The appearance of your resume can make or break its chances of being read by a recruiter or hiring manager. Does it scream that you are trying too hard, not trying hard enough or simply that you have a lackadaisical attitude? Are you applying for positions for which you are qualified? If not, why waste valuable time and effort? While requirements are often a “wish list,” most employers won’t consider candidates that don’t meet at least 80% of the hiring criteria. If many candidates apply, employers will select candidates that exceed the requirements. Why settle for 80% when you can get 120% more perceived value at the same price?
Visual presentation must be inviting, clear and consistent. That means no tiny margins, type large enough to read and consistent spacing throughout. Each employer’s information should be presented in a way that dates, names and other critical pieces of information are easily found when the resume is visually scanned. Trying to hide the fact that you’ve held 3 jobs in the last 2 years? Forget it. Length of tenure is one of the first things that recruiters look for. If dates are not clearly visible, recruiters will quickly move on to the next candidate.
- adding graphics or photos (you may be trying to be unique and stand out but unexpected/odd elements tend to distract rather than engage). You will be automatically disqualified, and graphics cannot be interpreted by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS/databases). NEVER attach your photo to a resume unless you are a model or an actor!
- using a typestyle that is too small to read easily or using a larger typestyle instead of compelling text to cover the page. Be creative. Describe more ways you add value – most resumes are automatically uploaded into ATS, so length is no longer a primary issue—in fact, adding text can be to your advantage based on inclusion of keywords.
- submitting lengthy resumes (3+ pages) that include irrelevant information.
- liberal use of formatting enhancements, e.g., bold, italics, underline and color. If you have bolded text, there is no need to underline it as well. Use only one formatting enhancement at a time to draw the reader’s attention.
- using a resume template that makes your resume look bland, boilerplate and forgettable. The worst ones feature large headings, small body type and wide margins.
- inconsistent format (e.g., varied spacing and typestyles) and inconsistent use of grammar, punctuation and capitalization.
Your resume can go a long way in making a positive or negative first impression based on content, grammar and appearance.
- make sure dates are visible and consistently aligned.
- use consistent type sizes and typestyles throughout, generally no smaller that 10 pts., however Times Roman should be no smaller than 11 pts. for ease of reading.
- display colleges and degrees consistently; degrees may be abbreviated, but if you show two or three, all need to be abbreviated.
- avoid using a “one size fits all” resume template, instead, start with a blank document and insert the bullets and tabs yourself.
- pay attention to white space: too little can make the page look cramped and too much tends to reflect lack of experience.
- review resume samples in books or online for formatting inspiration and guidance.
- avoid the familiar phrase “references available upon request,” as this is a sure indication you are “out of the loop.”
Ellie Vargo, MRW, CCMC