How Long Should a CV be in 2021 - Optimal CV Length
Not sure how long a CV should be?
We don’t blame you!
The topic is pretty controversial:
Some career advisers insist that a good CV shouldn’t ever surpass one page. Others say this is optional - as long as the CV has all the right info, the length doesn’t matter as much.
So - which one is it?
Well, the answer is actually not all that simple, and it largely depends on whether you’re making a US or EU CV.
What do we mean by that? You’ll find out in this article!
Read on to learn:
- What is a CV?
- US CV vs European CV - What’s the Difference?
- How Long Should a CV Be?
- What to Include in a CV?
- How to Make Your CV Shorter
What is a CV?
Put shortly, Curriculum Vitae (abbreviated into “CV”) stands for “course of life” in Latin and is defined as a written summary of a person’s career, qualifications, and education.
CV length and content, however, depend on where you live. This means it’s your location, primarily, that defines what a CV is and what it should look like.
Here’s what we mean by that:
US CV vs European CV - What’s the Difference?
In the US, a CV is a detailed overview of your life’s achievements - especially the academic ones.
American CVs are not really ‘tailored’ for any job; rather, a CV grows alongside your professional career and gets updated every time you finalize a project, publish a new study, etc. For this reason, in the US, your CV can be as long as it needs to be - even if it numbers in double-digits.
A European CV, on the other hand, is exactly the same thing as a US resume. It rarely exceeds two pages, though one page is the perfect length.
Unlike the US CV, the European one doesn't list every award, certification, or project you’ve engaged in. Rather, just like a resume, it only includes experiences and background information relevant to the role you're applying for.
Still confused? Here’s a nifty box visualizing the difference between the US and European CV.
- It can be as long as necessary, with no length limitations.
- Meant for academic/research positions
- Includes a candidate’s every grant, honor, award, publication, presentations, references, and scholarships
- It is not ‘tailored’ for the job
- In terms of length, 1 page is perfect, 2 are acceptable, 3 are rarely OK
- It is meant for all job positions
- Includes only the most important aspects of a candidate's career and achievements
- It is ‘tailored’ in accordance with the skills required for a specific job
If there’s one thing the two CVs have in common, is that experiences, education, awards, and all other entries are listed chronologically, starting with the most recent experience, and ending with the oldest.
Want to learn more about how the two documents differ? Our article CV vs Resume - 5+ Key Differences goes into more detail on the differences between the two.
How Long Should a CV Be?
In the US, CV length can be as long as it needs to be.
US CVs need to be comprehensive, so a candidate applying for an academic or research position can use as many pages as it takes to list all their achievements, publications, professional experience, etc.
The CV of a candidate in the first stages of their academic or graduate school career might be 2-3 pages long because they are just starting off. A more experienced academic or researcher, on the other hand, can easily have a double-digit lengthed CV (think, 10+ pages).
In Europe, however, the rules are different.
As the European CV is basically a resume, it should optimally be 1 page long.
Remember: there’s a reason most career advisors insist on the one-page length resume rule. Recruiters just don’t have the time to read unnecessary information, and for most candidates, that’s exactly what the 2nd page in a resume is.
Unless you’re a senior-senior professional, chances are, you can easily fit all relevant information on a single page.
Now, in case you DO have a very impressive career, and you just can’t make your CV shorter, then it’s OK to keep the CV at 2 pages (maybe even 3, in very rare circumstances).
Otherwise, the golden rule for the European CV length is: keep it short, concise, and to the point.
What to Include in a CV?
Again, what you include in your CV depends on which side of the world you are in.
Here’s a list of what a US CV includes:
- Name and contact information: the contact information section also includes your current institution or place of employment in the US CV.
- Areas of interest: various academic interests you may have.
- Education: this is a list of your earned degrees or those in process, the institutions you have attended, and the years of graduation. This is also where you include your dissertation thesis title, if available.
- Grants, honors, and awards: list any grants received, honors for your work, or awards you may have won.
- Publications and presentations: any published academic article, books, or presentations given at conferences. You can divide them into two categories if you have plenty of both.
- Employment and experience: this section may include previous job positions, but also volunteer experiences, laboratory and field experiences, and other relevant entries.
- Scholarly or professional memberships: list any professional organization of which you are a member.
- References: this is a list of people who recommend you for the job, and include their contact information.
A European CV, on the other hand, typically includes:
- Contact Information: first and last name, phone number, email address, location. Optionally, you can also add your professional title and LinkedIn URL.
- Resume summary/objective: 2-3 sentence summary of your experiences that goes right on top of your resume under the contact information section. A summary is used by professionals with a lot of work experience, and a resume objective is more fit for students.
- Work experience: the most important resume section. This includes your job title and position, company’s name and location, achievements, responsibilities, and dates employed.
- Education: program name and university name, as well as the years you attended. In the EU resume, GPA, Honors, academic achievements, and even your minor, are optional entries - especially if they take up space.
- Skills section: Skills are categorized into hard, soft, and universal skills. This section can be a strong point in your resume, especially if you can tailor your skills to the job you are applying for.
- Other optional sections: Optional sections vary from languages and volunteering experience, all the way to certifications, publications, and projects. Applicants include these sections in the European CV only if they don’t cause the resume to spill over to the 2nd page.
How to Make Your CV Shorter
Struggling to keep your CV under one page?
In this section, we’ll go through some tips on how to reduce your CV length.
And of course, we’re talking about the EU CV in this section, as a US CV can be as long as you want it to be. So, without further ado, here are our 5 tips to keep your CV length under one page:
#1: Only List Relevant Information For the Job
This is probably our most important tip when it comes to shortening your CV.
When applying for just about any role, you need to make sure that all experiences listed in your CV are relevant for the position.
Here’s what we mean by this:
- Your experiences should be timely (i.e. something you did in the last 10 years). Leave out jobs you’ve worked way back - the hiring manager doesn’t care where you worked 15 years ago.
- Your experiences should be relevant. If you’re applying to be a reporter, for example, you won’t lose points for leaving out your old telemarketing work experience.
- Skip on irrelevant degrees. If you have a B.A., you can skip out on your high-school education and everything preceding it.
#2: Leave Optional Sections Out
Optional sections are optional for a reason - they’re nowhere near as important as the core CV sections like work experiences, summary, skills, etc.
It’s OK to include them if you’re a student/recent graduate/career changer without much industry experience (to make up for the lack of work experience). If you’re a seasoned professional with industry experience, though, you can easily skip on these sections.
So, if your CV length is about to exceed one page, feel free to cut these out:
- Volunteering experiences
- Hobbies & interests
- Academic publications
- Extracurricular activities
#3: Format Smarter
Formatting is just a matter of following instructions but it can help keep your CV length in check, big time.
If you just ‘dump’ information into double spaced paragraphs, using 14 pt font size and big section headings, your CV will end up twice the length it’s supposed to.
The solution: smart formatting. Here’s how you can make that happen:
- Use bullet points to list information, especially the bulkier sections.
- Use single line spacing. Only use 1.5 or double line spacing to separate sections.
- Use a 10 or 12 pt font size, depending on how much space you need. Make sure not to go too small, though. The recruiter still has to be able to read your CV!
- Use smaller section headings, such as H2 or H3 (avoid H1). It’s also important that headings are clear and uniform.
The additional advantage of following these simple formatting instructions? Recruiters are guaranteed to at least read a well-formatted, but a sloppy-looking one might end up straight into the rejected pile.
#4: Use Data and Numbers
Job responsibilities in a CV are overrated.
The HR reading your CV knows exactly what your responsibilities for your past job were. Working phone sales? Your responsibility was probably “conducting outbound sales.”
What we’re getting at here is, listing your responsibilities can clog up your work experience space when you can be talking about something more important:
What do we mean by that? Let’s compare these 2 examples:
- Increased newspaper readership by 40% during the first 6 months.
- Conducted over 15 interviews during my first month at the job.
- Created creative and engaging articles for publication.
- Interviewed a variety of public figures and wrote feature stories on diverse subjects.
The first lists achievements using numbers, making them measurable and more impressive. The second example basically lists a journalist’s responsibilities - only taking up more space.
Now, to make sure your achievements are as impressive as possible, you can use Laszlo Bock’s formula to write them.
Verbally, Laszlo describes the formula as “starting with an active verb, numerically measuring what you accomplished, providing a baseline for comparison, and detailing what you did to achieve your goal.”
‘Mathematically,’ it’s this:
Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z].
#5. Use a Resume Builder
Still having trouble keeping your CV length to one page?
Well, this last tip is a guaranteed success: use a resume builder!
...And that’s it! Now all you have to do is input your information and you’re set!
So, pick your favorite resume template, and get started!
Now that we went through some of the confusing differences between what a US CV and an EU CV is, let’s do a recap of the most important parts of the article:
- A CV - or a Curriculum Vitae - is the Latin name for ‘course of life.’ However, what really defines a CV - and CV length - is your location.
- In the US, a CV is meant for academic or research positions, so the CV length can exceed the traditional 1-2 pages. Seasoned researchers may have 12-page CVs showcasing all their academic and professional achievements, to date.
- In Europe, a CV is the same thing as a resume. The European’s CV length varies from 1-2 pages, lists the applicant’s most relevant achievements and experiences only, and is preferably tailored for the job you are applying for.
- Some tips to shorten your CV length are to only list useful information, to leave optional sections out, to use bullet points instead of paragraphs, and to express your achievements in data and numbers.