The Myth of the One Page Resume
I’m not quite sure where the myth of the one page resume came from. I’ve heard about it from my parents, as well as from my grandparents, and it has somehow perpetuated to the present day. Maybe they’re teaching it in career workshops at the high schools and universities? Whatever it is, the key take away that I want you to understand is that it is a myth, and one that will underserve you if you hold to it.
Let me ask you a question. If you’ve been working at your job for over 5 years, are you really going to be able to express all the skills and day-to-day responsibilities that you’ve been doing in just one page? I doubt it. Most likely, even if you’ve only been working for one year, you probably can fill up a little more than a page.
The purpose of your resume is to show to potential employers the skills and actions that you have acquired over the course of your career. So if you’re intentionally keeping your resume to just one page, you’re not fully showing off all the skills you’ve obtained and are currently building. This is particularly true if you have been working for 5, 10, 15, or 20+ years. Further, with your contact information at the top, highlights of your prominent skills for each career stop, and your educational background, those sections alone are going to take up a good chunk of real estate on your resume. There is just no possible way for you to have kept your resume to one page and still have included all the necessary information that employers will need to in order to review your qualifications.
Now this isn’t to say that you should create a resume the length of a Tolkien novel by writing out every detail of your illustrious 15 year career. You do want to be mindful that the recruiter and hiring manager are going to be reviewing your resume and they will be short on time. I find that keeping your resume to 2-3 pages (4 max) is probably a good idea. Most of your highlights should be spent on the positions that you’ve held over the last 7 years. I utilize 7 years as the benchmark, for two reasons: 1. This is as far back as most employers will be concerned with and the timeframe of which they will review your work history. If a position requires 10 years of experience, then modify your highlights back to 10 years. 2. This is the length of time that most background checks go back to, so you’ll want to make sure there is congruency between your resume and what will be on the background check.
This however begs the question of, “What do I do if I’ve been working for more than 7-10 years, do I just leave those positions off?” The answer to that question is, it depends. If you’ve been working for 20+ years as a software developer, you most likely don’t need to detail out your entire career history, especially if those early jobs are not as relevant to what you’re currently doing today. Also, there is a good chance that how you performed your job then and the tools you utilized have changed and therefore aren’t really necessary to include on your resume. With the other positions that you’ve held, that are further back in your career but retain some relevancy, what you can do is simply list them under a section that I call “Previous Career Experience.” For example:
IBM, Fortran Developer – 1980 - 1992
Bank of America, FoxPro Developer – 1992 – 1996
That way you’re showing that you’ve been in the industry for x amount of years, but it’s so long ago that you no longer need to list out the details of the position you’ve held.
I hope this helps to squash the One Page Resume Myth and why adhering to it will hinder your career. Just remember that you want to include your relevant work experience for the past 7-10 years, keep off irrelevant work experience from early on in your work history, and to keep your relevant work experience that relates to the job that you’re applying to. By doing so, you should have a resume that is 2-4 pages long at most, that is able to effectively and concisely demonstrate the skills that you’re able to bring to your new potential employer.