Change your life in two pages…(or, how long should my CV be?)


I had an email from an old friend last week asking for my help in resolving a debate taking place amongst his peers at work. How long should a CV be? As the hiring Managers, they wanted 2 pages but recruiters and job seekers alike were sending CV’s ranging anywhere upwards from 3 pages.

As a Recruiter, knowledge is power (yes, I know, I suffer from delusions of grandeur!) The more in depth, detailed information I have about you the better placed I am to introduce you the job you want. However that information should come when I interview you. It is up to me as the external recruiter to ask the right questions of you to ensure you give me all I need. I suspect I may be one of a dying breed in this respect.

Many recruiters (both internal and external) don’t read CV’s. The CV arrives through some form of online portal and is dropped automatically in to a database where keyword searches throw up the pre – requisite skills the hiring manager needs to fill the job order. Therefore from a candidate perspective you need to ensure your CV is content, keyword rich, highly visible to search engines.

You can’t afford to leave anything out fear of the search engines missing you and the opportunity passing you by. So you err on the side of caution, work on the principle of more is better.

Culture has a part to play. Over the years I have interviewed lots of South Africans. Their CV’s would make Tolstoy proud. They appear to work on the principle the longer the CV, the more you will have achieved. On the other end of the spectrum I have only today seen the issue of the one page CV come up. As labour markets become ever more transient and global war for talent hots up, cross border issues will arise when it comes to CV’s. So what’s the global view?

My last search returned 3.6 million results. It’s all a matter of opinion, clearly there are many. So for the record, here’s mine.

Two pages.

Your CV is simply a catalyst for conversation. You have to grab my attention and you have a short time in which to do it. Jaguar Land Rover recently announced 14000 + applications for 1500 vacancies. The competition is fierce. Every word must count.

I need to know fast who you are, how to contact you, what you are qualified to do, who you worked for, what you did for them, what you achieved whilst you were there and what impact those achievements had on the business. 60% duties and responsibilities, 40% achievements. Make sure you can quantify those achievements, put some numbers to them, evidence the contribution to the top or bottom line. Then you’ve got my attention. I want at most your last 10 years and will really focus on the last five in detail. The rest is history.

I want to know a little bit about you outside the work place, what your hobbies and interests are, just enough to want to know more. I don’t need to know it all, just the bits of which you are most proud that you consider wholly relevant to the post.

If you don’t get shortlisted for interview, it is not you that is being rejected, it is your CV. You need to work on it. It should be a living, breathing, up to the minute document of which you are intensely proud. There can be no sense of that’ll do. It should be fine tuned, fine tuned and fine tuned again.

Give it the attention it deserves. Its two pages that lead to a conversation that could change your life.

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7 Comments

Filed under Careers, Recruitment

7 responses to “Change your life in two pages…(or, how long should my CV be?)

  1. Alison Boothby

    Good common sense stuff here – totally agree.
    My father used to tell me that his sermons should be like a miniskirt – long enough to cover the essentials: short enough to maintain interest.
    Works for me. I think good CVs are the same.

    • Thank you for this Alison, your comment was brilliant and caused more than a smile as I shared this with some of my colleagues yesterday. Do you have any objection to me using this phrase myself?!?!?! Thanks again, just brilliant and very funny!

      • Alison Boothby

        Lee, I have no problem with you using this analogy. I have used it many times over the years in my own recruitment career when advising consultants and candidates on CV writing. It might not sit very comfortably with the PC brigade though! Glad I made you smile.

  2. Sally Brant

    Great advice well argued. As someone with a wide and varied job history I know how tempting it is to try and get everything in and was pleaesed with my three page CV at the last revision. This has made me think again and I will be working hard to get it down to the magic two pages.

    • Good luck Sally! I know its hard, what do I leave out? How do I even start to know what to leave out?

      I would advocate having a standard CV that you tweak for each job application.

      Have a look at the ad for the job to which you are applying. What words are they using? What are they asking for specifically in terms of skills and experience?

      Ensure your CV speaks their language and that you can evidence specifically how your experience meets their need. Time consuming I know, but going that extra mile is a feature of the market place.

      Good luck once again and thanks for your contribution.

      • Sally Brant

        Thanks Lee,
        I’m taking your great advice on board and have been inspired to make a start on it already!

  3. Pingback: When length matters | Dorothy Dalton

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