I am writing a CV for the first time. How long should it be?
in Careers Advice, CV Writing

I am writing a CV for the first time. How long should it be?

A solicitor being made redundant recently asked about her CV – how long should it be, as they had heard it needed to be less than 2 pages long, and anything longer would be ignored. Is this correct?

Definitely not.

I randomly popped onto our database to check the length of the last 5 CVs from candidates registering with us and these were the CV lengths that came up:

Candidate 1 – conveyancing solicitor – 4 pages
Candidate 2 – conveyancing fee earner – 4 pages
Candidate 3 – civil litigation paralegal – 3 pages
Candidate 4 – 30 year PQE commercial solicitor – 1 page
Candidate 5 – commercial property paralegal – 3 pages

NB: Candidate 4 will almost certainly have to rewrite their CV in order to get any work through! A one page CV will really not do a lot for their chances of getting locum work and for someone with this level of PQE we would normally expect at least 5 pages, if not more.

Back in the 1990s it was standard practice for careers advisers to tell students, graudates and support staff to make sure their CV could comfortably fit onto two pages of A4 paper. There were even tales of HR departments removing page 3 from any errant CVs and depositing it in the bin without reading it.

These days, the only CVs that get printed out are for interviewers and any ‘old school’ partners.. CVs are virtually 100% digital. There is no need under any circumstances to restrict a CV to two pages.

Does this mean you can waffle away over 10 pages and wax lyrical about everything and anything?

No – you are not writing a newsletter.

A CV needs to be succinct and concise. If you have something to include, make sure it is worth including. Subjective paragraphs detailing your outstanding skills, but with no evidence to back up the information provided, will have no effect on your employment prospects.

Two pages of bulletpointed information about tasks you have undertaken at work, highlighting particular specialisms, interesting facts, cases, figures about your caseload and anything else besides, will do wonders for your chances of success.

We often find that anyone with more than 25 years PQE assumes that if they write ‘conveyancing’ or ‘corporate finance’ on a CV then the reader immediately knows everything there is to know about their work experience to date. Unfortunately this is not the case, and everyone has to go through the same process of compiling a detailed CV.

So if you are new on the job market, either for the first time ever or after many years, please be reassured that you don’t need to spend hours trying to squash your life into two pages. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Two key tips – firstly concentrate on your work experience in any recent roles – spend more time on this than anything else – recruiters read this bit first. Secondly include a summary at the top of the CV that spells out exactly who you are in two sentences.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk