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How long should your CV really be? (According to research)

01 / 04 / 2019
What is the perfect length for a CV? It's an age-old question within the recruitment industry and many consultants hear it regularly. It's also a question that has a different answer depending on who you ask!

I don't profess to have the solution, but I was curious to know whether any substantive research had been conducted on the topic. While there is an abundance of surveys and studies regarding CV length, the findings are rarely clear-cut.

Let's examine some of the research in more detail to see if there is a more definitive answer. I'll also be asking some of my colleagues for their opinions and suggestions, as well as giving my own thoughts.

What does the research say? 

A Reed survey of 300 UK employers revealed that 91% of hiring managers believe a Word document of between two and three pages is the ideal length for a CV.

However, a much larger study of nearly 2,300 HR professionals and recruiters by Harris International showed 22% of employers believed a resume of over two pages should be grounds to instantly dismiss a candidate from consideration! The 2011 Global Career Brainstorming Day findings suggested CVs should only be between one and two pages long, even for the most experienced candidates.

A YouGov poll on behalf of GSM London didn't delve into the specifics, but 46% of respondents said a CV that was too long was among the worst mistakes a candidate can make, while just 26% disapproved of CVs that were too short.

Given the wide variance in the results, it's hardly surprising that jobseekers may be confused when applying for roles. If employers can't come to a consensus, then what's the best option for candidates?

Is two the magic number? 

One of the more comprehensive studies into CV lengths was recently carried out by ResumeGo. The firm performed a simulated hiring process in which 482 recruitment professionals were asked to screen applications for a range of roles.

The results showed participants were 2.3 times more likely to progress a two-page CV than a one-pager. This was true across all levels of seniority, although the effect was less evident for entry-level positions than managerial roles (1.4 versus 2.9 times more likely, respectively).

Furthermore, the study revealed hiring managers may be spending more time perusing CVs than has previously been suggested. Recruiters examined two-page resumes for 4 minutes and 5 seconds on average, compared with just 2 minutes 24 seconds for a one-page document. That's a far cry from the mere six seconds frequently cited from an infamous TheLadders survey.

So, is a two-page CV the safest approach? The research seems to show you can never go too wrong with a two-pager, but there are other considerations to take into account:

Location

The ideal CV length may vary depending on where you are applying for a job. Americans are much more likely to favour a one-page resume, with France and other northern European countries having similar preferences.

The standard length of a CV is two pages in the UK, but you may want to bulk out your application if you're seeking Australian jobs. The Career Development Association of Australia claims a CV of up to five pages is perfectly reasonable for a top executive.

Seniority

Even if you don't feel comfortable taking the Aussie approach and writing out a five-page CV, the general rule of thumb is that candidates have the flexibility to provide longer resumes if they are applying for more senior positions.

Nevertheless, , a three-page CV should be reserved largely for C-suite executives who would be unable to squeeze their achievements into a smaller document. Contractors who have completed many different (yet still relevant) projects over the years also have more leeway to expand on their experience and skills.

What do we think? 

Overall, the consensus from the research appears to be that two pages is the optimal length for CVs. Hiring managers are unlikely to find it too short or too long for the majority of roles that candidates apply for.

But do we agree with the research? While these surveys cover job applications more generally, are they pertinent to the roles we fill?

For me, a poorly structured CV is far more damaging than its length. Just like a good book, it needs to grab the attention of the reader early on and encourage them to continue reading. If this is done well, CVs can be as long as necessary. Junior candidates may only require one page, but it will likely need to be longer for more experienced individuals.

The mistake many people make is to just keep adding roles and experience to the top of their CV. Over time, this can result in a document that is drawn out and uninteresting to read. As additional experience is included, you should condense the rest of your CV to make it more readable. That's my view, but I've also asked a number of other consultants here at Barclay Simpson for their thoughts on the issue.

Sophie Spencer, Director – People and Performance, admits CV lengths are a fine balance.

"You need enough detail to show off your skills and experience, but not so much that the reader doesn't make it to the end of the CV! A couple of pages is a good rough guide," she explained.

Katy Quicke, Head of Treasury – Banking, echoed these sentiments, adding: "Two pages are optimal in most cases. However, I think one page is sufficient for entry-level or analyst grade roles."

Is there ever cause to write a longer CV? Benedict Morgan, Consultant for Treasury and Prudential Risk Oversight, believes candidates shouldn't limit themselves to a set length for their resume.

"A CV should be as long as it needs to be - within reason! For example, a seasoned contractor may require more length," he added.

Does CV length matter? 

Every candidate is different and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long a CV should be. You should weigh up factors such as your location, experience level, industry segment and the type of role for which you are applying before tailoring your CV accordingly.

That said, given the available research and our own experiences within the recruitment industry, you should probably aim for a two-pager if you're in any doubt! Few employers seem to have negative preconceptions about two-page CVs.

Ultimately, making your CV interesting, concise, accurate and free of typos is generally far more important than rigidly sticking to a certain length or structure. If you want to play it safe, ask a recruitment consultant to help you decide on the best approach for a particular vacancy.



Are you looking for a new job in Treasury and considering sprucing up your CV to have the best opportunity of landing an interview? I'd love to hear from you, so please call me on 0207 936 8934 or via email at gm@barclaysimpson.com.

If you'd like to discuss roles in other disciplines, please ring 0207 936 2601 to talk to another member of our team, who will be happy to help.

Our 2019 Market Reports combine our review of the prevailing conditions in the corporate governance recruitment market with the results of our latest employer survey.

Image credits (via Unsplash)

Main image: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Inline image: Johanna Buguet

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