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When a Lengthy Resume Makes Sense for Executives

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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 specially 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'll 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, specially 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 experience.

  • If the details of your accomplishments distinguish you from competing candidates.

  • 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 descriptions.)

  • 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 achievements.

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 functional expertise.

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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