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4 Tips for Designing a Resume That Will Get You Hired

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resume in typewriter

You’ve read all the advice for writing a stellar resume and applied all the tips for great content. You’ve spent hours reviewing and perfecting it line by line. Friends have checked and double checked your spelling and grammar.

But you’re still not getting callbacks. Is there anything else you can possibly do to improve your resume so your chances at landing a job are better?

It could be time to leave the content alone. Instead, focus your energy on the design. Yes, I said design.

Consider that hiring recruiters only look at an individual resume for between six seconds (according to a study conducted by TheLadders) and 15 seconds (according to Chameleon Resumes). A well-organized and visually pleasing resume is important to make a strong first impression.

These four tips will help draw the eye to important information and create visual order:

1. Use the most readable fonts

Fonts fall into two main groups: serif fonts and sans-serif fonts. Times New Roman and Cambria are serif fonts, meaning each letter has a tiny edge. Arial and Calibri are rounder, sans-serif fonts. (Wikipedia’s article on serifs gives a quick explanation of the difference.)

The difference is important because serif fonts look great at larger point sizes, but the further you reduce them, the less legible they are. The serifs create clutter and strain the eyes, especially in large blocks. They are not good to use in the main body of your resume.

Instead, use a serif for section headers and a sans-serif for the body. The change in font creates clear visual separation that attracts the eye to important information.

For example, use Cambria for job titles and the dates you were employed, then switch to Calibri for the content describing the position. TheLadders reports that company titles and employment dates are two of the most reviewed parts of your resume. Changing the font will guide the eye naturally to these sections.

If you prefer to stick to one font for consistency, use a sans-serif. Sans-serifs look fine in larger text and are still easy to read in smaller sizes.

2. Create separation with visual space

Spacing is an important visual cue to the brain, as well as a resting space for the eyes. Two common mistakes on resumes are:

  • Bolded text, underlines or italics to separate sections, as in this example. Instead, use white space to create visual separation.
  • Uniform spacing between a section header, its content and different sections, as in this example. Instead, create visual hierarchy by separating sections with more space.

I can’t say it enough: spacing is important. The visual cue it sends to our brains can’t be replaced by bold text. Nothing says “this section is ending and the next is beginning” like a nice double space in your document.

It’s equally important to keep the header and its associated content grouped together. Section headers should not be stranded out in the middle of no man’s land. Remember, a recruiter spends less than 15 seconds scanning your resume. Anyone should be able to glance at a section header and automatically understand it belongs with the bullets below.

If you like a cleaner look with lots of white space, use half the amount of space between section title and content in relation to the space used between sections. Your resume will still have white space, but you won’t sacrifice visual organization.

3. Use header space wisely

Every line you can save in your main header is one more line you can dedicate to describing your skills below. Every piece of contact information does not need its own line like this resume example or this one. Instead, use one line for your entire address and another for your cell phone number and email. Here’s a great example of a space-saving header.

Don’t list multiple addresses, phone numbers or email addresses. List the closest address to the job you’re applying for. Include the one phone number and one email address where you can most easily be reached.

4. Write in bullet points, not paragraphs

A recruiter will glaze right over large chunks of text on a resume because paragraphs don’t stand out. List your accomplishments in bullets to improve the chances of catching the recruiter’s eye.

If you submit most of your resumes through online applications, you may be tempted to write in paragraphs because bullets don’t always copy well into form fields. Don’t give in to this temptation! The solution is to keep three identical resume documents up to date:

  • Resume.doc (a.k.a. your working document)
  • Resume.pdf (a.k.a. your submittable document)
  • Resume.txt  (a.k.a. your copy/paste document)

Use dashes instead of bullet points for the .txt document. The dashes will copy and paste without format errors into an online application.

It’s slightly more work to keep three documents up to date, but the extra effort will be well worth it when you start getting follow-ups.

Have you applied any of these tips to your resume? Has it made a difference?

Bridget Conrad is an advertising and marketing professional. She writes Branded, a photography blog about the everyday adventures and misadventures of attempted adulthood.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • Jo Casey

    Cool post – I once did I resume on bright blue paper – the job was internal and I knew I was up against a lot of people with way more experience than me. So (Out of desperation to be honest!) I used the blue paper in the hope I’d stand out enough to be interviewed. I did a few other things – played around with fonts so that the front page looked like a bill flyer you’d see for a concert – but instead of details about a band it was details about me. I know it might sound a bit cheesy but it worked – the interviewer said he was curious to see me because he liked the fact I’d take a different approach to the other candidates. And I got the job. :-)

  • Den Voran

    Tip #1 is the *opposite* of what any trained typographer will tell you. Serif fonts were designed for readability. Pick up any newspaper or textbook – what does the body of the text appear in? A typeface with serifs! The serifs are what make these fonts readable as the type size is reduced – your eye is able to more quickly discern each word because of the “profile” created by the serifs. If a sans-serif is used in a newspaper or book, it is generally for a headline or header.

    This is not to say that sans serif fonts are not legible and will doom your chances of getting a job if used in the body of your resume – but Ms. Conrad’s arguments seem to be her own “made up” preference or opinion that she then uses fluff arguments to support. In reality, your font choices should be such that they let the content speak and do not distract or hinder the reader from gathering information – and this can be accomplished with either serif or sans serif fonts.

    Ms. Conrad does make a good point that the contrast between the two types of fonts helps guide the reader from section to section – otherwise she is just plain wrong. She clearly has no background in graphic design and did not research this recommendation. Another example to beware of what you read on the internet – not everyone offering “tips” knows what they’re talking about.

    • Nate

      very good point. not to debase anyone’s merits but your point about not believing everything people post. there aren’t any internet filters like a scholastic publication needing review and this goes double for when it comes to getting the news. Then again tv lies all the time and the people there are so called experts so go figure:)

    • The Roaming Invert

      Truth of the matter is simple: The more readable is what you are more used to + it depends on the medium. Everyone switched to non seriff types for the internet. Seriff types were created when most of what people read was handwritten, where letters are cursives that are attached.

      Today, non-seriff types have become so ubiquitous, that I actually think they’re easier to read for most people (and I’ve seen quite a lot of books being printed in non seriff as well lately) – especially since most resumes are now sent by e-mail and will be read on screen.

    • Calvin Ku

      It’s been more or less proved that serif types are only more readable on paper. Sans are for the screen. I’d say tip #1 is legit. Also I think Europeans are more used to reading sans then serifs. Most of my books bought from Europe are printed in sans.

  • brian

    Interesting points, but your example of the right thing to do in the sample resume in #3 directly contradicts what your recommend in #1 and #2, i.e., use different fonts for headers and content and don’t use bold font or lines to separate sections. So what is one to do?

  • Linus

    Do NOT use bullet points unless your resume is extremely sparse. They just look awful and force a recruiter to read line by line. DO, however, use paragraphs and formatting to highlight your COMPANY+TITLE. Those are the things that catch an employers eyes first and if they’re interested, then they’ll read your duties.

  • http://twitter.com/MoneyResumes Money Resumes

    Good topic for this article. It may sound crazy to some people, but your resume design(I would actually call it the “format”) is sometimes as important as the content. If you were a hiring manager with a ton of resumes to look through, wouldn’t you be more apt to look at the resumes that were easiest on the eye. 8 point fonts make people put your document down. And bullet points are a MUST.

    As far as specifics, I don’t usually use multiple fonts on the resumes I create. If you have a good format with white space in the correct areas, this is not necessary and can sometimes look unprofessional in my opinion. Great tip on the header though. There’s no need to waste space when you don’t need to.

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  • Malachy Grond

    Awesome tips. I would just like to add that it’s the creative resume that stands out, garnering the attention of hiring execs. You have to show the company that you are innovative, are up-to-date and can adapt to change. How? You can do a video resume, print your resume on something other than paper, billboards, websites, etc. I personally haven’t tried any of these routes. What I have tried are graphical resumes. I have made infographic resumes with my iPad using an app called Shine(http://goo.gl/vhZ2q). It’s quite fun and easy to make!

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  • http://www.netnazar.com/ Zisis

    Great tips! It is very helpful that you are not writing for general tips, but specific ones. Fonts are not taken into account by many candidates, which is very wrong.

    The HR employee should be able to read clearly and easily all the areas of your Resume. Your skills MUST attract the eyes, so make sure not only to choose the appropriate font (the ones you are listing) but you have to list ONLY the relative skills for that job.

  • http://www.jobsclark.com/ Ruby Rocha

    A very informative read in designing a resume that will surely give you the job. Thanks for posting.

  • Craig

    A unique resume is for more than just creatives. Anyone can benefit from a resume that stands out. Resumes like the ones they design at foundresumes.com make it so non-designers can get noticed.

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