How Long Should Your CV Be?
Your CV is intended to give employers and recruiters a brief snapshot of your career history. As busy people, recruiters and employers don’t have the time to skim through reams of text. By keeping your CV to a reasonable length, you allow them to quickly see what kind of person you are, what you can do and how your experience and skills tie in with what they’re looking for. So, how long should your CV be?
According to industry standards, the recommended length for a CV is 2 A4 pages. With the average job attracting hundreds of applications, most recruiters and employers scan CVs for the essentials, rather than read them. Long CVs with blocks of text tend to irritate recruiters. If you send a CV that is too long, you run a high risk of not making it through to the first round. Therefore, as a rule, the shorter the CV, the better!
How long can your CV be?
The answer is, it depends. There’s no straightforward answer to this question. As a starting point, a CV consisting of 2A pages is sufficient. However, the length of your CV does also depends on the industry in which you work and the amount of work experience you have:
- If you have little work experience
A one-page CV is usually sufficient for recent graduates or new entrants to the labour market. It’s logical that someone with little to no work experience will need less space than someone with more than ten years of experience.
A CV of one A4 sheet is also not uncommon in the retail industry. You shouldn’t feel pressured to make your CV stretch to two pages. In fact, sometimes less is more.
- If you have a lot of experience
If you have a lot of experience, you’re more likely to need two pages. However, you don’t need to cram in every job you’ve ever had or every course you’ve taken. The same applies as with all other CVs: read through the job description and only add relevant information.
- If you’re applying for an academic position
Unlike other CVs, an academic CV is not usually restricted to two pages. In fact, academic CVs can be between 3-5 pages long. This is because you have to include detailed information about your teaching experience, your research and applications.
In 2019, Kenyan Professor George Magoha caused a stir when he submitted a 91-page CV in support of his nomination for the post of Education Cabinet Secretary. His competitor, Professor Makau Mutua submitted an equally long CV totalling 94 pages!
Which sections do you need to include in your CV?
- Contact details
Add company names, job titles, start and end dates as well your responsibilities and achievements in each role.
- Skills summary
Include a mix of hard skills (technical knowledge) and soft skills (personal traits) and provide examples of each.
In the same way as in your work experience section, include company names, start and end dates, all duties, responsibilities, and achievements. However, there’s no need to list tasks such as fetching coffee or photocopying.
- Training/courses/professional affiliations
Include any professional development courses you’ve taken and/or your professional affiliations.
- Hobbies and interests / extra-curricular activities
If you’ve taken part in any activity that demonstrates a particular skill relevant to the vacancy, include it here. For example, if you’re applying for a managerial role, you could mention how you coached the local football team.
Which sections are optional?
The following sections can be left off your CV:
Unless you’re applying for job in the modelling or acting industry, avoid including a photo to prevent possible discrimination.
- Extensive academic information
Unless you’ve recently left education or your qualifications are particularly relevant to the position, there’s no need to go into detail about the courses or modules you’ve studied as part of your degree or course.
If you’re in the UK or Ireland, you don’t need to include references in your CV, unless specifically requested or when your applying for an academic position. In New Zealand and South Africa, however, references on your CV are generally expected.
What if your CV is too long?
If your CV is too long, what can you do to make it shorter? Here are some tips:
- Only include relevant experience
This goes without saying, but only include relevant experience. Your aim is to sell yourself for a particular role and not depict your entire career history.
Work experience from more than fifteen years ago can be omitted or bundled under one heading, because this information is often no longer so relevant.
- Get to the point
Your CV is meant to showcase your skills, experience and achievements, which means you should avoid including unnecessary information such as: your childcare arrangements, your salary (expectations), your commuting arrangements or anything else that adds no value to your CV.
- Leave out anything negative
Does the role call for a driving licence, but you don’t have one? Perhaps, you don’t have a particular skill that the employer is looking for. Rather than mentioning this in your CV, leave this information out and focus on the positive. You can also provide an explanation for your lack of a requirement in an interview or a cover letter.
- Use bullet points
Write in the first person, but feel free to leave out the ‘I’ pronoun when listing points. The same goes for articles such as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ etc.
Another tip is to write in bullet points rather than short sentences to avoid long blocks of text.
- Minimise white space
You can often gain space by rearranging the information and improving the layout of your CV.
For example, in the ‘Work Experience’ section, you could put the job title, employer and period on one line. However, don't cram too much information on one page, because that will make your CV look cluttered and illegible!
You could also reduce the white space between the different sections by adding only one blank line instead of two. Also, keep line spacing to of minimum 1.15 and maximum 1.4.
Finally, consider decreasing margins to 0.75 inches.
- Use a smaller font
Use a smaller font to save space, but be sure not to overdo it. Your CV, of course, needs to be legible. Fonts such as Arial, Verdana or Calibri are easy to read in 9 to 12 points. Avoid using font sizes smaller than 9 points as letters can no longer be read properly.
What impression does your CV give?
Whether your CV is one, two or three pages long, the most important thing is that it makes a good impression. It must be clear, legible and easy to scan.
As it’s easy to develop ‘tunnel vision’ when it comes to your own writing, why not ask a friend or a family member to look over your CV? Is it clear or have you included too much information? Perhaps, you need to hone in on your skills and experience a bit more?
A friend or a family member is also more likely to spot any spelling or grammatical mistakes which you may have overlooked.