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What is best – a one page or two page CV?

This is a common question that many people ask, not only in UK, but all around the world. In fact, some people even complicate this yet further by adding three pages and four pages into the mix.

However, the vast majority of advisers are agreed that the maximum recommended length for a CV is two pages maximum, and in general we work on that premise – although on rare occasions some clients do request longer CVs (usually three pages as an absolute maximum).

So what is it?

In order to answer this question, you really need to put yourself in the employer’s shoes, and ask yourself what would an employer prefer to read. Two pages? Or just one page?

Whilst there are always going to be exceptions, as a general rule employers (and people in general for that matter) tend to find that the longer a document is (any document) the less enticing it is to read. The same holds true for CVs. Consequently, one page CVs tend to be more enticing to read. Not only that, but they also undoubtedly stand out from the crowd more than longer counterparts. This may not seem so important. However, it is – and especially if you consider the truth that not every CV gets read. Just because an employer or HR executives has 50 CVs on his/her desk it doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she reads them all. Frequently, this isn’t the case. Some will be read and rejected, some will be read and shortlisted, and some may well be just consigned to the bin unread.

‘You have to be in it to win it,’ as they say, and that may be true of a lottery, but when it comes to job applications you need to actually be aware that there are other considerations at play, and that if you want to boost your odds then there are factors which affect those odds. One important factor is CV length. Research has shown that given the choice between a long CV and a short one HR executives tend to pick the short ones first, and the shorter the better.

There is nothing to stop you from using a longer CV if you prefer – but just be aware that if you do so there is a risk that you may well be handing over the advantage to a competitor.

Does this mean that one page is best?

Not as a stand-alone factor in itself – no.
Length alone doesn’t necessarily mean that a shorter CV will be better than a long one – only the actual all-important content will determine that – however, it does mean that your CV usually has a better chance of being read if it is one page rather than two, three or four pages long.

This in itself is significant, and this in itself can (and often does) boost your odds.

So just what is the best CV?

The best CV for you isn’t the best CV for someone else. Each person is different, they have different circumstances as well as different abilities, achievements and goals. This is worth bearing in mind and reiterating. At the same time, there are certain truths that apply across the board. One such truth is that the best CVs are not those which say as much as possible, but on the contrary are those which are more selective and focus on telling the employer the things that they want to hear in a deliberately succinct, relevant and proactive manner.

This actually ties in with sales and marketing principles, and is one reason why shorter, deliberately focused CVs tend to get better results than longer and less focused counterparts.

Can you say everything you need to in just one page?

In many cases you can. However (and this is the crux of the matter), writing powerfully and succinctly at the same time is a very specialist skill, and by no means easy. On the contrary, it is more difficult than people realise, and takes know-how, experience and genuine writing talent. More people would have a one-page CV if they could, it’s just that most people don’t know how to refine their longer original down to the optimum one page length. Consequently, the vast majority of people apply for jobs with CVs that are two pages long (or even longer still).

So where does the advantage come in?

The advantage comes in when you can take a two, three or four page CV and say the same things (and sometimes more), in a quarter, a third or in half the number of words. If you can do that then pretty much by default your curriculum vitae becomes stronger, and ultimately more effective when it comes to applying for jobs.

Are there any other advantages of a one-page CV?

Yes – apart from the obvious ones such as having better first impressions, standing out from the crowd, and being very enticing to read, one page CVs also have the advantage of helping you focus more, and optimising your CV for particular jobs. The nature of a one-page CV format lends itself quite naturally to this. Another advantage (of many) is that with a one-page CV you can effectively play with your trump cards – and very forcefully. If, instead you resort to a longer, more conventional CV, you are pretty much forced to also play with some of the lower, base cards, and this can ultimately weaken your hand.

Are there any disadvantages of a one-page CV?

The only real disadvantage (of sorts) is that you can’t say everything. However, you don’t want to say everything anyway, because as mentioned the most effective CVs are selective, rather than those which say too much. So in many cases this just isn’t a disadvantage at all.

Are there any advantages of longer CVs?

There are very few real advantages to longer CVs other than the fact that you can add more information. Although, as mentioned, doing just that can be (and often is) counterproductive.

Another arguable advantage of longer CVs is that they are preferred by some recruitment companies (although by no means all). Even then, this isn’t necessarily a reason for using a longer CV because a recruitment company is not the same as the hiring firm, and a recruiter isn’t the same as the real decision maker.

You are better off writing with the real decision maker in mind (namely the real employer rather than the middleman recruiter), and as mentioned, real employers do tend to prefer shorter CVs.

Are there any disadvantages of longer CVs?

Yes – lots!
As touched upon, they are less enticing to read, stand out less, it is harder to get your important central message across effectively, they tend to dilute or even hide your key sales points and more besides…

Do some people use both a one-page and a two-page CV?

Most people don’t, but a significant amount of jobseekers do.
A typical scenario would be someone who applies for jobs primarily through recruitment agencies. Some recruitment agencies will tell the candidate that employers like longer, more detailed CVs (even though this frequently just isn’t true), and will encourage the candidate to apply with a longer CV.

In cases like this some people like to have two CVs; a longer one for use with such recruitment companies, and a shorter one for applications direct to the real decision maker (i.e. the actual employer).

One point of note here is that not all one page CVs are the same!
Many people’s idea of a one-page CV is just something which neatly summarises their work, academic and career experience. For most people therefore a one-page CV is quite a basic, passive and one-dimensional document.

However – ours are nothing of the sort!

Our one-page CVs usually still include plenty of detail, and not just passive detail, but detail that includes proactive achievements, relevant keywords and important skills/traits etc. This is one (of many) reasons why our one-page CVs are usually higher impact than typical two, three, or four page CVs.

So what should you use?

Ah – that is the $64,000 question.
Ultimately, it is your CV and entirely up to you, and hopefully the information above will have given you some food for thought to make a more informed decision on this key curriculum vitae aspect.

If I want both can you write two versions?

Yes we can.
If you want to keep your options open with both a one-page and a two-page version then we heavily discount the second version to just £15 (plus VAT if applicable).

Just let us know as soon as you can after you order your original CV and your consultant can create two versions for you; a more detailed longer version, and a higher impact shorter version.

Either way we look forward to helping you.

Best wishes

The CV Succeed Team