10 Ways to Condense Your Resume without Losing Value

August 11, 2014 by Cheryl Simpson

But isn’t it better to include more content so you can weave in more keywords throughout your resume? No, actually. When it comes to resume writing less is generally more. Here’s why:

  • Recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring executives are, like most of us, overworked and inundated with information overload. Crisp lean sentences filled with the right details will stand out more in a sea of candidates.
  • Too many keywords in a document can actually be a negative thing, because it may make it appear you are stuffing your document for the sole purpose of ranking high in resume searches. The database systems, or Applicant Tracking Systems, that recruiters, companies, and job boards use to store and analyze incoming resumes are sophisticated enough to identify which documents have the right range of keywords specified in applicant searches – enough to meet their needs but not too much to raise eyebrows. In other words, keyword density is important, but too many such words upset the apple cart.
  • Important details stand out more when there is less text, especially if those details have been whittled and shaped wisely. Clogging up your resume with unnecessary information and vague details impairs its ability to communicate your brand in the four to five seconds it is screened by humans.

Let’s take a look at a few length targets to give you an idea where your resume is out of balance. While there are few hard and fast resume rules, these are general guidelines that most highly experienced and credentialed writers follow.

Resume & Content Length Guidelines

Resume Length

Most recruiters expect resumes to be two to three pages in length, with a strong preference for two pages in North America. While this varies from recruiter to recruiter, most like to see two-page resumes for job seekers with up to 10-15 years of experience. For those with considerably more experience, a three-page resume may be necessary to capture and present all relevant details.

One-Page Resume Rule

There is (and never has been) a one-page-only resume rule, though. Those with limited experience may find that length most appropriate for their needs.

Career Summaries

Career summary statements have shortened since the 2008 recession and now trend at three to six lines of text. In mid-career, mid-management, and executive resumes, it is often appropriate to add branding content to this section of the resume, though generally such material is best restricted to up to the first half of the document’s first page.

Core Competencies

Core competency sections are best limited to nine to twelve skills. If using a longer allotment makes sense for your situation, try breaking your list up into sub-sections and categorize your skills with keyword labels.

Position Descriptions

Generally, each job listed on a resume should include a brief position overview statement. These are best limited to 2-3 lines of text, except in recent executive roles which may use overviews of up to four to six lines. If these descriptions are longer, they may need to be broken into two paragraphs to boost readability.

Bullets Per Role

Too many bulleted statements in a resume overwhelm your readers. Limit bullets to six per role if possible; if you have more critical details that must be included, categorize them into sections and label with keyword or action phrases.

Bullet Length

Ideally, bullets should be limited to two lines of space. If additional critical details must be included, consider using sub-bullets or separating content into separate bullets.

Amount Of Work History To Include

Recruiters typically are most interested in the last 10-15 years of your experience, so this is the amount of experience you will want to profile on your resume. Older experience can be briefly summarized. In some cases, it can be safely eliminated altogether.

Resume Shortening Strategies

Say More with Less

Cut out words that aren’t needed and delete words that are repeated. When you’re fighting a two-line bullet length, every word counts, when means the foregoing sentence could easily be revamped to read trim repetitious and unnecessary words without losing any meaning.

Leverage Action Verbs

While all verbs convey action of some sort, some contain more energy and action than others. It may be accurate to say you wrote the company’s five-year plan, for example, but it’s more powerful to say that you strategized, authored, and executed the company’s first-ever five-year plan.

Eliminate Passive Language

Passive language on a resume masks the true role you played in the task you’re describing. The sentence, “I was exposed to different cultures, people, and challenges” is weaker than, “Gained cross-functional and cross-cultural exposure to 5 ethnicities in 12 countries,” for example.

Be Specific

Avoid vague descriptors and phrases such as “a variety of,” “many,” “others,” and “successfully.” Replace them with specific details that add value and meaning to the text.

Use Numbers Whenever Possible

Numbers talk, so it’s imperative to use them in resumes to quantify key achievements and context information. Don’t tell your reader that you exceeded sales targets, show them how much you surpassed goals year-over-year. Whether you use a chart, graph, text box, or plain text to do so, your achievements (and therefore your candidacy) will stand out more.

Reformat

Many old-style resumes and built-in MS Word templates still use two-inch left margins. Eliminate this practice and other formatting limits to maximize readability and use of space and minimize document length. Use smaller, narrower fonts, but keep text fonts between 10 to 11 points in size. Place your titles and employer names on one line if you held only one role with the company. Eradicate widows and orphans (stray paragraph lines and single words on a line by themselves).

Categorize

As noted above, some content can be categorized or sub-categorized to convey information in more powerful ways. Subdividing a long series of bullets, say, into 3-4 categories that emphasize the cross-functionality of your skill set will not only make your achievements easier to read, it will also showcase your multi-function brand while adding industry-specific keywords to the resume.

Contextualize

Give your readers the right quality and type of detail to help them understand the full scope of your impact. For instance, if you turned around an operation, that’s a critical accomplishment to include. But including before and after context details will automatically strengthen the presentation. How much money was the business losing per month or year prior to your tenure? How much profit or revenue was it generating by the time you left?

Focus On Results

In real estate, it’s location, location, location that is critical; in resumes, it’s achievements, achievements, achievements. Numerically quantified statements communicate volumes of information in fewer words while conveying your accomplishment in specific, measurable terms.

Here’s a sentence from a client’s original resume: “Managed multimillion dollars business and IT initiatives from inception to implementation to increase productivity, reduce operational cost, and improve service quality by collaborating with IT staff, c-level executives, business users, and external healthcare service providers.”

Here’s a revamp that shortens the sentence from 35 to 25 words while adding content to dramatically improve its results focus: “Ramped productivity 15%, cut operational costs $7M, and strengthened service quality 14%, leading $25M to $50M cross-functional business and IT initiatives from inception to rollout.” Notice that the original bullet spanned three lines while the revamp needs just two.

Ditch Extraneous Details

Choose carefully which details you include and how you do so. For example, in the original client sentence included in the prior bullet you’ll find a list of folks this person collaborated with in his position. The results he achieved are more central to his brand so I substituted the word “cross-functional” to cover my client’s list of 4 groups that required 11 words to describe.

A distinction that underlines many of the above points is to recognize the difference between resume content that is important versus that which is critical to include. There simply isn’t room for all important information on a resume, so sooner or later you have to choose which important details are must-haves – these are the data points to not only include but emphasize, as these additional examples of the above content-trimming suggestions make clear.