When a Lengthy Resume Makes Sense for Executives
If you've ever sought advice about resume writing, you know the rule: A
resume should never exceed two pages. Overburdened screeners should see just
enough at first glance to be impressed. Hit the high points, set the hook and
save the details for the face-to-face interview.
Yet rules are sometimes made to be broken. At times, resumes should exceed
two pages and include comprehensive information that persuades employers,
instead of just piques their interest.
This is especially true for senior executives or those who have made frequent
employment shifts. Such candidates have too many employers and accomplishments
to cram into just two pages. The resulting resume becomes so dense that Sam (or
Suzy) Screener immediately tosses it.
Similarly, job seekers whose profiles contain many diverse elements and
skills may find it difficult to summarize their gifts without omitting
compelling sales points. So for multifaceted people in their 40s or 50s who have
broad employment experience, the best approach may be (play an ominous organ
chord here)... the long resume.
For Courteous Reading
Don't use a lengthy resume when you know it will land in a stack of responses
that must be screened quickly. But if your resume is going to receive careful
and courteous reading, a lengthier version may be a wise choice, especially in
the following situations:
If you have survived an initial screening and are a final candidate.
If you're a big dog in your field or you have unique skill sets and
If the details of your accomplishments distinguish you from competing
If those interviewing you at this point in the selection process need a
full understanding of your background.
If the available position requires diverse functions and responsibilities,
and you must demonstrate your competence in these arenas.
Long Means Just Long Enough
A long resume should be just long enough to get the job done. It must be
comprehensive without being dauntingly verbose. Sixteen pages of single-spaced
verbiage will exhaust any reader's patience. For a senior executive or
professional, three or even four pages may be acceptable, particularly if white
space is used generously to encourage easy reading and retention.
The techniques that follow for writing a long resume can prevent your
self-marketing tool from looking like an Encyclopedia Britannica entry.
1. Use a reverse-chronological format.
In my view, this is the only way for sophisticated senior-level candidates to
present their credentials. Reverse-chronological resumes answer readers' natural
questions in a logical way:
What's the product you're selling? (This is answered by the "Profile" or
"Summary of Qualifications" section of your resume.)
Who has trusted you before? (Answered by your list of past employers.)
How long did they trust you? (Answered by the duration of your jobs.)
What's the biggest thing they trusted you with? (Your past job titles.)
What were the nature and scope of your responsibilities? (General position
Did you DO anything with those responsibilities? (Selected accomplishments
addressing each assigned functional responsibility.)
Who trusted you before that? How long did they trust you? (Other
employment, in reverse order.)
Where did you go to school? (Your educational summary section.)
Anything else I should know about you? (Affiliations, certifications,
professional activities, relevant community/volunteer activity, books,
articles, patents, etc.)
2. Distinguish responsibilities from accomplishments.
Resume writers frequently confuse responsibilities and accomplishments,
blending them into a common stew. The two are different:
Responsibilities describe the nature and scope of your duties and the
stakes, risks and outcomes of the position.
Accomplishments, which should always be described in the past tense, are
examples of what you have done. They are proof of your performance.
The higher you rise in an organization, the fewer responsibilities you need
to provide. You'll never see this on a resume: "Job Title: President and CEO.
Responsibilities: Ran the place, with accountability for everything." And as you
advance up the ladder, you gain more of those space-consuming accomplishments.
3. Create a special section for accomplishments.
One way to organize a long resume is to create a special section for key
accomplishments, which would be inserted immediately after your "Profile" or
"Career Summary" sections and called "Selected Career Accomplishments."
Under this heading, include an accomplishment to match each major functional
strength in your product profile. Six are sufficient, since that's about all the
average reader can absorb. You also need room on the first page to cite your
most recent employer and your job title, tenure and responsibilities there. This
way, readers can see you're sticking to the reverse-chronological format and not
trying to hide a gap in your job history.
4. Add an addendum.
Instead of inserting an Accomplishments section in the main body of your
resume, consider featuring them in an addendum. Your resume would simply list
your employers in reverse-chronological order in the "Employment History"
section, without citing accomplishments. The second document, entitled "Selected
Accomplishments" or "Relevant Career Achievements," would include those
By following this approach, you can say more about what you've accomplished,
without slowing readers who want to first know your history. Make this document
no more than two pages and organize it with headings keyed to your experience or
By labeling the ancillary document "Addendum," you're saying, "Here's
additional information that expands on my basic pitch points, but you don't have
to read it to get a feel for the product." Addenda also are appropriate for
listing patents, articles, presentations, awards, professional activities, board
memberships and relevant interests.
5. Create a separate document.
A third option is for the accomplishments document to be independent of your
resume (it would provide your contact information at the top): "Yes, Ramona, I
brought a resume which summarizes my basic career path. Also, if it would be of
interest, I have listed some relevant career accomplishments in greater detail
on a separate document. Would you be interested in seeing that too?"
You can provide the separate accomplishments document without your main
resume if, for example, a recipient knows your career history but wants more
information about your experience in a particular area.
A Judgment Call
By all means, use a short, concise resume if it's most effective. But if
you're at a career stage where you have much to sell or many factors shape your
marketability, use a format that delivers all the goods.
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