Should my Executive Resume be One Page, Two Pages, or Three Pages?

Quick history lesson: In years past, there was a well-known “rule of thumb” of having a one-page resume. Over the years, that has changed. Two pages became common among experienced leaders and professionals. Three-page executive resumes weren’t unheard of.

What works today?

I’ve written resumes of varying lengths, and I’ve had clients get great jobs with one-page, two-page, and three-page resumes.

That doesn’t mean that any of those options is fine for anyone! The length of your resume should be based on a solid strategy.

Also, resume trends do change, and nowadays the vast majority of executive resumes I write are two pages long. I write less three-page resumes than I did in the past because I know how short recruiters’ and executives’ attention spans are, and I know that most readers aren’t reading all the content on a three-page resume.

Currently, my breakdown of resume projects is something like:

  • 5-10% One-Page Resumes: These are typically for recent college grads, individual contributors with less than 5-10 years of experience, and people changing careers (whose previous careers aren’t directly relevant to the target jobs).
  • 80-85% Two-Page Resumes: Most of my clients are best served by a two-page resume. Doing a 20-year career justice on one page is difficult. How will the decision maker recognize the value you can bring to the table? If many of your competitors submit two-page resumes loaded with accomplishments, how will you be able to get an interview if you limited your resume to the accomplishments that would fit on one page? It’s also hard to ensure the document is keyword optimized if it’s only one page.
  • 5-10% Three-Page Resumes: These can be acceptable for very senior-level executives, such as C-suite leaders and those with salaries in excess of $500k, if the experience and accomplishments justify that length. In some instances this length may also work for a lower level executive, but there needs to be a rationale for using that length.

Research shows that most recruiters and hiring managers are open to two-page resumes provided that they’re filled with compelling, relevant content. (Unfortunately, too many resumes out there are filled with boring info that’s irrelevant for the job being applied for.)

The persistence of the one-page resume myth

There are folks out there in the business world who had the one-page rule hammered into their brains and they believe in that rule almost religiously.
If you’re networking with someone who has dogmatic beliefs about resumes, I recommend saving a new copy of your resume and making the changes that will make it palatable to that person (whether it’s reducing it to one page, or some other changes). But don’t make those changes to the “master version” of your resume that you’ll use for other opportunities.

Should you follow the Elon Musk example of resume writing?

A couple years ago, a resume website executed a publicity stunt by taking a stab at a resume for Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk (without his cooperation, as far as I know). The one-page document is full of eye-catching graphics, as well as his photo. Internet buzz about this resume focused on the concept that if Elon Musk’s career can be represented on one page, the rest of us only need one page, as well. That’s laughable.
  • Elon Musk doesn’t need a resume. He’s a household name; people already know what he’s accomplished without reading a resume. A Google search for his name returns 3.7 million results. He’s been featured in every major media outlet all over the world. He has a Wikipedia page. Plus, I doubt Elon Musk is looking for a job, so he doesn’t even need a resume.
  • What about John Doe, the CEO of a $600M company that makes widgets, who simply doesn’t have the level of prominence of Elon Musk? Not to mention Jane Smith, a purchasing director for a $2B company. How will executives like them convey their accomplishments to complete strangers who’ve never heard of them–on only one page?

The one-page networking resume

Even if you need a two-page resume, you can also have a simple one-page document to give people when you’re networking with them. This is where the “one-sheet” comes in. It’s a condensed version of your two-page resume. When you’re having a networking meeting with someone and the person asks for your resume, you provide this document. Ideally, this would include information like what industry/industries you’re targeting–and perhaps even target companies. That way the people you’re networking with will know how to help you.

The 1.5 or 2.5 page resume

Don’t assume that your resume has to fill the entire length of the last page on your resume. If your resume is on two pages, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it only fill the top half of the second page–meaning that’s basically a one and a half page resume. Before adding more content just to fill up the rest of the second page, make sure anything you’re adding (1) is relevant to the target jobs, and (2) is important. Busy decision makers and recruiters hate to have their time wasted with “fluff.”

The bottom line: The content on your resume needs to be compelling and relevant for the positions you’re targeting with that resume, and it needs to convey enough to make someone who knows little or nothing about you want to interview you. Depending on your career and target jobs, this might entail one page, one and a half pages, two pages, or three pages. You’ll need to decide based on what makes sense for your situation.