A few days ago, a prospective client asked me “does my resume have to fit on one page?” The question briefly surprised me because I had not heard it in some time, so I started thinking about job seekers’ common misconceptions about resumes.
Here are some of the misconceptions I’ve heard over time, and in some cases, have been asked to follow when working on resumes.
- Resumes have to be only one page long,
- You need elegant graphics to grab attention,
- A specific portion of your work history must be included or excluded, and
- Your street address must be included.
Over time, I have found the need to break nearly every resume “rule” for specific clients. The fact is, there are no hard-and-fast rules—only best practices. While resume writing organizations in the United States set standards they ask members to follow, the standards allow latitude for professional judgement.
Should resumes be only one page long?
Many job seekers should not limit their resumes to one page. The “one page resume requirement” was an idea I heard a lot when I graduated from college in 1979. It surfaced again the first time I searched for a private-sector job in 1995 after my federal government career.
Resume length should be dictated by the amount of relevant content you have. A one page resume is often appropriate, I’ve found, for recent graduates that have little work experience. I have also generated one-page resumes in some cases for clients that have had one job for the last 20 years, and one college degree.
On the other hand, I prepared a 3-page resume for a C-level executive with about five years of work experience. We settled on a lengthy resume because the client rose through a half-dozen jobs in a very short time with amazing accomplishments in every role. The detail demonstrated the client’s rapid rise from new grad to chief operating officer at a publicly-held healthcare company.
Employer representatives usually receive and review resumes on their computers, tablets, or smartphones during the initial screening, so they may not notice the number of pages in the document.
The vast majority of resumes I prepare for professionals and executives with significant work experience fill the better part of two printed pages.
Do you need images to grab attention?
The majority of us are visual people, so we like to place graphics on our resumes. Placing graphics—photos and images—on resumes is so popular, MS-Word includes templates to make it easy.
It’s also counterproductive in many cases to include images on resumes. Resumes become part of candidate databases in applicant tracking systems, known as ATS systems. These systems use keywords entered by hiring teams to advance applicants. ATS systems won’t see your fancy graphics, so the design will not help your resume reach the hiring team.
Even worse, certain kinds of graphics can hide your text from automated searches. For example, keywords in an MS-Word text box will not be scanned. Also, recruiters have told me that they do not want to see anything, such as a candidate’s photo, which could create bias.
Melanie Woods, a recruiter in Houston, TX, feels so strongly that resumes should not include images that she has posted a YouTube video urging job seekers to avoid using MS-Word templates, especially those with graphics.
Exception to the Rule: Photographers, graphic designers, and other visual artists should consider two versions of their resumes—one ATS version text resume, and a graphic version that matches their artistic style. For example, a fashion designer I worked with reformatted the ATS-friendly resume we created together using her specialized InDesign software.
In short, graphics take up space that could be used for keyword-rich text. So, you don’t need them.
How much work history should be on the resume?
There are lots of “rules” about the amount of work experience that should be included on a job candidate’s resume. Organizations I’ve written resumes for have given me specific guidelines on this. Individual clients have specific jobs they are especially proud of that they want included although they were at these positions many years ago.
My approach is to use the experience that will be most beneficial for the job seeker. Usually, this means that experience you gained 20 or 30 years ago is no longer relevant. For example, the skills needed for the job have changed, or the accomplishments can no longer be verified.
There are exceptions. For example, as cited in previous posts, an aerospace electronics engineer I worked with developed equipment for the Space Shuttle more than 30 years ago. We did not want to show 30 years of experience on the resume or LinkedIn profile to avoid potential ageism. Nonetheless, we found a way to “sneak in” the experience.
Another client, a fashion designer, started her career helping out in her parents’ boutique at age 12. She would seem older than she is if we displayed all this experience with years of employment, so we found another way to do it.
While we cannot apply an arbitrary rule for the number of years that your resume can cover, remember that your resume and LinkedIn profile are not your life history or bio. Resumes and profiles rarely reflect every job you have held since high school or college.
How much contact information do you need?
Technology has changed the way prospective employers contact job seekers. Today, the vast majority of employers and industry contacts reach out via cellphone, email, or LinkedIn. They do not send information via the postal service.
That means we do not need to include our street address on our resume anymore. You do not need to include your office and home phone number either unless you do not have a cellphone.
Hiring teams are busy. They probably will not call multiple numbers to find you. Managers may want to reach candidates via email or LinkedIn, though, so include this information on your resume. Your resume should be a brief document designed to be scanned electronically for content before a hiring team member reads it. So don’t get caught up in misconceptions about document length, elegant design, the need for a complete work history, or the need to show exactly where you live.