Many job applicants do not pay enough attention to resume layout. It’s an easy mistake to make. Job seekers find themselves thinking the substance of their resume – a well-written objective statement, all their excellent professional qualifications and experience, amazing academic achievements and high quality references – will be enough to get the interview. Wrapped up in this substance, they often overlook the importance of style.
A resume is a selling tool, an advertisement for the right employee for the job. Rarely will you see an advertisement in print or television that simply touts a product’s features. There must be an element of style to it to grab to viewer and make the message palatable. The resume should work this way as well. It must be pleasing to the eye at first glance and easy to consume. Imagine two printed resumes on your desk right now. One looks like a page ripped from a piece of literature – dense paragraphs of text running margin to margin with very little white space. The other may more closely resemble a task list – short lists of items, arranged neatly. Which is more appealing to the eye? Which one is intimidating and which one is inviting? Which would you have an easier time reading?
If this article weren’t broken into short paragraphs, would you read it?
Prospective employers are busy people. They haven’t the time or inclination to navigate dense seas of text to extricate the meaning behind your writing and figure out for themselves why they need to see you for an interview. They may not even try, and they may just throw out that paragraph form resume. Stick to these guidelines on professional resume layout and you will have a much better chance at getting that interview.
- Bullet points: your work history and education needs to be summarized in short, bullet pointed lists. Each job duty, accomplishment and responsibility, for example, should be described briefly. Since you’re tailoring your resume to match the given job, list the most applicable ones first, and go from there. Just remember to keep these items brief and bulleted for a neat, easy to read look.
- Resume length: the conventional wisdom has always been “keep it to one page.” This isn’t always the case. If you have a fair amount of employment history, it can be impossible to stick to the single page guideline without sacrificing neatness. It’s better to go on to a second page with your resume than to cram more text on a single page. It’s also better to have a two-page resume that adequately summarizes all applicable experience than one that omits necessary details for the sake of simply having a one page resume. That being said, don’t go over two pages.
- White space: this concept has already been mentioned, but it bears repeating. To a reader, white space can be considered “breathing room.” Taking an extra page if you need it and summarizing the pertinent information into concise but detailed, bullet pointed lists will naturally leave more white space on the paper. A resume with this much “breathing room” is refreshing and will be attractive to busy professionals who just do not want to pour over some cluttered tome of margin to margin type.
- Accomplishments, not duties: when listing your job description for your current and past employment history, find accomplishments that can describe your duties rather than dryly listing them. Do this whenever you are able. Employers want to see concrete examples of you in action, not just plain descriptions of what you did. For example, instead of listing something like, “Corporate IT Trainer,” you could describe an accomplishment like, “received 100% positive feedback from Corporate End-Users for Microsoft Word training classes. Clients said their quality of work greatly improved after this course.” This is a solid example of your abilities and really sells you much better than dry description of duties or a mere list of job titles.
- Match the job: more on specific formats in a moment. First, what matches this job better, your work experience or your education? Whichever one of these better suits the job should be listed first in your professional resume layout. This way you are leading with your strongest points. Even if your resume is concise and neat, there is no guarantee that the recipient will even read the whole thing. It’s better to get the best points right out there in the first half of page one. Don’t wait to get to the good part.
- Pick the applicable format: the most popular resume formats are chronological and functional. Chronological is the more traditional format. This is where work history is listed first, and then education. These are enumerated in reverse chronological order, from most recent activities to the oldest. The functional format is better for new job seekers fresh out of university or for workers looking to change careers. In the functional format, relevant abilities, skills and education are listed first. Expertise that can translate from one field to another is stressed in order to sell an applicant who may not have the relevant experience in a particular field. Take a close look at your strengths, weaknesses, and career situation and goals when deciding on which format you will use.
- Consistency: consistency in font, headings, verb tense and every other aspect of the resume is essential. For example, if you are using 12 point Arial bold for the main heading for “Work Experience,” don’t use 10 point Arial regular for the main heading for “Education.” Keep headings consistent. Don’t change fonts from one point in the resume to the next. For verb tense, past job accomplishments need to be listed in past tense, and they need to be listed in past tense consistently. This means, in your bulleted list of accomplishments from that job five years ago, every single item absolutely must be past tense. Don’t mix and match. You current job duties must me listed in the present tense. Consistency of format cannot be stressed enough when your goal is to write a neat, effective resume.
- Neatness in production: the final thing to pay close attention to is how neat the final complete package looks. Sure, your resume looks great on the computer screen, but if you’re mailing it, make sure the whole finished product looks great. Use a laser printer or, at the very least, use a very high quality inkjet printer that prints neatly and doesn’t smear or run. Print your resume on high quality paper that is either white or off-white, but that’s as far as it goes for paper color, please. While you’re using a printer, print out an envelope, too. There’s no use printing a high quality resume and then stuffing it into a hand-written envelope.
Follow these simple layout guidelines and you will have a resume you can be proud of that will get the results you need.