Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

One Page or Two?: A National Study of CPA Recruiters' Preferences for Resume Length

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

One Page or Two?: A National Study of CPA Recruiters' Preferences for Resume Length

Article excerpt

This study investigates whether CPA recruiters are more likely to interview candidates with one-page resumes or candidates with two-page resumes when candidates are highly and similarly qualified graduating seniors with accounting majors. One- and two-page resumes for four fictitious, entry-level job candidates were created and grouped in six combinations using a split-split-plot design. Packets containing the different combinations of the four candidates' resumes (two one-page and two two-page resumes in each case) were mailed to 570 personnel recruiters from Big Six accounting firms (now the Big Five).

Respondents were asked to read and rank the resumes as if they were those of real candidates for entry-level positions. Results indicate that recruiters ranked candidates with two-page resumes more favorably than candidates with one-page resumes, suggesting that graduating seniors with accounting majors and outstanding credentials should consider writing two-page resumes if they apply for entry-level Big Five accounting positions. The paper also argues for industry-specific empirical testing of recruiters' resume preferences, with its own methodology offered as an example.

Keywords: Resume, CPA Recruiting. Job Search

Business communicators have long recognized the importance of the resume as a rhetorical document that must be adapted to audience members' needs and preferences. Yet amid the wealth of resume-writing advice, job applicants still struggle with the question of appropriate resume length. Ideally, resume writers would be able to base their decisions about crucial rhetorical issues, such as resume length, on research that reveals the actual practices of recruiters in specific industries. Since the early 1980s, business communication scholars have argued that the literature on job searches needs to be more grounded in research (Charney & Rayman, 1989; Penrose, 1983). This article reports on a study that adds to the growing research on resume writing by examining the resume length preferences of Big Five (formerly the Big Six) accounting firm recruiters, a population not previously studied.

Review of Resume Research

Authors of most recent business and technical communication textbooks, journal articles, and trade periodicals agree that traditional resumes for most job applicants should not exceed two pages, with a second page used only when the applicant has extensive work experience or accomplishments (Alexander, 1997; Baxter, 1987; Bortoli, 1997; Brown, 1998; Lannon, 1997; Locker, 1997; Markel, 1998; Raunch, 1997 ). A 1987 survey of personnel administrators from 152 Fortune 500 companies supports this position, revealing that 78% of the administrators preferred resumes of one or two pages for new college graduates (Harcourt & Krizan, 1989). Even longer resumes may be acceptable in scannable form--that is, in a form written for machines rather than human readers to process--but applicants are still being advised to prepare both traditional and electronic versions of their resumes, even when they seek positions in computer-oriented companies (Vitiello, 1995). [1]

While the advice to "keep your resume to one page" seems no longer to represent a consensus of opinion, some resume experts writing for business periodicals and trade publications still warn recent college graduates that resumes should not under any circumstances exceed one page (Bortoli, 1997; Brown, 1998; Morton, 1996). Some research studies also advise resume writers to limit themselves to one page because of recruiters' self-reported preferences. When McDowell (1987) conducted a random survey of 200 recruiters conducting campus interviews at a Midwestern university and 25 members of the Society of Technical Communication, 80% of the respondents said they believed a resume should be one page.

Other survey studies report that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (Hutchinson, 1984) and CEOs of both Fortune 500 and small companies (Spinks & Wells, 1987, 1993) equate a one-page resume with conciseness. …

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