How many pages should a CV be? By Chris Cutting

By Chris Cutting – CV Adviser

CV Adviser sees this question asked on Linkedin from time to time and it’s a good question. It leads to a further, important consideration when writing a CV. 

Search various websites and, on average, the answer is 2 – 3 pages. Sound advice as you want to avoid the reader ‘losing the will’ to read your long CV after 30 others! The difficulty for many is; “How do I get all my experience onto 2-3 pages?”

Trying to edit a CV without damaging its effectiveness is of concern, especially with a long history of experience. How can it be edited, so as not to throw out the baby with the bath water? How many pages depends on length of experience and how well you’re known. A few examples might be useful to illustrate the point.

Examples

  • An extreme example. The CEO of a FTSE listed business or a world leading scientist. The achievements of both are a matter of public record and eminently searchable. Both are probably known by a future employer and arguably only a page is required. Pushing the illustration to the extreme let’s use Einstein as an example. His CV might conceivably contain only his name, contact details and the equation E=MC2.  What does the recruiter need to flag up regarding who he is and his value to an employer?
  • A recent graduate or a school leaver. Neither have much experience and so it is likely 1 – 2 pages will result. It might be they need to expand content a little rather than edit! In this instance a chronological style CV from most recent working back is suitable. The exception here is the mature student who may fall into this or the next category
  • An experienced professional of 10 – 20 years. This can be a real challenge in editing a CV to fit 3 pages.

Standard Advice

For the experienced applicant, the usual advice from various websites is:
Select a smaller font – It is a helpful device but you can only go so far with this
Cut out repetition – This is good, except Applicant Tracking Systems work on a repetition of key words. (See an earlier blog on ATS)
Focus on your most current three roles – This could work. The exception, the role applied for requires skills gained four jobs ago! Frustrating isn’t it? What is the alternative?

An alternative approach

It might be helpful to imagine a CV as an image. The standard advice, as suggested above, is more about cropping or shrinking the image. This is a conventional approach which can be helpful in some circumstances. However it is mostly limiting forcing the issue of what to leave out from each role.

Look at the problem differently and imagine the CV still as an image BUT composed of pixels. A lesser number of pixels yet the overall image retains its overall integrity which is better than cropping. What does this mean for the CV? It translates to a different choice of formats/styles of CV that provide a solution other than the chronological. There are a few formats to choose from, I suggest one of a few solutions.

One of a few Solutions

Shortening a historical (recent job to last) format is problematic. Switch formats and it becomes quite easy! A suggestion to try.

Amalgamate all the achievements of each role under one heading….“Achievements”. Prioritise them. Edit out those that are repeated and the minor from so long ago. They have little or no consequence for the application. With the achievements, don’t tell the whole story of how you got from A – Z. Rather simply state the scope of, and the end impact with verifiable metrics where possible. (You’ll get asked about these in interview, it is then when you tell a brief story of A – Z.)

For responsibilities/duties, amalgamate them all under one heading, “Skills and Responsibilities“. Prioritise the more senior ones to the top and edit out those that you find repeated in the chronological CV. The junior duties are so long ago and irrelevant to the job applied for these can be dropped off too.

Sectors of industry can have its own heading as can Stakeholders. This avoids repeating the same aspect of every role as in the chronological style of CV.

The Personal statement should be limited to four lines as these will relate to the rest of your CV. The same is true for Interests/Additional Information

Career History is a separate heading. It comprises a list of one liners for each role. Outline the name of the company, activity, size, job title and dates of joining/leaving. The same applies for Education and Training

This format lends itself to most situations. The caveat is that key words need repeating for the purposes of ATS. Repeat them within achievements and responsibilities. This ultimately can take a 5 page CV down to 2- 3 pages.

Hopefully you’ll find this of some help. I wish you good luck and success with your job applications. 

CV Adviser in association with Four Day Week