I am convinced that some books are at the top of the bestseller list because the publisher chose a good font and size for the text, knowing that readers get overwhelmed when faced with a page of closely-packed lines in small print. This principle also applies to resumes.
As a professional resume writer, I have designed resumes for clients at all levels of the professional ladder, from students to military members transitioning to civilian life, from administrative assistants to CEOs. The same rules govern almost all cases because, in the end, a human being is your audience.
As a reviewer of resumes, I have participated in the resume-rifle-through when a position opens and people apply. My colleagues and I barely stopped to read most of them because we were basing our immediate impressions on the physicality of those poor applicants’ one-page interviews. Your resume is the first thing that speaks for you (if you get past the email weeding), and companies do not have the time or patience for diving into another badly-worded, hyperbolized resume that does not look accessible.
Here are some tips for creating a visually-appealing resume.
Unless you are trying for a job in the creative or artistic sectors, stick to the “little black dress” of resumes. What that means is go for the neat and formal approach, with a headliner and proper headings for each section.
Decide what you need to emphasize in the top third of your page. If you are banking on your educational background for appeal, make sure your “Education” section is in the top 4″ of the page (approximate). If you do not have an impressive degree or school name behind you, emphasize your work history and accomplishments. Try to stay with a one-pager unless you have 20 years of experience or are going for a high-level position.
The following are good font sizes for your different resume sections:
- A good size for your name as the header at the top is font 26, Times New Roman.
- Size 13 for your contact information underneath your name
- Consider a medium-bold line separating your heading from your text, but do not make it a thick black line that overpowers the overall image
- Headings for each section (Summary of Qualifications, Education, Professional Experience): font size 14
- Size 10 space between heading and first line of text
- All text below is size 12
- Space between professional titles/positions and job responsibilities is 6
As you go further back in your work history (and farther down the page), include shorter descriptions of job skills and duties to save space and time. Spend more space and words on the previous positions that gave you your most marketable skills and most credible professional experience.
Bullet points make the job descriptions readable, but limit yourself to 3-4, at the most, for a mid or entry-level position. If you are applying for an executive position or sales, the rules change a little. Those resumes rely heavily on a summary of achievements to show a “proven track record”. Some resumes also benefit from a bulleted “Skills” section in the top third of the page. I usually use three columns and three rows, so you have space for nine skills or attributes. This is your chance to list computer programs you are proficient in, areas of expertise, communication skills, multi-lingual capacities, etc.
Another tip that many forget is making sure your resume is consistent in its alignment, whether you are going for a left, right, justified, or centered alignment. I recommend “align left” and using a version of Times New Roman because a formal and normal design allows the reader to focus on your words instead of adjusting to the format.
If your format is accessible to the eye and inviting to the reader, you can have more fun with what you say. Stick to the truth and do not overstate, but do not use such bland descriptions of past job duties that a reader cannot really picture what you did.
To give yourself an idea of what is readable and what is not, find resume samples online and review them. Get a friend or two to give their opinions, if you can. Do not give yourself more than 5-10 seconds on your first glance through so that you get an idea of how quickly an employer or HR person goes through the stack or the emails. If you can, simulate a situation where you do not have much time or patience, and then look through resumes. No matter what, edit for all spelling and grammar mistakes. Nothing decimates credibility like a simple typo.