There you are, late one evening, rushing to update your CV so you can respond to a hot job opportunity. But the moment your fingers touch the keyboard, your brain serves up the question that bedevils every job seeker.

Should your CV be one page or two?

If you ask three people, you get four different answers. And when you query Google, it only gets worse. But you still need to send out that CV tonight, so the last thing you have time for is a philosophical debate. So if you are a typical professional working in an urban job market, use this rule of thumb:

    – If you are under 30, you should probably keep it to one page.

      – If you have had more than three substantive jobs (typically around eight or 10 years of post-grad experience), you can choose to go to two pages, but you don’t have to.

      – You should avoid going to three pages, no matter how much experience you have.

        Why this rule?

        Most recruiters and hiring managers skim CVs looking for relevant experience, quickly sorting irrelevant people into a “No” pile. You only have 5 or 10 seconds to make your first impression, so be sure your relevant experience is prominent on the first page of your CV (ideally on the top half of the page). Once you’ve been selected for more consideration, the rest of your CV and your cover letter will be reviewed with more scrutiny. So page two of your CV will eventually be read — but only after you get sorted into the “Yes” pile.

        Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

          – Accomplishment bullets are easier to skim than paragraphs, so use them. And be sure your most relevant accomplishments are listed first.

            – Use a chronological format, not a functional format. The vast majority of people involved in the hiring process detest functional CVs. Most job seekers use functional CVs to explain employment gaps or career changes, but both issues are better explained in person.

              – Don’t use a tiny font to jam more stuff onto page one. Instead edit ruthlessly to eliminate irrelevant detail. Use a normal font. Leave lots of white space. Humans have to be able to read your CV, and if those humans are over 40 years old, small fonts are the kiss of death.

                – If you have more than 20 years of experience, your descriptions of jobs should get progressively shorter as time goes by. Nobody cares what you did before 1995. Just give each job a line or two. And you should probably leave off the 1970s entirely. Everyone considers your recent experience to be far more relevant than the distant past. You don’t need three pages.

                  This article was adapted from the “How Many Pages Should Your Resume Be?” article which appeared in the Washington Business Journal, Jan 14th 2013.