Why Less Is More on a Resume/CV and How to Update Yours

Writing a resume


Adding to your resume or CV can be satisfying. Listing your appearance on a panel discussion at a recent virtual conference might only take up one line, but those lines add up. Eventually, you’re curating all your experiences rather than creating what the document is intended to do: getting you a job interview.

During this new calendar year and semester, take as much time subtracting from your resume/CV — with a less-is-more approach — than your usual list compiling.

“Too many people take the list-building approach,” said Katie Trauth Taylor, a former English professor who is now the founder/CEO of Untold Content, a consultancy that provides clients technical communication, copywriting, and user-centered document design, including resume/CV templates. “There’s this idea of ​​adding just one more presentation, or one more publication, or just one more course, and adding and adding constantly. For academic jobs, it’s tough because there is this expectation that you showcase the robustness of your experience. (The CV is supposed to function) as the record of your academic achievements, but getting away from list building and focusing more on results and impacts is a smarter approach.”

Whether you’re updating your resume for a staff position or you’re an instructor polishing your CV for a faculty opening, there are two main reasons to use a less-is-more approach: 1.) improving the perceived impact of your work , and 2.) improving the reading experience of the hiring manager or application screener.

Reason #1: The Averaging Effect

Researchers from the The University of Michigan and the University of Haifa found that When people are presented information in a package, such as a resume, they tend to “average” them. For example, a mildly favorable achievement added to a list of highly favorable accomplishments detracts from the desired impression. If you have three bullet points rated as 10s on your CV, adding a 5-rated item will bring the average score down to an 8.75.

According to the study, having more items on your resume only helps when the information is presented side-by-side with another resume. But even if there’s only one other applicant, resumes are evaluated in isolation for the purpose of the hiring manager deciding to call you in for an interview, and not to make a hiring decision.

Reason #2: The Skimming Effect

We all know there are likely hundreds of other applicants, which is part of the reason why hiring managers spend an average of 7.4 seconds for the initial screening of resumes. If in those 7.4 seconds, all they see are massive blocks of text, they’ll impulsively sacrifice your resume/CV to the TL;DR folder. The human brain can only process 5-9 bits of information at a time, and your resume/CV will likely be read from a computer screen, which makes it even more of a challenge to capture attention when people are Accustomed to skimming webpages with an F-pattern or E-pattern reading tendency.

The Response: Add Quality, Reduce Quantity

So how do you add impact and avoid cutting for the sake of reducing the number of words per page? While TrauthTaylor said it’s acceptable for academic CVs to have much more content than a resume, both should “only feature the aspects of your experience that are relevant to the position and reveal impact and your capabilities.”

Here are five things to increase while still using a less-is-more approach to your resume/CV updates:

1. Increase the size of section titles. Help the reader recognize the transitions between sections on the document, especially for academic CVs that can have at least eight titles: education, experience, publications, conference presentations, courses taught, service, grants and certifications, and professional memberships. Set the titles in bold font, all capital letters, and font sizes that are up to two times the size of the text within the section. For example, keep your text after the bullet points between 10- or 12-point font size and titles between 20-24 points.

2. Increase white space. Let your document breathe. Set your page margins on all sides to between 0.5 and 1 inch, but don’t use all 6.5 inches of line space if you’re using an 8.5-by-11-inch document. Indent before the bullet points so that the line length from bullet point to period is four inches. Also, increase the spaces between sections so they are twice the size of the spaces between section titles and the start of text within a section. Just make sure your spacing follows a consistent hierarchy throughout the document. To adjust the spacing in Microsoft Word, highlight the final line of a section or a section title, then go to the “Layout” tab on the menu bar and under “Spacing” type in a number in the “After” field. Try 30 points after sections and 15 points after section titles.

3. More accomplishments, fewer job duties. The bullet points under job experiences should not include everything each role entailed. “Here’s the test: If a bullet point can be put on someone else’s resume, it is a job description (something that anyone in your position can do) and not an accomplishment specific to you,” wrote Avery Blank, a consultant and Forbes senior contributor.

4. More adjectives, adverbs, and data. If replacing a job description with accomplishments still leaves your resume bare, identify some of your traits displayed in the role. Then, describe them as skills using adjectives and adverbial phrases, and support the skills with a metric. For example, “gives attention to detail” is a vague trait, and while the skills “organized student applications painstakingly and logically” is different than “… in a flash and by intuition,” a better line would be something like, ” Organized an elaborate system for processing student applications with a 10 percent greater success rate (or 25 percent faster) than the previous year.” This is just enough to draw interest and set up a story for you to tell in the interview.

5. Increase the proportion of what matters most. The problem with adding accomplishments to your resume/CV is that it makes you feel satisfied to have an exhaustive list of everything you’ve done in your career. Instead, do research and focus on what matters to hiring managers, tenure/promotion committees, and other gatekeepers of the academy. If the number of peer-reviewed publications matter to your discipline, don’t try to come across as well-balanced by cramming in all your service and teaching merits. If student retention is clearly emphasized in a job posting, tailor the resume to those accomplishments and skills. Writers call this “killing your darlings” before a manuscript reaches an editor.

Finally, if you’re seeking a recommended page count, a resume should be one page if you have less than about 10 years of experience and two pages if you have more. An academic CV should be “as long as a piece of string,” meaning whatever it takes to thread together what’s expected for your particular discipline. This can be anywhere from 2-5 pages for a graduate student to as many as 15-30 pages for faculty with an extensive portfolio of research.

Remember the audience of your resume/CV and what you want them to think and do. The goal is to get an interview for a job, not showcase your entire career.

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