Looks DO Matter – Formatting & Styling your Resume

Simple can be good - but don't go too plain or you may be forgotten.
Simple can be good – but don’t go too plain or you may be forgotten.
A highly designed resume can look amazing, but may not be right for every job.
A highly designed resume can look cool, but may not be right for many jobs.

Looks DO Matter – Formatting & Styling your Resume

Resumes are not sexy. Or so you think. But I dare you – Google “unique resume designs” and you will see some amazing examples of human creativity – from graphics that seem to defy 2 dimensions to resumes printed on a t-shirt (yes, really!), there is no shortage of options, particularly if you know how to code and have experience with design software.

For most of us, resumes are a somewhat less dramatic endeavor. We’ll be using MS Word, or perhaps Google docs. Word generally has the most formatting options and you can be pretty sure that it will be readable for any company. But even though your resume may not have the bells and whistles of an artist’s, you still want to be sure it’s appealing and is appropriate for your target industry and jobs. So let’s take a look at a few design elements and how to choose them.

Finding a font that fits

Time was, nearly every resume was created with Times Roman. It was everywhere, and even today, many clients come to me with their resume using this default font. My advice? Consider another. Depending on how classic or modern you’d like to go, there’s one that is sure to work for you. Some keep their form and readability in more text-heavy documents, while others can provide a cleaner look for technical resumes. A few I like and often use: Garamond (takes up less space), Calibri, Palatino, and Tahoma, Stay away from script and “artsy” fonts, which are not the easiest on the eyes. For additional insight, check out one. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/705/ for thoughts on different options.

To color, or not to color?

Just as all resumes used to be in Times Roman, they all used to be in black and white, too. Today, of course, there are plenty of options for brightening up the doc with a hue or two. But should you? And will it really make a difference? When I started writing resumes, the most I did was use some shading here or there to highlight–these days, I’m likely to color the lines separating sections, or add some to shaded areas. I’ve also seen it used in headings.

Truthfully, I am a more content-focused resume writer. All the colors in the world won’t hide a sketchy career timeline or lack of detail about your accomplishments. And for the most part, I believe hirers are thinking the same thing. That said, a pop of blue or red can brighten up a resume and certainly enhance its appearance.

Graphically speaking…   

The first example I’ve included in this post is one you can find if you google “unique resumes”. There really are some cool ones out there. And if you’re in a super-creative field, it may be seen as a sample of your work as much as a rendering of your professional life. If your job plans are more apt to take you to a financial firm, or if it’s likely that your resume will go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), all that prettiness may be to little (or even negative) effect.

For those in fields where metrics rule, a chart or graph can be incorporated if done in a way that doesn’t overwhelm – but do keep in mind that it can still cause problems for automated systems. One option is to have a version sans graphics when you know you’ll be put through an ATS.

Outside borders have generally fallen out of favor. They can be difficult to get right, often falling out of the printable area. If you do have a border, make sure it shows up correctly when printed.

One simple graphic tool you may want to consider is a box for information you want to emphasize or display separately. I’ve put keywords in a small box next to the summary and used them to highlight great results (think “Salesperson of the Year from 2004-2008: or “Highest number of million-dollar clients brought in–total value, $78M”). A tech professional might box their set of skills. The important thing to remember is that whatever you place inside, it should be interesting and help you stand out from the crowd. But don’t make it so big that it overwhelms everything else. And, once again, take it out of the box for a text version to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

If you’re an artist looking for an artistic job, I say go for broke. Write your resume in a circular pattern or design it as a newspaper front page. As long as you know your audience, take some risk and show off that talent. If you’re applying to Bank of America as an analyst, focus on your content and choose simple, classic formatting and styles that show that while you do indeed care about looks, you are far more than another pretty face.

To getting the jobs of our dreams – cheers!

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas A. Edison


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