If we were best friends, and you tried on a hideous dress that was totally wrong for your body shape, you’d want me to be honest about it, right? So, as a virtual friend who has your best interests at heart, let me be honest–your resume is ugly. Don’t be offended, most resumes are hideous to look at. Good news is, we can fix it. I’ve talked with recruiters and hiring managers at some of the top firms to get the inside scoop on content and formatting for resumes. Last week we covered content. Now let’s talk about why your resume is ugly, and how to fix it.
Visual effect. Resumes in professional services industries are expected to look a certain way. Some of it is tradition, some of it is the degree of polish and professionalism. Regardless, just like you are expected to wear a black or a navy suit for your interview with the accounting or law firm, there is a visual expectation for your resume. Glancing at the page, it should be visually clear which pieces of information are the most important. Use bold or ALL CAPS to emphasize the names of places you worked and schools you attended. Italicize lesser important information, like the dates, geographic location, or title. (As a young associate, I’m assuming you haven’t had impressive positions like Chief Financing Operator. Therefore, the company name is of #1 importance, and your title is of lesser importance.) It should be easy for a reader to scan your one-page resume up and down and pick out the categories. Do this by aligning the category names (i.e. “Work Experience”) and bolded names along the left-hand margin. Bullet points describing your work or position should be indented .5 to 1 inch, depending on how much content you’re dealing with. Just be consistent.
The devil is in the details. Framing and font, the small details will set your resume apart as a polished work product. Set your page margins to either .5 or .75 inches. Font should be Times New Roman, or Century Schoolbook, or some sort of serif font (with the little tails on the letters, you know? Unlike the font in this post.) Reason being, while your lists and bullets will move the reader up and down the page, the tails on the font help a readers eyes move horizontally across the page. Center your full name at the top, font size 18-24, depending on how much you’re fitting on the page. Place your phone number and email address centered on the page, directly below your name. Font size for your contact info and for the rest of your resume should be either 11 or 12. Oh, and for those bullet points, use the small circle (not the normal circle, the BIG circle or the square). That’s the expectation. In the software or “creative services” world, these rules may not apply. But if you’re applying for a traditional role, make yourself stand out by the content of your resume, not the funky layout.
Organization. The person looking at your resume has probably looked at hundreds of these things. You want it to be easy for them to locate the content they’re most interested in. There is an unspoken expectation that a professional resume will be organized in a certain way. Each item on your resume should be grouped into clear and specific categories (e.g. “Work Experience,” “Education,” “Skills”). Place a fine line between each section, extending to where you’ve set the margins (either .5 or .75 inches from sides of the page). The items under each category should be listed so the most recent experience is at the top, working down so that your job from a couple years ago is at the bottom. “Education” should state your current school, with your undergrad school listed below it.
Any other questions? Feel free to email me at email@example.com