By Deborah Vieyra
When pursuing an academic fellowship, a long CV covering all your academic publications and speaking opportunities is expected. The more populated your CV is with relevant detail, the higher the chances of rising to the top of a competitive pool. However, for professional fellowships and even certain graduate school applications, you might wonder how long is too long. The answer is: it depends.
Your resume is your pitch document. In just a cursory glance, the reader should be able to gain insight into who you are and the reason you are deserving of what you have applied for. Too much supplementary detail can detract from the key areas of focus and can ultimately be more detrimental than helpful. Having said that, trying to cram all your professional and academic experience into one page can result in important details being lost that have bearing on the application you are making.
The two main criteria when composing your resume for a fellowship application are
- To ensure that it is the appropriate length for your career level
- To tailor your resume document to the specific program or fellowship you are applying to.
Let’s have a closer look.
Make your resume career-level appropriate
As a general rule, the further along you are in your career trajectory, the longer your resume should be. The logic behind this is not hard to see — you gather noteworthy achievements and experience as you go along. Regardless of your level however, it’s important to try not to exceed about 5 pages in length. Very few people will read past this, and it may come off as if you are trying too hard to impress.
Here’s are some guidelines for each phase of your career.
- Entering college: If you are a graduating senior, do not exceed 2 pages for your resume. Only include detail that is useful for the selection committee. While part-time work experience shows initiative and work ethic, it is not necessary to include every paper route and babysitting gig you have had. Rather focus on entries that show leadership ability and commitment to your community, as well as any awards and achievements that you are proud of. If you have done extracurricular activities and volunteer work that have given you specific skills, be sure to include those.
- Graduate School: Only under very specific circumstances, should a resume for a graduate school level application be longer than 2 pages. By this stage, you may want to start trimming off the fat from your resume — high school achievements are less important and should only be noted if they have very specific bearing on the application you are making.
- Mid-career: By this phase of your career, focus your resume toward more recent experience. A basic guideline is to include 5 to 8 years of previous experience. Unless something early on in your career really shaped your path, you can start pruning off the earlier years. You have more leeway at this point to expand past 2 pages, but it’s still important that every detail that is included shows something significant about you. Remember, this is the pitch document for you.
Tailor it to the specific application
Regardless of what part of your career you are in, it is always important to focus your resume according to the specific dictates of the application you are making.
I’m going to take you through two common fellowship application types and how best to structure your resume for them:
- Fellowships that include a self-designed project: It is vital that you demonstrate your ability to conceive of and implement a project on your own volition, and that you are able to conduct research independently. Ensure that you include items on your resume that demonstrate this capacity. If you have not led a research project, think of experience you have had that could demonstrate both initiative and leadership ability.
- International fellowships: Fellowships that include a travel abroad component, such as the Fulbright program, all require their award winners to demonstrate a capacity for international diplomacy and cultural exchange. This, together with your academic achievements, is perhaps the most crucial element of your application. Include items on your resume that speak to this, whether that’s teaching English as a foreign language, volunteering at a refugee centre or simply involving yourself with a variety of cultures within your own geographical community.
Content that is not relevant to your application does not need to find a home on your resume. Don’t add items unnecessarily just to add bulk to your application. Relevance is always far more important than length.
The answer to how long is too long for a resume is: Anything beyond what is applicable for your application.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.