longer one. Depends on who’s receiving it. It may even be best to pare down that one-pager and create a hard-hitting short email message to capture attention, with a brief overview branding what differentiates your ROI value, and including just a few key contributions.

→ Recruiters requirements – they know what their client companies want. Some want a short and sweet document, others want your whole career history with all details. Check with your network of recruiters and adapt your resume to meet their specific requirements.

→ Recruiters and/or hiring decision makers’ own preferences – some say they want lots of background on candidates and prefer 5, 6 or more pages. Some say they’ll toss any resumes longer than 2 pages.

→ A long career history with several companies and many job titles – shortcutting and eliminating positions may not be wise, and could have legal ramifications. Important qualifying achievements and contributions may be overlooked for the sake of resume length.

→ Targeting specific job opportunities – because you’ve researched to identify the requirements and challenges of your target companies, you may have a long list of critical points that need to be addressed and aligned with your qualifications and contributions.

→ Smartphones and PDAs – many people assessing candidates through their career documents are doing so on very small screens. Too many pages can be frustrating and turn them off entirely to you.

Think about this. Your paper or digital resume document probably won’t be your first introduction to recruiters and hiring decision makers. Because they search online to source and assess top talent, you’re likely to be found by them online before you ever send them your paper or digital resume document.

Your LinkedIn profile will probably be your first introduction to them. You may even send them a link to your profile, instead of your resume, to introduce yourself. If you fill all the space allowed in each section, as you should, your fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile could easily amount to 3 or 4 or more pages, if you dropped it into a Word or PDF document.

Whatever length your resume is, strategize the formatting with these things in mind:

If it’s more than one page, design the first page to stand on it’s own as your branded calling card. Subsequent pages are there to provide supporting evidence, and include earlier relevant career highlights and education/professional development. Assume that readers will go no further than your first page, because that could easily be the case.

If you need more than 2 pages, don’t let just a few sentences spill over to a third page. In that case, you should be able to edit the content down to 2 pages.

So, what all this boils down to . . .

  • Each job seeker’s situation is unique.
  • Resumes are used in different ways.
  • Various things need to be stressed, highlighted, and downplayed in any given resume.

This is one reason why using resume templates or copying another person’s resume formatting (and content, of course) is not a good idea.

Related posts:

How to Write An Irresistible C-level Executive Brand Resume in 10 Steps

Thinking of Copying an Executive Resume Sample For Your Own?

What NOT To Put in Your C-level Executive Resume

10 Brand-Diluting Phrases That Can Ruin Your Executive Resume

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg Guiseppi July 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

Hi Kathy,

Thanks so much for the kind words!

I think executive job seekers and we, as their resume writers and job search strategists, get bogged down with resume length. I would rarely advocate 4 or more pages for a resume, but what’s most important is to focus on best positioning yourself (or our clients) on the page, to align with the needs of target employers.

As we know, there really is no right or wrong way to write a resume.

2 Kathy Aguiar July 17, 2012 at 5:46 am

Hi Meg.
Thank you for sharing your expert advice in that the one size fits all resume is not effective, especially in this tough market. I love your writing and share your tips with many of the transitioning careerists that I serve in Rhode Island. My best to you for all you do for so many. Thank you Meg!
Kathy Aguiar

3 Meg Guiseppi November 8, 2010 at 6:17 am

Thanks for commenting, Donna.

I, too, am a fan of the two-pager, and rarely spill over to a third page for c-level executives. But, sometimes that’s the best strategy for that particular job seeker. As I mentioned in the post, the first page is always designed to stand on its own, so if the reader never gets to the third-page supporting evidence, it’s okay . . . my client’s ROI value is clearly differentiated on the first page.

Best,
Meg

4 Donna Svei aka AvidCareerist November 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hi Meg,

Thank you for this well reasoned post. As with most questions job search, the answer is often, “It depends.”

I remain a fan of the two-page resume, especially for C-level execs, because it demonstrates a person’s ability to sort that which is important from that which isn’t it — an essential ability for a C-level exec.

Donna

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