Your resume absolutely must do two things. Unfortunately, while brevity achieves one, it defeats the other. Therefore, unless your exploits were the cover story in Monday's Fortune, brevity isn't your answer.
1. Quick Orientation
Your reader will allow your resume only about thirty seconds...no more than a minute... to orient him to who you are, and whether you might be relevant to his needs right now. Certainly that's true if it arrives "cold" in the mail or is blown in through the window; he'll spend more time with it, not less, if he's paid a retainer recruiter over $80,000 to look for it.
Most of the time your resume will reach the reader when he doesn't need you. Your "one match" will bum less than a minute. By then, if you've done a poor orientation job, he'll have dumped you for being too tedious and confusing. And even if you've done a good job, he'll almost always have dumped you for not being needed right now.
2. Thorough Convincing
But in the rare, rare instance when you do happen to hit a reader at the moment she has a need you might fill, and you quickly orient her to that fact, then she's willing to extend her attention span a bit further.
She didn't find you irrelevant. Now she's looking to find you ordinary. But, wait a minute; you've been involved in several things that were impressively successful...another "turn off' bypassed. Okay, but probably these programs were conceived, planned, and strategically implemented by others, and you were merely a supporting player. No, wait another minute; your clear, succinct explanation of the reasons underlying the actions that were taken certainly sounds like you were the strategist, not just the "gofer." Your reader decides:
"This guy is interesting. I'll read to the end. And then I'll go back over this whole thing again. If he still looks okay, maybe I'll even call him up."
As you see, a very brief resume could have performed the quick orientation and helped your reader turn off. Unfortunately, it probably couldn't have turned her on...and on...and on...to the point of picking up the phone and calling you.
Fortunately, a resume written according to the "long copy sells" principle of direct mail copywriting is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
Right away you're probably saying, "I can see, John, where long copy will be great at 'Thorough Convincing,' but won't it interfere with 'Quick Orientation'?"
No. Not if you're careful to make your resume visually accessible. Format and layout become extremely important. Just make your resume:
Your reader will glance at 3, 4, 5, or 6 pages if it's instantly evident with just one glance what's on each of those pages. If you arrange your resume right, the recipient will probably glance through all of the pages before reading any of them. That's everyone's normal impulse as a reader anyway. Fortunately, with resumes in particular, it's easy to help that normal human tendency along.
Don't you just hate topically-oriented resumes?
Don't you wish everyone did?
I have never yet met anyone who likes to receive a topically-oriented resume.
You know the kind...where practically the whole thing is a list of claimed accomplishments, presented entirely out of context of when they happened... who the executive was working for...what his title, responsibilities, reporting relationships, and staff were...and what the size and nature of the businesses were. Finally, if you're lucky...and it's not always there...you find a deliberately sketchy little "Chronology of Employment" buried at the end, from which...if you're not already too turned off...you try to guess when and for whom and from what position of how much authority those previously claimed management miracles were achieved.
You and I are in the overwhelming majority in disliking topically-oriented resumes (also sometimes euphemistically referred to as "achievement-oriented"). When on the receiving end, virtually everybody prefers the good, honest, comfortable, easy-to-read old-fashioned kind, where name, address, and business and home phone numbers are at the top, and work history proceeds backwards from current job on the first page to earliest on the last page.
Everyone's recognition of... and preference for... the standard-format resume solves your "scannability" problem, without getting you into the brevity trap.
If you don't go out of your way to confuse your reader, you've got the scannability problem solved...no matter how long you choose to make your resume.
Everyone in a position to hire an executive earning over $100,000 has read hundreds of resumes before. If yours is in standard reverse-chronology format, and each employer/time/position copyblock floats in enough white space to make it clear where one segment ends and the earlier one begins, your reader will go on automatic pilot...scanning through any number of pages in just a very few seconds.
One page or five, he quickly sees that you're not somebody he can use right now. But if by stroke of lightning you happen to have dropped into his hands at precisely the time he does need someone with a background even remotely like yours, he'll read on...and on. Having your entire "fire" laid out, you've got an excellent chance that your reader will proceed all the way from flicker- of-interest to action. Expect a phone call or a letter!
Not only does the standard reverse-chronology resume solve the scannability problem; it's also more convincing, because it's more straightforward.
Forget about "long copy sells." Assume that two resumes, one reverse- chronological and the other topical, are the same length...any length.
The one that deliberately strips away the employment context from the claimed accomplishments not only frustrates the reader's comprehension, it also raises the presumption that there must have been some very good reason for doing so. "This woman obviously has something to hide," thinks the reader. "I wonder what it is."
Usually it's too-brief tenure at the latest or two latest jobs... and maybe at lots of jobs along the way. That's what the reader immediately suspects. And readily confirms, if a truthful "chronology" is included anywhere in the resume. And assumes if it's not.
Wanting to de-emphasize their latest job and not put it at the top of a reverse- chronological list is overwhelmingly the reason executives turn to a topically-oriented resume... even though when they're personally hiring, they hate to receive one. That's a mistake. It's better to deal with the problem straightforwardly.