Do you fret about your executive resume length?
Many executive job seekers have resumes that are 4 or 5, or even more pages. I typically advise keeping it to around 2-3 pages.
Sometimes they ask me,
How can I possibly distinguish my career and do myself justice in 2 measly pages. Does it have to be that short?
The thinking on length has evolved, but it’s often a topic debated among career professionals.
For quite a few years, many in the careers industry said a one-page resume was best, but I always had a hard time with that restriction.
It seemed nearly impossible to pare down an executive’s resume to one page and still include all the relevant information AND include enough white space AND a reasonably-sized font to make it readable.
Then 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. In some cases, to a fourth page.
Executive resume length and formatting should be driven by the content that needs to be there to market the candidate’s value, and by who will be reading the resume.
Executive resume writer Erin Kennedy summed it up nicely:
There is no standard when it comes to the best executive resume format. However, the one thing to always remember is to make yours as clean and concise as possible. A recruiter wants to pick up a resume and glance at it and do a quick overview before reading it in depth. If they have a hard time picking out key points because of big blocks or paragraphs of endless text, there’s a decent chance it will get tossed to the side without further consideration. Stick to a couple pages, include enough white space with a clean format and you’ll improve the chances of getting noticed.”
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Avoid the Biggest Executive Resume Writing Mistake
Your main concern when writing your resume should not be length.
You may think that a resume that’s too long or too short is the biggest blunder you can make.
In fact, the biggest resume writing mistake is:
NO CLEAR TARGETING
That is, not determining at the start of your job search which companies and types of roles within them are a good mutual fit.
Think about it. The purpose of a resume is to qualify you as a potential candidate – both in personal character and in skill sets – and to make people reading about you feel compelled to want to meet you and learn more.
Recruiters and hiring decision makers assessing you through your resume (or LinkedIn profile, etc.) don’t have time to sift through irrelevant information. They need to quickly and clearly see your ROI to their company. The hiring process is costly to them. They want to avoid hiring people who won’t be right for them.
How can you write about what makes you a good fit for a company, if you haven’t chosen target companies, don’t know what challenges they’re facing right now, and can’t align your qualifications with their pressing needs?
And how can you define your personal brand if you don’t know your target audience? You won’t be able to create brand messaging that will resonate with anyone.
Nothing in your resume should be arbitrary. Everything in it needs to position you as the right fit for the employers you want to work for.
Things To Consider with Executive Resume Length
How you’re using the document
A one-page resume may be just the thing. 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, and including just a few key contributions.
These professionals know what their client companies want to see in a resume. 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
Give them what they ask for. 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.
Phone numbers and email
Many people assessing candidates through their career documents are doing so on very small screens. Too many pages, and too much information in general, can be frustrating and turn them off entirely to you. Don’t include more than one phone number and one email address.
Tight to-the-point writing
Avoid generic information that could apply to anyone like you. Be specific. Provide examples of contributions you made, using metrics whenever possible. Keep it succinct but powerful.
When you’re updating your resume with new jobs, don’t just cram them chronologically into the “Professional Experience” section and use a smaller font overall. Cut back on information for your earliest jobs to accommodate the new stuff.
ATS-friendly resume version
The resume you’ll use for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) has no length restrictions. In fact, longer is probably better. More content means it will contain more of the relevant keywords the ATS will be looking for. More about this below.
Jobs held more than 15 years ago
Jobs you held that long ago will obviously show up on the last page of your resume. There’s no need to include much, if any, specific information about these job. You can just include the job title, company and dates.
Readers are using iPhones and other small devices
As noted above, keep in mind that people reading your resume may be doing so on their iPhones.
Although these people and your network may also at some point review your full-sized resume, something like 50% of recruiters and other hiring professionals could initially scan it on their iPhones or other small devices.
That means your 8-1/2 by 11 inch document will shrink down to about 4-1/2 by 6 inches.
Lots of information jammed in with little white space is hard on the eyes for the reader. This is true for the full-sized document, but especially true when it’s so severely minimized on a device.
Make sure you break up longer chunks of information and add in light enhancements, like bolding and bullet points, to make your document easier on the eyes.
A few things resume writer Sarah Johnston suggests considering:
- Will people have to squint to read your resume?
- Will you capture their attention enough to stop scrolling?
- Do your links work in case they are interested in emailing you or visiting your LinkedIn profile?
Resumes aren’t the only thing anymore
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 LinkedIn 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.
How To Cut Your Executive Resume Length
Resume writing evolves to meet the needs of the various people who use resumes to assess candidates.
Things that were once okay and even encouraged to include in your resume may actually sabotage your chances if you include them now.
If it’s been several years since you updated your resume, you may not know what today’s executive resume should and should not include.
Get rid of the stuff that no longer belongs there and replace it with what DOES need to be there.
Upgrade your tired, tweaked-to-death resume and make it a modern digital document. This serves several purposes:
- Helps diminish age discrimination because you present yourself as an up-to-date person, as evidenced by your up-to-date resume.
- Provides better, deeper information about you than an old-style resume.
- Because a modern resume includes personal branding, you’re not only highlighting your hard skills or areas of expertise. You’re also giving people a feel for your personality and the softer skills you possess that drive your ability to make those hard skills work.
- Because you have a modern resume, you’ll outdistance your competitors who still circulate their old-fashioned resume.
Here are some things you should eliminate from your resume:
- Your headshot
- An objective statement
- Professional references
- Too much or the wrong kind of contact information
- Out-dated and irrelevant areas of expertise
- Anemic, brand-diluting resume clichés that everyone else uses
- Personal information
- Salary history
Questions to decide what to cut from your executive resume
Resume writer Adrienne Tom suggest asking yourself these questions when deciding whether to cut info from your resume:
- Are these details relevant to this position?
- Is this a current qualification?
- Does this piece of info show rather than tell?
- Am I stating the obvious? (If you went to college, you graduated from high school).
- Am I using unnecessary words or fluff?
- Have I made this point more than once?
- Is this personal info (hobbies, volunteer work, board memberships) relevant?
- Have I added any sections or info just because I felt I should?
- Are these skills everyone has listed – detail-oriented, task-focused, progressive leader?
- If I was hiring for this position, would this piece of info influence my decision?
Here are some other tips if your resume is still too long.
Create 3 Versions of Your Executive Resume (for various purposes)
You may not be aware that you need 3 resume versions:
- A nicely formatted, visually appealing MSWord version.
- A PDF version so that formatting of the above will set up exactly as you meant it to.
- A stripped down, barely formatted text or ATS-friendly version to make it through Applicant Tracking Systems. This can be created as a Word document.
Who Gets Which Executive Resume Version
Your executive job search campaign will include networking and communicating with:
- Executive recruiters
- Hiring professionals (or Human Resources) at your target companies
- Various other people who work at your target companies
- Your existing and expanding network
With recruiters and other hiring professionals, your first communication will probably include your resume, with a brief email expressing your interest. Send these people all three resume versions.
You may not know whether they will review your resume on their desktop/laptop or phone, and whether they may pass it on to an Applicant Tracking System, so play it safe and cover all the bases.
Tap employees at various professional levels at your target companies and others in your network for informational interviews, to help you with company research and market intelligence.
Your initial short emails to this second group of people are just “feelers”.
You’re not presenting yourself as a candidate yet, because you don’t know at this time where and how you might fit into those companies, so don’t include your resume. Once you get their feedback and determine the situation, customize your resume to position yourself as a good fit, and send a more detailed email with your targeted, nicely formatted Word resume.
If you’re responding to job postings on company websites or job boards, you’ll upload your ATS-friendly resume version.
Whatever the Executive Resume Length, Follow This Strategy
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.
But if those 2 pages will be crammed with too much info, and too little white space, go to 3 pages. Make adjustments so that the third page has more than only a few sentences.
Here’s 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.
- Always keep in mind who will be reading your resume and assessing you through it.
- Consult with an expert to help you sort it all out.