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After several years in CS Academia, I'm applying to SWE roles. I have rich employment history for being 30-something years old, with technical and academic positions all of which have had strong programming and theoretical components. I also have a reasonably wide technical skillset and several projects to link to from within my resume.

Since my actual American Industry experience is under a year, most of the interest I am getting is for what Bay area companies would call "level 4", which is one level above "new university grad". Totally reasonable, and I'm A-ok with it.

I have been advised by a career mentor that given my experience, skills, and projects, I should not fear having my resume spill over into a second page. I am sticking to a one-column format to assist ATS systems; if I could do two-columns, one page is not a problem. My career mentor tells me that this is information that they received from an engineer at Twitter who said, roughly, that:

"A two-page resume is fine as long as it is to the point and contains rich signal about your coding skills and relevant experience. It's only a problem when there is a lot of irrelevant fluff."

However, I am quite ambivalent about this. Ever since I got into the job market I have been strongly advised to keep my resume into one page. After 5 jobs in various aspects of CS, this is harder to do without throwing away past positions. So I guess my question is: Would a two-page resume immediately be disqualified from further consideration when seen by a human? Is it perhaps even the case that ATS systems are tuned to let go of 2 - page resumes? Am I over-thinking this?

Please note that this is exclusively for software engineering roles in US / Canada.

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    Taking away past positions is fine actually, especially if those jobs are not relevant to the particular job you're applying for. That's what everyone does. Have a master resume. Then edit that resume down to the type of job you're applying for. And usually, only your last two or three jobs are the most relevant. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 14 at 22:52
  • Your resume is like a sales brochure for selling yourself. It should only include stuff that matters for the position you are applying to. If it has to go long, make sure it is all interesting relevant stuff. Don't make the reader work to find the points they care about. – Seth R Jan 14 at 23:20
  • Didn't hiring managers have different expectations. There is no universal rule and any given individual may love or loathe just about anything, for reasons you may never know. Lots of good advice out there for the generalities so I guess follow that. But just... whatever, really. If someone throws a CV in the bin because it's arbitrarily too long / too short / whatever, according to some secret special rule only they know, they would probably have been rubbish to work for anyway. Don't sweat it. – BittermanAndy Jan 14 at 23:31
  • No. Not Disqualified, and nothing wrong with 2 or 3 pages. Just put the most important stuff on the first page and don't include irrelevant info. -- In my experience it's generally the younger candidates (under 30) that have only 1 page. When hiring a senior I would actually expect 2 pages. – flexi Jan 14 at 23:53
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    Does this answer your question? Deciding between one or two pages for your resume – gnat Jan 15 at 6:02
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As a technical hiring manager, I do not care how long a resume is and welcome more length if it gives me a better idea about the candidate and what they’ve done. My resume’s pretty long given my 27 years in tech and I’m doing pretty well getting jobs.

The one and only rule of a resume is keep the reader in mind. A bad long resume can bore me before I get to the important stuff, but assuming you get the good stuff up front to hook me I appreciate a lot of additional context. Let me explain how resumes are used because I think that makes how to construct one obvious.

The Initial Sort - Ruling Out

There are a lot of candidates for all tech jobs. Expect that a hiring manager for a technology position is looking at a stack of at least 100 resumes, of which 80% of the candidates are completely and wildly unqualified for the position.

The manager flips to each and reads the first "above the fold" part of the first page - usually this is the "Objective" and the most recent position. If what he or she sees does not indicate the person is in the ballpark - and that's as simple as "is a Ruby programmer" for a Ruby programming job - it gets immediately thrown away/deleted. Doesn't matter if you're a super Ruby programmer, if the top of the first page of your resume doesn't say that out loud it goes into the trash with all the bots, spammers, scammers, freaks, weirdos, and melonheads who infest job applications. If for some reason the stack of resumes is actually 50% Ruby programmers for a Ruby programming position, which I must stress is almost never the case, then they'll become arbitrarily more demanding as they go and hope to see the "with five years of experience" or "on financial apps" or whatever the other things are they really wanted, again in that first 2/3 of a page.

This is where "crafting your resume" comes in. Some combo of your top freeform part of the resume and the recent experience should indicate, briefly and to the point, how you're a fit for this specific position. And unless your previous job was "doing exactly this same thing" then you need the additional tuning.

What About The ATS?

If there is some automated system or poorly paid drone pre-processing your resume they are looking for keywords. This should be handled by e.g. saying you're a dang Ruby programmer if you're a Ruby programmer. But I don't use these or work for places that do. If there's a skilled tech recruiter doing it then they're just doing step 1 for the manager and then the manager has to start with step 2 below.

The Second Runthrough - Ruling In

OK, now the manager has few enough resumes that they can mentally process them they go back and read through them in more detail to figure out who this person is and what they can do.

Here, they want to see "all the jobs you've had" because they are actively looking for things in your favor. Good school? X years of experience (in tech, out of tech)? Working at companies they know have good tech departments? Interesting projects? Compatible tech stack? If they're looking for a Ruby programmer to deliver microservices onto Kubernetes in AWS, and you have done any or all of those things, you get little "+1"s to push you into the next round, just saying "Ruby" doesn't get you there. If their customers are retailers, then working for a retailer in the past is valuable (ideally in tech, but even just working retail is a small +1 in that case).

Deep work history even before a degree or otherwise changing careers is valuable - in previous hiring cycles I've definitely counted even non "direct" experience as a plus in a candidate. There's a huge difference between "new SWE grad" and "new SWE grad but with five years of finance experience prior" - if I'm hiring for anything with any financial component it's huge but even without that I would expect 5 more years of professionalism and life skills in the package and I would prefer/pay more for the latter with everything else being equal.

Don't pad though, it needs to be consumable in a couple minutes. The reason new grads hear "one page max" is because in general new (especially under-) grads haven't done anything worth going into in detail; a hiring manager doesn't want to know every class project you did. Actual internships and externally meaningful projects, however, they do. Each item should be briefer the older it is (20 year old job - two bullets, developed this thing, did this other thing, done). If you spent two years running a Bio lab and doing data analysis, it's definitely something you should mention and put on there but it should just be a couple lines; what you did and the tech involved.

Crafting the resume a little bit is OK here. When I go in for a more security, or dev, or infra focused role I might go through my master resume that has 2-5 bullets for each old job and delete the least relevant ones, for example. But don't go overboard, someone with dev, infra, and security experience is a WAY better hire for a security job than someone with just security experience. You just don't want the "security" to be drowned in the other bits. Remember at this stage it's not a computer looking for matches, it's a person with a limited attention span scanning the resume looking for things that "jump out" to them as matching their needs.

Remember the best proof you can do something to a prospective employer is having done something previously. That's the biggest thing they want to see. If you haven't, then you're hoping that a trajectory towards that, plus courses or certifications or open source projects and a statement of passion in your objective or whatever might tell someone "hey maybe they could do it."

Interview?

The goal of the resume is to get someone to actually talk to you. You are telling them a story and they have limited time to deal with your application/resume. So give them the most important bit up front, and then give them depth with all the things that might be in your favor but still make sure the most relevant bits jump out - first in lists, delete cruft.

The interview process is exactly the same - the interviews, tech test, project, looking at your github, etc. is a desperate multi-axis attempt to verify you can indeed do the things you say before spending a lot of time and money on you.

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    I think the trick is to ensure that the first page has the entire elevator pitch. Mine is three pages, but the first page alone SHOULD be the vast majority of the information. My second and third just further flesh out my career, so if somebody cares, they can see my path and where I've come from – Dan Jan 15 at 10:39
  • Wish I could ask you for advice, I want to be doing pretty well getting jobs too! – Qasim Jan 19 at 8:44
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Don't Worry About Resume Content; Worry About Resume Depth

To help illustrate this, let me tell you the tale of 3 resumes we got from the last time we hired a programmer.

  • Resume A. 5 pages long. From an applicant that graduated college less than a year prior.

  • Resume B. 3 pages long. From an applicant in their 60's that had a long history.

  • Resume C. Single page. From an applicant that just graduated college... with no relevant details of what they actually knew/did.

I doubt I read more than 20% of the words in Resume A. Why would I? They'd take 3 paragraphs to say something that boiled down to "Developed in C#/.NET/MSSQL." For all I know, there might have been some gem that would've made me think, "Holy Snotbuckets! This applicant is the best possible candidate we could ask for!" ... except it was buried in 5 pages of gunk. We didn't even interview them for the position.

I skimmed and skipped sections of Resume B, but mostly because I didn't really care too much about their jobs more than 10 years prior - though I would at least skim through to get the general lay of the land. Each job had maybe a paragraph of text concisely describing what they did and what technologies they used in it. It was the exact right level of detail.

I scoured Resume C... but it didn't tell me anything that I actually wanted to know. And for good reason - the applicant frankly stunk when we brought them in for an interview. (My favorite moment: Me: "How long have you been programming in .NET?" Them: "Sorry, I don't know .NET - I've only worked with C#".)

So... how long should your resume be?

Long enough to cover the selling points on why they should hire you; not long enough that their eyes glaze over and they don't want to read it.

That won't be the same for each person. So don't worry if you go over a page. Just worry if you're fluffing.

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Disclaimer: I am not a hiring manager nor did my CV's always result in invitations/job offers.

I think that a good CV should be short, relevant and readable. This does definitely not mean it should never be more than one page long. With some layouts you get to two pages pretty quickly even when you don't put on that much information. If you obsessively try to cram everything in one page by using tricks as smaller fonts, or less empty space there is a big chance your CV will get less readable and therefore less attractive.

So my advice is that it is better to have two-page CV in a nice, spacious and readable layout than a one-page CV in a crammed layout.

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Would a two-page resume immediately be disqualified from further consideration when seen by a human?

This would depend on that human specifically. Some may and some other may not.

Is it perhaps even the case that ATS systems are tuned to let go of 2 - page resumes?

Yes, could be. However I am sure that it's also likely there are other factors or things the systems look out for that has more weight for dropping candidates other than length of document (what if your dream candidate posted a 2 page resume).

Am I over-thinking this?

Over-thinking no, but perhaps taking this out of proportion a bit, yes.

A perfect resume should balance a sort length with a complete content and customized tailored content. It is a rule of thumb that we suggest here that they should be customized for each role you apply, so in a way you can keep it shorter and more on-point by removing things that may not be related to the job and would only take space otherwise.

However, no where is stated that two-page resumes are a no-go.

Now, if the company you are applying explicitly asks for a one-page resume or requires something similar, then submitting anything else would surely be a disqualifying factor.

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