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A typical CV is two pages long. That's two printed sides of A4 paper, not two double-sided pages. But there are many factors that can influence how much you say and how you display it on the page. In this article we'll look at some of the variables that can affect how long a CV should be, and how to make sure yours lands in the Goldilocks zone.
'Curriculum Vitae' is Latin for 'Course of Life' and is a summary of the major achievements of your life so far. It's abbreviated to CV, or sometimes to 'Vita', and it's also more or less synonymous with the American equivalent, a 'Resume'.
Whether you call it a Curriculum Vitae, Vita, CV or Resume, the point of this crucial document is to list your qualifications, skills, personal attributes and career history at a glance, so that recruiters can very quickly decide whether you are a good match for a particular vacancy.
Time is of the essence - you need to convey a lot of information, with the focus on the most persuasive of your attributes, in a matter of just a few seconds. Recruiters and hiring managers reputedly spend only seven seconds reading your CV before either rejecting your application, or shortlisting you for an interview.
As more and more candidates apply for the most popular roles, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get noticed. By keeping your CV to the right length, you can make the best possible use of the few seconds you have, without wasting the recruiter's valuable time.
But with so much to say in under seven seconds, exactly how long should a CV be? That's the question we're here to answer, as well as to look at some techniques you can use to keep it concise in the areas where you have too much to say, and fill in the gaps in sections that look sparse.
Historically, a CV was a longer document that contained all your relevant life experience, career history, education and so on. In comparison, a Resume was shorter, just listing major milestones that were directly relevant to the role in question.
Nowadays, the concept of a CV has moved closer to that of a Resume. You’ll still want to include all the information that could help to persuade a recruiter to give you an interview, but in general it’s best practice to keep it to two printed sides of standard letter paper (USA) or A4 (UK).
This is a challenge, especially if you have lots of achievements you want to mention, an arsenal of professional qualifications and accreditations, or a lengthy bibliography of published works when applying for a creative or scientific research role. Getting it down to an acceptable length is part of the process of how to make a good job application.
A two-page CV should give you plenty of room to mention your relevant skills, experience and accomplishments, plus any other pertinent information and capabilities, without rushing past the important details or losing the reader’s attention by saying too much.
Start by writing a first draft of your CV and see how long it turns out. At this stage, don’t worry about the length, just include all of your qualifications, professional accreditations, past employment history and so on.
Make sure you also include the essential basic information about yourself, such as your name and contact details. Be aware of the personal details you don’t have to include, such as your date of birth or marital status. Employers are not allowed to discriminate based on these kinds of characteristics so although it’s your choice if you want to volunteer the information anyway, you might prefer to leave it out, especially if you’re short on space.
Once you have your first draft compiled, take a look at how long it is. If it’s about two pages, that’s great. If it’s three pages, you should find it quite easy to tighten up a few areas and trim it down. If it’s four or more pages, you’re going to face some tougher decisions when choosing what to leave out.
Here are a few top tips to cut down the length of your CV, if you find your unedited draft is running significantly longer than two printed pages of paper.
Your personal details will take up a chunk of space at the top of the first page, so look for any non-essential information you can remove.
As mentioned above, this can include protected characteristics that the recruiter is not allowed to use to discriminate between different applicants, such as:
It’s not necessary to give your CV a title – just put your name at the top in a larger font, and that will work fine without wasting valuable space at the top of the printed page or PDF.
Old and obsolete information can be given the chop. This includes that paper round you had when you were a teenager, or the grades you got in your secondary school exams.
If it’s so old that it has no direct bearing on the role you are now applying for, it’s useless information for the interviewer too, so don’t waste their time. Instead, update your CV with the most recent info at the top and once you’ve included everything that’s directly relevant, either briefly summarise or completely omit the rest.
You might think a particular qualification or previous job is so dazzling that it’s worth mentioning twice. This is not the case. On a CV, brevity is best. If you want to hammer home a particular attribute, put it near the top, underline it or put it in bold text.
There’s no need to repeat yourself if you’ve emphasised the point once already. Instead, use the space you’ve saved to sell yourself in another way. Or if you’re struggling to fit your CV to two pages, erase repetition and you can get part of the way there while still mentioning everything once.
This might sound the same as the point above, but it’s not. This time you’re not looking for direct repetition of particular achievements, but for words and phrases that say the same thing in a different way, as these can comfortably be culled from your CV.
For example, there’s no need to say in your career history that you work well with others, if you have listed effective teamwork as one of your personal attributes or soft skills. It’s likely that your recent employment includes several roles that are all quite similar. Don’t be tempted to list the same qualities under each role, as there’s little to no benefit in the second and subsequent mentions when you could change it to say something else instead.
If you’ve been asked to include a cover letter, you have a second place to mention your most positive and persuasive attributes, including anything you couldn’t comfortably fit on your CV. Your cover letter shouldn’t run to pages and pages either, but as it involves paragraph text rather than brief bullet points, it’s a natural home for any personal information that’s hard to summarise in 5-10 words.
This is why it’s so important to work on your job application as a whole, so that your documents complement one another. Ideally, you should eliminate unnecessary repetition across your CV and cover letter together, so the focus stays on your most valuable attributes to maximise your chance of getting an interview.
It can be tempting to try to find ways to include everything from your first draft of your CV, without having to leave anything out at all. If in doubt, ask a friend or trusted colleague to take a red pen to your CV and cross out anything they think sounds like unnecessary bloat.
Try to resist the urge to use CV formatting techniques like:
All of the above don’t really remove excess information from your CV or Resume, and risk making it more difficult for a prospective employer to spot your most important attributes when considering whether or not you are right for the role.
The good news is that it’s better for a CV to be ‘too short’ than for it to be ‘too long’. Remember there are no hard and fast rules for the length of a CV, but there is a ‘just right’ Goldilocks zone around the two-page mark.
If you’re newly graduated or changing career paths significantly, you might have very little experience directly relevant to the role you are applying for. Crucially, you should never lie on your CV – if you get a job that way and your employer finds out, you are quite likely to get sacked, and may even face criminal charges depending on the responsibilities of the role.
However, you can add more general attributes to flesh out your limited experience. Include any soft skills you feel you can offer, such as a demonstrable aptitude for teamwork or effective communication. Use extracurricular activities as evidence if necessary: for example, if you play a team sport at weekends, this is an obvious indicator that you collaborate well.
The way you format the page can help your limited amount of information to have maximum impact. Use slightly bigger margins and bigger heading fonts. Leave a little extra white space between sections or use borders to fill the gaps.
You don’t want your CV to be sparse on detail, so don’t rely solely on formatting tricks to make it fill the page, but remember that you have the option to increase margins, font size, line and paragraph spacing if it will help your carefully crafted content to fill that last half-inch at the bottom of the page.
Ultimately, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a one-page CV. Some interviewers who are under extreme time pressures might even be grateful that they don’t have to turn the page to see all your key attributes. Just make sure that if you’re sending in a short CV, the information included on it is even more impactful. Every word counts.
Remember the seven-second rule from the start of this article? It’s not set in stone, but it’s a good starting point when optimising your CV to stand out at a glance.
Surveys consistently put the number at less than ten seconds. Sometimes six, sometimes nine, but almost always in single digits. The bottom line is, your CV needs to put across the most impactful information about you – and it needs to do it fast.
In some cases, of course the recruiter will spend longer reading about you, but this is usually not until they have already decided they find you interesting. At that point, the information towards the bottom of your CV can help you bag yourself an interview. But in those first few seconds, it’s what you put top and centre that matters most.
Luckily, there’s a technique you can use to maximise your CV’s impact in the first seven seconds, and it’s one that’s often used by journalists to structure a news story too.
The Inverted Pyramid model is used in news writing to put the most useful and important information at the start of an article. Further down the page, the journalist expands on this, before providing broader contextual information at the end.
You can use the same system to optimise your CV content: most recent and relevant information up top, any extra details directly below it, and more general personal attributes and extracurricular interests at the bottom or over the page.
Nobody’s going to give you a Pulitzer Prize for writing the best CV of all time, but you might land the job of your dreams, and that’s got to be worth the effort.