How Much Does Design Matter When It Comes to a Resume?
You have seven seconds to get an employer’s attention.
The last time The Ladders released the results of their eye-tracking study, they learned that recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds skimming a resume for details.
The resumes that got the longest looks had simple layouts; clearly marked section and title headers; clear fonts; and designs that took advantage of F-shaped and E-shaped reading patterns.
The takeaway: Design matters. In fact, poor design can get your resume tossed aside. 22 percent of hiring managers say they’ve thrown out resumes that were printed on decorative paper. Employers have docked candidates for having “snazzy” backgrounds or borders, using unprofessional font and including clip art or emojis, according to a New College of the Humanities study.
Louise Kursmark, author of Modernize Your Resume (Modernize Your Career), agrees that good design is key. “If something is attractive and looks nice, we have a positive image of it,” she says. “If it looks stodgy and old fashioned, that’s the image we establish in our mind of that person.”
While the content of your resume is important, a good design gives you power. When you use good design, Kursmark adds, “you draw attention to the things that you want people to see first or foremost—you draw their eye to the good stuff in the resume.”
Here’s what to do—and what not to do—when designing your next resume.
Resume Design Tips
The proper resume layout is clean, simple and easily scannable. Here are a few tips for achieving the right balance:
Use common, easy-to-read fonts
Pick a non-offensive font that’s so clean it would be easily readable on someone’s phone screen. Times New Roman, in black and 12-point size, is common for a reason. You can also use Arial, Tahoma, Garamond and others, as long as you use the same font throughout.
Set comfortable margins
Many experts suggest setting resume margins at 1 inch on all sides. This can be reduced slightly for extra space, but you’d never want to go below .5 inches. Ultimately, what matters is that there’s plenty of white space for the text to breathe.
Bold key information
Another simple improvement is to bold what you want the recruiter to focus on. For example, if the employers you’ve worked for are more impressive than the titles you’ve held, bold the employer names. But don’t go crazy with it—bolding too many words will water down the style’s effectiveness.
Resume Design Mistakes
While a little design creativity can give you a competitive edge, design mistakes can hurt your chances of landing a job. Adrienne Tom, an award-winning executive resume writer, says, “You really want to avoid doing anything that inhibits the hiring manager from reading the file with ease.”
The following list collects several top resume design don’ts, as described by professional resume writers:
Don’t use overly bold colors
Some color or selective shading can help your resume stand out. Choosing bold, neon colors, however, will cause trouble for the reader—and get your resume tossed.
Don’t use graphics (for the most part)
You can use charts and graphs sparingly if they illustrate an important fact or figure with clarity. “If you use a graph, keep the graph clean and basic,” Tom says. “You don’t want to share complex line charts where the value isn’t immediately intuitive to the reader.” Additionally, whatever keywords you are including in your graph should be repeated in the plain text. The applicant tracking system won’t be able to read the image.
Don’t suffocate your content
As mentioned above, you want to use comfortable margins and plenty of space between lines. “Wall-to-wall text,” resume writer Kursmark says, “is unacceptable because, guess what? No one is reading it. You spent a lot of time writing all these, perhaps, wonderful sentences and achievements and experiences, and pack them all into this dense block of text. Do us a favor and break up the content so it’s smaller.”
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