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Keep it short and sweet

By Jim Bright
The Sydney Morning Herald

Lengthy CVs don't impress, they simply deter potential employers, writes Jim Bright.

Marion from Ryde writes: "How long should my CV be? I have heard that it shouldn't be more than two pages long. But if I'm going to explain how I went about doing some of the duties given to me or the projects I was involved in, it is going to be longer. My CV, which was initially seven pages, is now five after I butchered two pages' worth of my expertise. Bringing it down to two pages seems like an injustice to the work I have done for the past eight years."

It seems the question of length is one that vexes many job applicants and many recruiters to boot. I know a lot of recruiters who will plead with me to recommend the briefest of resumes to lighten their burden of ploughing through them all.

This plea must not be taken lightly. If your application is likely to be read by a professional recruiter, then keep the CV as succinct as possible.

However, as Marion points out, the risk is that brevity denies applicants the chance to shine and do justice to their experience and achievements. My unbending rule for job hunters is to start by doing the homework and finding out the nature of the job application process and the expectations about the length of the CV.

Get a friend to call the recruiter or employer to ask whether they have any preferences for length of the CV. (By getting a friend to call, if the employer thinks the question is odd or suggests a poor CV, it won't be traced back to you.)

For me, the most important factor is to maximise the fit between you and the job. So my golden rules for CVs are: if it increases the fit between you and the job, include it on the resume. If it decreases the fit, exclude it from the resume. If it neither increases or decreases the fit, then only include it if there is space. Be vicious - even "butcher" your CV when considering whether the information increases or decreases the fit. If you are not sure about fit, it is a sure sign you have not done enough research.

It is a good idea to get an impartial person to review your resume because we are so close to our own careers that we can have a very distorted view of what is important. I recall a client who was enraged when my company slashed about eight pages from his resume.

He was only 26, yet insisted on including every charity walk, avocational training and endurance experience he had had. He just did not get the fact that all his scouting badges (or the corporate training equivalents) really did not add up to a hill of beans when considered in respect of the job he wanted to apply for. His response to our slash and burn was to see our editing as some kind of personal slight.

It is amazing what results you can get with some sharp editing of overlong and excessively detailed information. Sharp editing gets amazing results. See? A 73 per cent reduction in that sentence. That would reduce Marion's CV from eight to two pages!

Here are some more suggestions:

■ Each sentence should convey one idea only. Identify the idea you are trying to convey and keep removing and rearranging the words until you cannot express the idea any more succinctly. Do this for every part of the CV. Consider using bullet points and removing pronouns. So "I delivered to my manager the weekly budgets" becomes "delivered weekly budgets to manager" or even "delivered weekly budgets".

■ Consider summarising all irrelevant work history, especially that older than eight to 10 years. List only the most relevant training courses/computer packages you can use. Exclude hobbies.

■ Finally, relax. If you have followed this advice (more of it can be found in my Resumes that Get Shortlisted, Allen & Unwin), you should have produced a resume that emphasises the fit between you and the job, and that is something that encourages a recruiter to read on, even if the resume is a little longer. After all, you, dear reader, have read on to the end of this article, haven't you?

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at bright and associates, a career management consultancy. Email marked clearly "FOR PUBLICATION" to

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Published: 29 May 2010

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