How Many Words on Your Resume?

I was wondering how to get more precise with the resume length question.

When I tell people that 2 pages is usually enough for a resume, I feel it's a bit vague. And anyone who's spent more than half a semester in college knows that the exact same paper can be a 7-page or an 11-page paper (without pushing one's luck too much!). Font size, margins, line spacing, … So many variables to fiddle with!

To get more precision, I decided to answer this question by analyzing the last 28 resumes I've worked on, to see what I could gather from word count.

Number of words on resumes, by years of experience

Here are the results, in a graphic where each dot represents one resume.

How many words appear on resumes

For recent grads (0 to 2 years of experience), 300 to 400 words is quite reasonable. But if you have lots of extra-curricular activities, or very little, you might fall outside this average. People with 6-10 years of experience have, on average, 500 to 700 words on their resumes. Again, these aren't hard boundaries. If you're a very technical IT expert with 8 years of experience, you may need 800 words. (Keep in mind that two full pages, the "average" resume length, is usually 600 to 800 words).

The idea is to discuss what's meaningful or valuable, and nothing else. So there shouldn't be anything on your resume that sits there "just in case." Look at every point and ask yourself if it's valuable for most of your potential readers. That's how you decide what stays and what goes.

What about resumes that hit 800 or 1000 words?

In my sample, there are 8 resumes around or above 800 words. Most of them belong to professionals who make six figures per year: executives, but also technical experts or accomplished managers/project managers. They work on (and sometimes lead) large teams, manage hefty budgets and often travel internationally for business. Which means that context, projects and accomplishments become increasingly complex, therefore requiring more words. And as much as I'm a strong believer in "less is more" for resumes, clarity is also critical.

What else can we learn from the data?

I've noticed that results are fairly spread out. There isn't a thick cluster of dots in the middle of most categories. In other words, don't take the average as something to aim for. It's really just a guide. If you're way below average, ask yourself why. Maybe you're changing fields and simply have less to say that's relevant. (Like that bottom dot in the 16+ category.) Or maybe your job isn't that technical (like a teacher or an admin assistant) and your responsibilities and accomplishments don't require extensive descriptions. That's fine.

Another observation: in each category, resumes of engineers and IT professionals often have more words than others with the same number of years of experience. These resumes often have lists of technical skills and need to be very specific with software, tools and methodology. So word count goes up.

How many words appear on STEM resumes

Is there a link between salary and resume length?

Intuitively, it would make sense that high-paying jobs would require thicker resumes. And my data agrees. Even if the sample is a bit small to draw strong conclusions, resumes near the 500-word mark are mostly for positions that pay $40,000-$60,000 per year. On the other hand, both resumes that are above 1,000 words are for positions that earn $100,000 to $200,000 per year.

Let's sum everything up cleanly

Here are the guidelines per category:

  • 0-2 years: 300-400 words
  • 3-5 years:  350-500 words
  • 6-10 years:  500-700 words
  • 11-15 years:  500-850 words
  • 16+ years:  500-1000 words

If you stray significantly from these benchmarks, ask yourself: "Did I say everything that's relevant and valuable, and ONLY what's relevant and valuable?" This principle has guided me in writing each and everyone of these resumes. And while there aren't 1000 resumes in this sample, I'm quite confident about the insights they provide.

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