Matt Craven explains why so many people are fixated on CV length, and provides some useful advice for contractors seeking to impress potential clients and agents.
Origins of the 2-page CV myth
So far this year we have delivered over 100 public speaking engagements on advanced CV writing and pretty much without fail have been asked “how long should a CV be?” on each and every session.
Now as a former recruiter and someone who has dedicated the last ten years of my life to understanding what people do and don’t like about CVs, it’s easy to be somewhat blasé about CV length, but it’s clearly something that concerns many job seekers and contractors. Unfortunately someone somewhere (nobody knows who) once mentioned that the world will explode if a CV stretches beyond two pages – as much as I would like to give them a shake, the best I can do is write a blog to attempt to dispel this myth and bring some clarity to this rather emotive topic.
The reality – no ‘one size fits all’ rule
Firstly, it depends on how experienced you are; obviously an Executive with a 25 year career will have a longer CV than a school leaver. Secondly, it depends if you are a permanent job seeker or a contractor. A contractor has more individual entries to add to their CV therefore would be expected to have a longer CV. Some of the big employers have ‘length of CV’ stipulations for their recruitment providers and in many cases this is set at four pages for contract roles.
Another consideration is the non-human side of recruitment – I’m talking about applicant tracking systems, recruitment software and CV databases; somebody somewhere is doing keyword searches or using software to source / shortlist candidates! With this in mind, it could be argued that more information and more keywords will aid being found by ‘the machine’.
I’ve read some research from one of the UK business schools recently which found that hiring managers prefer longer CVs than they have previously and this mirrors our findings. This makes sense because post global financial crisis, companies have become much more careful about who they hire which means more due diligence is being done on potential hires; obviously if you want to do more due diligence you need more information and not less!
Most savvy contract recruiters also recognise that contractors cannot squeeze all their experience into two pages – it really would be some feat of formatting to even attempt it in some cases.
What a contractor CV should focus on
If you follow the general rule of thumb that you should focus on the last six years of your career and that your CV should have a strong Professional Summary, a Key Skills section, a generous scattering on achievements and outcomes (we recommend some six line case studies in a Career Highlights section), a Technical Appendix, some Recommendations, your Education / Qualifications and of course, each contract from the last six years should have the mandatory half dozen bullet points – then you won’t be going far wrong and the CV will be as long as it ends up being.
So to conclude, the current rule of thumb is up to three pages for a permanent job seeker (and great if it fits on two pages) and up to four pages for a Contractor. If you front load the CV with all the juicy stuff (Professional Summary, Key Skills and Career Highlights) and put the more list based information at the end (Earlier Career, Personal Details, Education, Technical Appendix) then hopefully you will have ‘hooked’ the reader and convinced them to invite you for an interview long before they realise how long it is.
Would you benefit from a free expert opinion?
Matt Craven is the founder of The CV & Interview Advisors. If you’d like a completely free expert critique of your CV, click here for the submission form. For more tips, try our own concise guide to CV writing.