Dear Sam: My résumé is four pages long and I am struggling to condense it as I am afraid I will remove something that could help me in my search. How long should a résumé be and what should I omit to make it that length? - Bob
Dear Bob: Let's cover some general principles to help determine the appropriate length for your résumé. First, a résumé is not a narrative of your entire career. Instead, it is a strategic image of what you have done that positions you for what you now want to do. Think of your résumé like a brochure for a product. A brochure doesn't tell you all of the technical details of the product being marketed; instead, it highlights key points to gain the interest of and prompt action from the target buyer. There is a "rule" in résumé writing that you should "present the big and save the small," meaning your résumé should focus on the high points of your career, leaving supporting details to be discussed during a personal interview. Regardless of the length of your résumé (or career), the most important details of your candidacy must be highlighted at the top of page one in a qualifications summary. With recent surveys suggesting the résumé screening process is as little as seven seconds long, it only makes sense that the top of page one contain the sales pitch.
Review your career in relation to your current goals and make sure you are not presenting older unrelated experiences (positions 15+ years back), redundant information, or too many details that will lose the reader's interest. Be sure you are also focusing on accomplishments versus responsibilities, and prioritize what you include by following the "present the big and save the small" rule mentioned above. Also, make sure you are not including sections that contain irrelevant information more related to your personal rather than your professional life. I see a lot of lengthy résumés that are only made so by the inclusion of sections containing volumes of data on personal interests, unrelated activities, dated training, etc. I imagine after prioritizing your information, reviewing what details really relate to your current career goal(s), and removing old information, you should be able to produce a nice, clean, and uncluttered two-page resume. Remember though, it's not the length of the résumé you should focus on solely; instead, be sure, regardless of the length of your résumé, that the most important information appears in the qualifications summary at the top of page one.
Dear Sam: I am 57 years old and just lost my job. I am concerned that my age will turn off prospective employers. As a result, I have removed the years of service on my résumé from each employer I have had.
When employers contact me, they always want me to walk them through my résumé, and I can almost hear them counting the years as I do. They often ask, as I am reviewing it, "How many years were you with them?" Would it be unethical to remove the last employer on the résumé which accounts for about 12 years of my 36-year career? - Jim
Dear Jim: You should never remove all dates of employment from your résumé; the assumption hiring managers will make when not seeing a single date will likely be far worse than reality.
Instead, date your experiences back to 1984 and omit your first 12 years of employment. It is not unethical to remove this experience; in fact, removing dated positions is a very common practice. Hiring managers typically want to see 10 to 15 years of experience and they do not expect you to explore 30+ years of experience unless you are at the senior executive level. Be sure that your qualifications summary isn't immediately dating you either. You shouldn't be opening your résumé with a statement as to how many years of experience you have. Instead, make sure your summary is written using up-to-date jargon and industry buzzwords and that your most recent experiences are focused on much more heavily than your early career roles.
Do you have a question for Dear Sam? Write to email@example.com. Samantha Nolan owns Ladybug Design, a résumé writing and interview coaching firm. For more information, call (888) 9-LADYBUG (888-952-3928) or visit www.ladybug-design.com.