This is a frequently asked question that confuses almost everyone – candidates and selectors alike – so I thought I’d try to provide a path through the fog of conflicting information and advice.
There is no hard and fast ‘rule’ and CV lengths will always vary. However a CV longer than 4 pages needs justification. The length of the CV is about your CV being ‘fit for purpose’. What does this mean? In general terms, as a job candidate you have skills, knowledge and talents for sale. Each time you identify a potential buyer for these you will need to work out what they are looking for and decide how best to present your wares. The more information the employer provides about the position and the organization, the more pressure there will be on you, the applicant, to make your application as “ready to wear” as possible. If the focus is on absolute quality, aim to make you application “bespoke” ie “tailored to the customs, tastes, or usage of each individual purchaser”.
Your purpose in doing all this work is to allow the selector to easily identify how well you, the candidate, meet their expressed (and even implicit) requirements and hopefully proceed to the next stage of the selection process.
The CV/resume will vary in length in response to a variety of factors. Several of these factors may come into play simultaneously.
- The work/career sector. A CV for a web-marketer may only be two pages and be quite different in content and communication style from a CV for a policy analyst. Web marketers are expected to communicate information clearly and concisely, and demonstrate an understanding of branding, key-messaging and infographics. A policy analyst must demonstrate an exceptional command of grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, and sustain the reader’s interest even when dealing with details and complex issues. A 3- or 4-page CV is typical.
- The target audience. A shorter CV may be more appropriate for an ‘expression of interest’ approach to an employer or for a speed-interview event on campus. Recruitment agencies often prefer a short CV as a starting point for a face to face conversation. A short CV would be 1 or 2 pages.
- The employer’s explicit instruction about their preferred CV length. Follow their requirements if they have stipulations, however this can be tricky when there may be several parties involved in the selection process that may have expressed contradictory requirements. For example an HR adviser’s advice may differ from a manager’s preferences.
- The length of the job description (JD). A two paragraph JD for a design or computer science graduate may be addressed in a 2-page CV and supplemented with a link to an online portfolio of work. A different approach is needed to respond to a 4-page JD for a procurement analyst which may require a 3- or 4-page CV. In the end the objective is to create a considered and succinct response to the information about the job that has been provided. The length of the CV may vary directly in relation to the space required to do this.
- The role and the weighting given to the CV/Resume in the application process. Increasingly, employers are asking candidates to answer quite specific questions as part of the application process. The questions may need to be answered in writing, or be answered in an audio or video recording. Questions may relate to motivation in applying, key competencies in relation to the job, or alignment with the organization’s values. In this instance employers often ask that the CV be no more than 2 pages. An edited CV to complement the information provided and avoid duplication makes sense. In some instances the employer may even indicate that including a CV is optional.
- The level or seniority of the role. A new entrant will probably require a 2- 3- or even 4-page CV to describe and sell their skills compared to an experienced professional with a relevant track record. A new entrant is often creating a narrative about their skills, knowledge, experience and achievements drawing from casual work, volunteering, study and extra-curricular activities all intended to show a history of past achievements and future potential. An ‘experienced hire’ will press different selector buttons, focusing on accomplishments, relevant employment, sector training and referees.
- The weightings given to key criteria. Some employers will give a dominant weighting to criteria such as a relevant degree, strong academic grades, leadership experience and relevant workplace experience. In such circumstances meeting just two or three of these critical criteria may give candidates automatic access to the next stage of the selection process.
- Whether concise and erudite writing are a prerequisite. In this case the CV itself may become an example of writing and reporting skills and be the dominant criteria for shortlisting.
- Exceptional credentials and/or professional maturity. A candidate with stellar academic and professional credentials achieved through experiences with internationally regarded academic institutions and employers, may do well with just a 1- or 2-page CV. This would also apply to someone that has enjoyed exceptional professional success in their chosen field.
- If in addressing the JD and promoting your wares your CV is moving beyond 4 pages, make use of appendices. For example a JD may indicate that including academic publications, details of projects, a sample of written work or details of academic accomplishments would be advantageous. Consider providing this sort of information in an appendix. This means that your CV remains easily read and recalled by busy recruiters but that you have provided optional but informative additional information in anticipation of their needs.
So next time you receive or read conflicting advice about CV/Resume length it will make a lot more sense.