How to Hit the Resume Length ‘Sweet Spot’

Feb 26, 2021 | Resumes

How many words should be on a resume

Not too short, not too long – sometimes it’s hard to know how long your resume should be. Here are our tips on how to make it just right.

By: Ryan Thornton | Blog Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

The verdict is in: Those extra words in your resume can easily do more harm than good!

While every resume is unique, the numbers simply don’t lie when it comes to word count. And, while recruiters continue to debate the potential merits and pitfalls of the two-page resume, the numbers tell a clear story: If you want to land an interview, a compact, concise resume is usually your best bet.

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 The data

When the folks over at TalentWorks decided to look into the correlation between resume word count and requests for interviews, they launched a study of more than 6,000 job applications across 66 industries. In the end, they discovered that the “sweet spot” for resume length is between 475 and 600 words. The results suggested that applicants with resumes falling within that range have the highest chances of getting invited for an interview. While there were a few exceptions, the sweet spot advantage was reflected across industries.

This was no small difference, either. On average, their study showed an interview rate of 8.2% for resumes within the sweet spot compared to an interview rate of below 5% for resumes on either side of that range. Resumes longer than 600 words were a whopping 43% less hireable than their shorter counterparts! In the business sector, the consequences of verbosity are especially pronounced, with long resumes performing 72% worse than concise resumes.

The value of brevity

If you’re entering a competitive field in a highly populated area, you should assume that there are hundreds of applicants applying for the job you’re seeking. That means your resume will be an exception to the norm if it keeps a recruiter’s attention for more than 10 seconds.

So, while many recruiters are starting to say they don’t mind two-page resumes from experienced candidates, keep in mind that your resume should only be two pages if it really needs to be. We recommend a single page resume unless you have at least 5-10 years or more of work experience – then you might need a second page.

As it turns out, a densely packed single page will usually fall within the range of 475-600 words. This is great news, as one page is better than two if possible, but it means you need to pay careful attention to your formatting.

It’s important that your resume is both complete and easy to read. Here are some tips for ease of reading:

  • Incorporate white space and avoid large chunks of text: Bullet points should be one to two lines. Feel free to decrease the size of the margins, but they should be no smaller than 0.4”. 
  • Font size can be decreased as well: Section headings can be taken all the way down to 12 pt and bullet and other body text down to a minimum of 10 pt (10.5 pt is usually better, however).
  • Beware of overuse of bold and italics in word-dense areas, as these features can make your text appear more crowded.

The best use of space

When bringing your resume into the ideal word count range, you’ll want to make sure you’re making use of valuable white space on the page as you chop down any sections that may be running too long.

Core Competencies, Key Skills, or Areas of Expertise sections are a great way to communicate your skills in very few words. There’s no need to elaborate on these named skills in the skills section; that’s what your bullets in your professional experience are for!

Areas of Expertise
Strategic Planning | Risk Management | Product Development & Improvement | Problem Solving | Mentoring | Communication

If you’re having serious trouble getting your word count below 600, a good place to start is at the top of the page. Even regardless of word count, the top of your resume is critical and is where many job seekers go wrong. Remember that recruiters will often only read a resume for 6-10 seconds before putting it aside. If it takes that long to pick out the highlights of your summary, you’ve probably already lost them!

For those currently using an Objective Statement here, swap it out for a more concise Summary of Qualifications. Your summary needs to be very brief – no more than a few lines – and should only provide the most helpful information for the job you want, based on the job description. This will better highlight your skills right away and can also help you shorten your resume.

Old jobs, irrelevant jobs

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It may take some editing to make sure your resume showcases only relevant, impressive information. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

If you’re this far in the process of fine-tuning your resume, it probably goes without saying that it should only include work history that is directly relevant to the position you’re after. Any jobs you’ve held that are not explicitly related to the industry you’re entering are likely to only distract recruiters from your qualifications.

However, you do want to be mindful of large gaps in your resume, so we don’t recommend omitting altogether an irrelevant experience that covers a period longer than a few months — you can instead de-emphasize it by removing several bullet points.

While you are in the process of double-checking your work experience for anything inessential, you may also consider omitting positions that you held 10 or more years ago. Industries evolve rapidly, and your most recent work experience will carry the most weight.

The key to keywords

The importance of keywords may have been overstated in response to concerns about the use of Applicant Tracking Systems. Keywords are an essential part of your resume, especially since recruiters do use ATS to focus on relevant applications, but this doesn’t mean that stuffing with keywords will help your odds of catching their attention.

In fact, another takeaway of the TalentWorks resume study is that the number of keywords in a resume doesn’t impact an applicant’s chances of getting an interview. Rather, the trick is to use the keywords that are directly related to the job you’re chasing. This ensures your application makes it through the ATS filtering process while letting recruiters know that you understand the position.

The trick is to focus on keywords that are directly related to the job description, as well as your experience. This means that you should review your resume before sending it to an employer and update it based on their job description, as opposed to just blasting one “all-purpose” keyword-stuffed resume to everyone.

Going beyond the sweet spot

There are exceptions to every rule, and that applies to resume length as well. The TalentWorks study showed that applicants in the fields of industrial science, social work, and education fared better with longer resumes. Industrial scientists often need that extra room to detail publications or research. Similarly, the fields of social work and education are generally more welcoming of longer resumes with an emphasis on professional objectives and motivations.

And if you’re heading toward a career in academia, you’re most likely going to need an academic CV, which is a different (and longer) document altogether. If this applies to you, check out this post on how to get started.

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