5 design tips for resumes

Earlier this week I gave some advice to young professionals on resumes and cover letters. I have some pretty strong feelings to share, with the caveat that I am just one opinionated person – other people are opinionated in other ways, so a perfect resume for one hiring manager is just “meh” for another.

I usually don’t read cover letters unless the resume is a good one, so be sure that your resume…is a good one.

There are two things I look for when I review job/volunteer applications.

  1. The content
  2. The layout

I’ll cover content in a later post.

As for layout…

Basically, I want to be able to find information easily. I should be able to scan it quickly and get a sense of you. I want resume sections, job titles and organizations, and dates to be easy to find. I shouldn’t have to dig for information.

I also should find your layout pleasing to the eye. I’m often hiring for workplaces that don’t have the luxury of an art/design department, so it would be great if you can create a nice looking document without a designer having step in.

No spelling or grammatical errors.

I’ve been at fault for this…it can be hard when you’re in job search mode and you’ve looked at your resume hundreds of times. I might be able to let one error pass, but more indicates to me that you don’t have attention to detail.

Everything aligns.

There are no errant spaces before a title or paragraph. If any items like dates are aligned on the right of the page, they are all lined up properly. Again, if things are crooked, it indicates you don’t have attention to detail.

The pages aren’t crammed with text.

You’ll hear from most places that resumes should be 2 pages. This doesn’t mean that to make yours fit you should decrease the margins and fonts and stuff a three page resume into two. Margins should be at least 1″, and it’s OK to play with larger margins (e.g. 3″) to create white space and make it easy to read.

You choose fonts well.

In my resume, I use a sans serif font for the headings, and serif font for the content. Serif fonts have bulges at the end of letters in fonts like Times New Roman, Baskerville, Didot, etc. Sans serif means “without serif” and include fonts like Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Futura, etc. Mixing two fonts is totally OK (check out your local newspaper – it’s likely that titles and content are in different fonts).

If you only use one font, use bold OR italics (not both) and perhaps different size for headings.

If you don’t have a good design eye, start with a template found online to guide you.

It’s OK to use fonts smaller than 12 pt.

Your resume (and cover letter) is combined in one (1) PDF with a name that makes sense.

DO NOT SEND YOUR RESUME AS A WORD DOC. What looks good on your computer might show up strange on mine. And be sure to name it through the lens of the organization (not what makes sense when you are saving the resume in your job applications file on your own computer). I’ve received resumes that are names things like “Resume 2013” or “Vanessa res -(2)” or “Managing Director resume”. When I download the resume, these names mean nothing. I might use the name “Trina Isakson Application” or “Isakson – Managing Director Application”.

Unless asked for, don’t send a link to LinkedIn or a website.

Can I take risks with layout?

It’s rare, but I’ve seen resumes laid out in newspaper columns, or with interesting colours. I’ve even seen poetry and clip art. I would say risks are OK if all of the three criteria are met:

  1. The hiring manager is the kind of person who appreciates uniqueness (hard to know, but you might be able to find out via the person’s Twitter/blog).
  2. The risk is directly relevant to the role you’re applying for (e.g. if creativity/design is needed).
  3. The resume is still easy to read.

One tip to rule them all.

Treat your resume as good design. The best resume is one in which there is nothing else you could take away. Not the one in which there is nothing else to add.