One Page or Two: How to Determine the Perfect Resume Length

Resume writing is one of the simplest yet over analyzed processes of a modern professionals life. From font selection to number of bullet points and even margin sizes, every aspect of the resume is scrutinized.

Fierce competition for jobs forces applicants to focus on even the smallest details in order to stand apart from all the competition for a job and hopefully land an interview and eventually a career.

With so much at stake it’s important to analyze all aspects of resume writing to maximize odds of success.

Does Resume Length Matter?

If you just came here for the short answer and do not have time to read on the reasoning behind the answer then we will lay it out cleanly for you: yes, resume length DOES matter, however it is all relative.

You will see a lot of experts proclaim the holy benefits of a one-page resume, and there is no doubt about it, a one-pager is a pretty optimal format for a document as it usually allows for the perfect balance between detail and brevity.

There are however a variety of factors to take into account when determining what length is appropriate for you.

Things like you profession, whether you are fresh out of college or an experienced applicant, and your industry can all impact what defines the acceptable parameters of resume length.

Entry-Level Applicants

Those still wet behind the ears have it the toughest when it comes to writing a convincing resume because they simply do not have as many professional experiences or finely honed skills to draw upon.

Things are toughest for teenage job applicants, particularly those in high-school, who often lack even relevant educational experience to correspond to job openings.

Fortunately there are a plethora of companies that are happy to hire teenagers and often only require the filling out of an application form in lieu of a formal resume.

Important things to include on an entry-level resume:

  • Relevant educational courses
  • Relevant club and extracurricular activities
  • Part-time and summer employment history
  • Volunteer work
  • Software Knowledge
  • Academic honors and commendations

Recent college graduates looking to enter the workforce are in a bit different of a situation.

Most of the jobs they will be applying to, white collar work in particular, requires a professional resume, yet like their teenage counter parts, these applicants often lack extensive work experience.

For both grade school applicants as well as recent college graduates, the one page resume is the gold standard to which they should seek to stretch their experiences to fit. 

One page allows for enough history and detail for the reader to feel more confident about offering an interview to the applicant, but is not long enough to force the writer to include unnecessary information, diluting the overall impact of the resume.

Mid-Career Applicants

Those with at least 4-5 years of experience under their belts have it the easiest when it comes to drafting a resume. With this amount of experience filling up one page with highly relevant information should be a breeze.

Where entry-level applicants focus more on their educational background and skill sets as they lack work experience, and senior level applicants focus more on upper level/most recent professional experiences, the mid-level applicant will strike a fine balance between the two.

This means you will still include you university experience, maybe some impressive awards and recognitions, but focus most of your resume on the “meaty” experiences you have working with different employers.

Someone who has been in the workforce for a while should have plenty of relevant professional experiences to draw upon without having to waste too much resume real estate with educational type points.

Reverse chronological is the most common resume format for both entry and mid level applicants as it places emphasis on their most recent and thus most relevant professional experiences.

Unless working in education or a highly technical industry most mid-level applicants should try to condense their resumes to one page if possible.

Executive & Senior Applicants

Within the resume writing and editing industry, “senior” level applicants are generally considered to be those with 15 or more years of experience under their belts.

These resumes are usually split 50/50 in terms of one pages vs two pages in total length.

For example, a tenured university professor with multiple academic publications or publicly attributed research may have a resume exceeding even two pages in length. Likewise a CPA who spent 15 years at just two firms will be able to fit their information to just one page.

Aside from length, the actual format of the resume can vary for more senior level applicants as well.

Reverse chronological is still perfectly acceptable, but if you have a very lengthy technical skills list, let’s say from an engineering or IT background, you may consider other resume layout types such as Functional or Combination, which accentuate your honed skills over daily responsibilities.

Read up on the 3 main resume format types

Executive level resumes may also differ from entry and mid in how they focus more on “high level” skills and professional attributes such as management, planning, resource allocation and business optimization.

Often upper level candidates seek employment changes with employers looking to capitalize on the skills that can only be found in someone with 15+ years of experience, and thus a focus on “leadership” type traits are placed above more mundane technical abilities.

How to Increase Resume Length

So, let’s say you are a mid or entry-level candidate and you have written down just about as much as you can recall from your education and past couple work experiences and you still have a big chunk of white space at the bottom of your resume that is screaming “this is all I have!”. Not good.

Fortunately there are many little tricks that resume writers use to help lengthen their clients resumes to take up a whole page of paper at the minimum.

This is actually quite important as you want to avoid having as much white space as possible as it makes a resume look incomplete and insufficient.

One thing you never want to do is insert “filler” content or “fluff” as it is called in effort to boost a resume’s length. Even though the page will be aesthetically more pleasing, you will sabotage your actual quality experiences by diluting them with meaningless or invaluable information in the readers eyes.

Here are a few constructive ways to up the length of your resume without diluting its effectiveness:

1. Get your formatting square to know where you really stand

First of all you have to get your resume in proper order in terms of margins, fonts size and spacing before you know where you are starting from. Without standardized margins and a solid 12pt font, it is hard to say how long your existing resume is.

Q: What is the standard margin width and height for a resume? 

A: The top and bottom should have approximately a 1 inch margin while the sides of the resume can vary between .5 inches to .7 inches.

Ultimately it comes down to aesthetics and these numbers can be moved around to the tenth decimal place to fit everything just right.

Once you have your formatting all sorted out then you have an accurate starting point from which to proceed from.

2. Use both proactive and results-oriented language throughout the document

Different parts of your resume call for different writing styles. The career objective for example must be as succinct as possible, fitting to just a couple sentences in total length.

Professional experiences and education sections on the other hand should be a bit more descriptive. Employers like to see language that communicates a degree of proactiveness.

Verbiage like “coordinated”, “executed”, “implemented” and “optimized” are examples of the type of results-oriented language you want to pepper throughout the professional and educational achievements section of your resume.

Don’t just throw these words in at random, as that would make them more “fluff” than constructive substance.

Evaluate every existing bullet point you have though and see if you can start it with an action oriented verb and add more descriptive results-focused language.

Doing this usually increases a resumes length by a good 4-5 lines as many of us write in a more direct and concise way without realizing it.

3. Add emphasis to more recent and relevant experiences with examples

Did you know that not every experience section on your resume should have the same amount of detail?

Professional resume writers will look to place more detail on more recent experiences and less on older ones because human resources professionals are most concerned about the freshest and most applicable experiences.

Generally speaking, as you descend a reverse-chronological resume the number of bullet points under each job experience also slowly decreases.

For example, the most recent experience at the top of your resume may have 5 bullet points, while the next experience will have 4 bullet points, followed by 3 or 2 for the remaining older experiences.

This is not a rule but just an example to illustrate the ability to add more detail to more recent experiences than perhaps what is currently added to your resume.

The ability to expand more on your more recent job gives you the ability to slip in an extra couple of relevant bullet points and slightly lengthen your entire resume.

4. Insert a few of the desired experiences and skills from the job description itself

One thing all resume writers try to do when customizing a client’s resume for a specific job opening is to make sure that it reflects back to the poster the most desired qualities published in the job description.

The idea is sometimes referred to as “mirroring”, the idea is if the employer is looking for an applicant with “a problem solver’s mindset and ability to work with multicultural teams” then you as an applicant will want to effectively regurgitate this ability back to the employer somewhere on your resume by mentioning specifically your problem solving skills (additional skills section) and your aptitude for working with multicultural teams (if applicable).

Never lie just so you can mirror a job description bullet point back to an employer.

Thankfully job postings are usually fairly lengthy and you should have no problem finding a few relevant points that you can mirror back to the hiring company.

These will pop out to HRs as they are often the ones who write the job descriptions in the first place so they are already seeking key skills and phrases when scanning resumes.

Likewise, if applying to a large company that uses applicant tracking software or “ATS” for short, then including keywords from the job description on your resume will greatly increase the chances of the software flagging your resume as highly relevant as it corresponds with the keywords being searched for.

5. Fudge margins, fonts and spacing

We hinted at this briefly in the first point where “approximate” margins and font sizes were provided. The key word here is approximate.

At the end of the day, no matter what any “resume expert” says, nobody can tell the difference between size 11pt font and 11.3pt font. The same goes for a .74″ margin and a .98″ margin.

By tweaking your margins, font size and spacing by decimal points you can subtly and safely increase the length of your resume.

Do not get carried away however and limit your text fonts to around 12pt at their largest as anything larger makes it obvious you are just trying to occupy space.

How to Shrink Resume Length

There are a few people on the other end of the spectrum, people with so much experience and so many skills they actually have a resume that is too many pages and need to trim it down a bit.

If this is you, then you are in luck as there are a whole variety of ways to effectively reduce the length of your resume without sacrificing any of its potency.

1. Choose the correct format

One of the biggest reasons you may be struggling with excessive resume length is the fact that you are using a format that is better applied to individuals without as much experience.

For example, if you are a senior level candidate and you are trying to cram all 18 years of your experience in your industry into a reverse chronological format, you may find yourself struggling.

Resume formats like the functional layout, where you emphasize skills instead of employers, is a great alternative for executives who are looking to transition between companies.

At this high of  level of a position non-relevant experiences and daily responsibilities are much less important than skills, projects, clients and portfolios.

Additionally there is the combination layout, which mixes a skills-centric functional style with experiences similar to a reverse chronological resume. Read our full explainer guide on formats to choose one that perfectly compliments your experience level.

*Also consider including a summary of qualifications instead of a standard career objective as you’ll have more pertinent information you will want to display at the top of your resume.

2. Remove older experiences

If you have 15+ years of experience then you don’t have to worry so much about including experiences around the 15 year mark and prior. Usually this is because these experiences are no longer relevant to your current career trajectory, often entry-level or mundane type responsibilities that you’ve long since outgrown.

As your resume progresses there should be less and less emphasis placed on experiences the older they get. Once you begin pushing the 12-15 year mark you can begin reducing experiences to just employer name, location, date and title.

Experiences that have nothing directly applicable to the job you are applying to really don’t even need to be included if they are beyond 15 years old.

If they fall within 15 years simply limit them to the heading of employer, position, location and dates just to avoid having gaps in your employment history.

3. Reduce non-relevant experiences

Anything that is recent but not directly applicable to the position you are applying to should also be reduced in length as they are not a major contributor to winning over the new job.

For example, if you spent a few years as an underwriter for a construction company while going back to school to get your CPA and are applying to an personal accounting firm you can reduce the construction experience to only relevant, transferable bullet points, such as using certain software or working with clients.

In an ideal world each and every resume is customized to the position being applied to so that each experience lends some sort of qualification to assist in making you appear the perfect candidate for a specific position being applied to.

Going in and selectively pruning sections of your resume not directly transferable to the job being applied for is great for both reducing overall length as well as distilling the industry relevance of your application.

4. Re-write bullets longer than one line

Authors edit and re-edit manuscripts up to 5 or 6 times before even sending them to real editors to take a look at and add their suggestions.

While a resume is not a book, the fact that multiple edits, spaced out from one another will allow you to look at your document from a different perspective and perhaps change things for the better that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

For people with short resumes multiple edits allows them to recall experiences or duties that may have been forgotten. For people with long resumes the process of rewriting bullet points will allow you to shrink them down and distill them to their most potent form.

Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative -Ernest Hemingway

Remove unnecessary words that don’t directly contribute to the point being made. Do not use multiple words when one more accurate one will do. Remember, a resume is not a poem, points are not awarded for flowery language.

5. Tweak font, margin and line spacing size

We mentioned above how applicants can increase their resume length by subtly adjusting their font size, margin sizes and line spacing. This method can be used to reduce resume length as well.

There are no hard and fast exact numbers for fonts, margins and spacing. There are “guidelines”, such as 12pt fonts and 1″ top margins, but these are just that, suggested guidelines.

Feel free to decrease font size and margins by a few decimal points, say 11.7pt font instead of 12pt font, or top and bottom margins of .74″ instead of 1″.

When tweaking of all sizes is done you can actually reduce a resume’s overall length by a few lines, which may be just the trick.

Use caution however and be sure not reduce by too much as making a resume unreadable will completely undermine the purpose of its creation in the first place.

Instances of Exception

As with all things resume related, there are always instances of exception. In regards to resume length, there are some industries and professions where the concept of trying to fit to one or two pages really is not that big of a deal.

For example, academics with published research may have multi-page resumes.

The beginning parts will be similar to standard resumes with contact information, places of employment, etc, however following this may be quite extensive educational, research and publication information.

Similar to academics some medical professionals, scientists and even investment bankers may have longer resumes due to the addition of supplementary industry information.

The quickest way to know what your target resume length should be will be to run your profession + “resume sample” in any given search engine and see what the average is online.

This average will give you both an idea of overall length but also allow you to see the types of bullet points and experiences common in your given industry or profession.

Copy My Resume has a current database of 50+ resume samples you can browse to learn about how to write for any given specific industry.

We highly recommend you do a little research into the position you are applying to to get a better idea of what employers and HR professionals are looking for when processing resumes and applications.

With enough proper preparation and editing there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to land an interview for nearly any position that aligns moderately with your work history.

If you are still struggling with your resume length please let us know in the comments below and we may be able to provide more specific insight or recommendations.

We also have a community forum section where our in-house resume professionals (retired) and other proactive job hunters can help offer free suggestions for improvement as well.