IT Employment

Quick resume tip: Don't go overboard with formatting

It's good for your resume to stand out, but you don't want to overdo the formatting. Here's a quick example of what not to do.

There is a lot written about the fact that you have to have a resume that stands out from the crowd. One way to do this is with formatting (lines, boldface, italic, etc.).

The problem I've encountered most often with resumes is that people take this advice too much to heart and overdo it. When you overdo formatting, you do the opposite that you planned for and actually obscure your message.

If you want to clearly delineate between your work experience and your certifications, you can do this with bold or italic headings, or type the headings in all uppercase. But when you do all three of these things, then the eye doesn't know where to focus. The result is visual overload and it tires the eyes out. No one, especially someone who is poring over a bunch of resumes, wants to be visually assaulted.

Click to enlarge.

As you can see in Figure A, using all elements at once can make your resume look as cluttered as the Vegas strip. Many of the design elements are not needed. All-capped subheadings already do the job of separating the elements of your resume; you don't need to add lines -- dividing or underlines -- to it also. Figure B shows the page without all the extra formatting. As you can see, the divisions are clear enough.

Click to enlarge.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

17 comments
oston
oston

Serif or sans? Thanks.

SirWizard
SirWizard

Serifs help the eye follow along a line of text, particularly long lines in a paragraph format. That's why books are in serif typefaces. Sans serif fonts are cleaner looking and suffice where the eye doesn't have to work hard to follow the text, such as with short lines and titles/headings. Resumes often contain short lines (name/address/phone/email/&c.) and headings (Education/Experience/&c.) San serif fonts serve well for these. Examples include Arial, Helvetica, and Myriad. Resumes also contain descriptive text in paragraphs placed in continuing lines that read across the page. Serif fonts serve well for these. Examples include Times New Roman, Palatino, and Minion. If you intend to use only one font type or have a relatively sparse resume, go with san serif. But if you have a lot of descriptive material use serif for that. You can use both--san serif for the titles and serif for the paragraphs, if you use a pair from a single font family or select ones that have similar font weights; that is, with a similar amount of ink per character on average. If mixing serif and san serif fonts, watch out for different printed sizes at the same point size; for example, 10-point Arial text is approximately the same size as 11-point Times New Roman. The idea is to keep everything easy to read and balanced. Don't use unusual looking fonts--unless you want to stand out in a negative way to help the reader toss your resume out. Also consider the width of the font. If your resume is sparse, you might want to increase the apparent bulk by using wider fonts such as Verdana (san serif) or Bookman Old Style (serif). If you're trying to pack a lot of experience onto a page, consider slimmer fonts such as Calibri (san serif) or Times New Roman (serif). Of course, all this applies to human readable text. These days when you answer job ads, you often feed your resume into a web-based resume shredder that turns your credentials into gibberish before reducing them to unformatted ASCII for a keyword search. The result feeds to an HR representative who wouldn't know ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) from an Automated Teller Machine.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Bold in the same font as a section header is about the only thing I use. When I see this sort of thing, it looks like padding or distraction. If the role was a technical author/ graphic design sort of thing then I can see it being useful. My sort of role, bin...

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

just like in advertising never use more than to fonts. I only use one, with headers boold and stlightly larger. NO divisional lines at all, just a heading with dates in the margin. In the margin, beside each job I have worked, I also include the company's logo in colour, which makes it pop and stand out of the pile without being busy. (It is not to suggest I work there, or represent their products or services, thus there is no legal issues). I get many comments from potential employers based on the format, "Hey that's a good idea", "I never thought of that, very nice!" etc. But more important than ANY formatting faux pas or cleanliness objective, is the way you present your skills. Instead of a list of tasks you performed at a job, list you actual achievements instead. Instead of: *Managed Exchange Server Try something more descriptive such as: *Increased employee efficiency and reduced email downtime by implementing sound Exchange management skills. (I don't write IT resumes so you'd be able to define the benefits better than I) In my field I may say something like: *Increased monthly inbound sales traffic by $30K/Mo But you get what I mean. Anyone knows what's involved in such a role, whether Busienss development or IT, tell them how you help and what the gains were specifically.

reisen55
reisen55

Font - I have fallen in with Lucinda Sans Unicode, try it out - very easy to read. Decoration - I use only one interesting line that I obtained from a Drake, Beam Moran resume format and separates and ends pages nicely. top and bottom of page. Not overdone. Remember a resume is nothing more than a monsterous business card, to open the door and serve as a topic of discussion during the interview - after that it is worthless.

jwildhair
jwildhair

Personally, I use letterhead w/a colored vertical line down the right side. It's not as 'busy' as example 1, yet different enough to stand out.

dallas_dc
dallas_dc

No one accepts printed resumes anymore. Some don't even accept your resume in Word format at all. They take your uploaded document, strip out the text, and mash it into their own form. The resume you spent hours on to get it looking just right, comes out looking like a 4th grader with a typewriter created it.

compguy101101
compguy101101

I think the resume that has the lines would outshine the resume with just the words. You want to keep it simple but not so simple that it becomes sterile. I would actually say that the just words resume would be tossed aside because there is no clear separation between subjects. It just looks jumbled together to me.

jeff
jeff

Keep It Simple, Stupid (for those that needed an explanation!!) As someone who has designed large scale posters for a friend's charity events, I am only too aware of the need to keep things striking but simple. One of the techniques I used was to stick with one font throughout, but to play about with it, using bold and/or italics where necessary, changing point size and even stretching and squashing the characters. Though I wouldn't recommend doing that on your CV.

BurningLamp
BurningLamp

Good one Toni, My resume has quite a few dividing lines :) I think these tips will help me actually. It's just a smarter way of presenting information. I think alternating background shades of grey and white can help delineate sections of a resume. Keep them coming. You're doing a subtle but effective job.

SirWizard
SirWizard like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think you've come up with a bad idea. Use alternating background shading in printed tables and for locating material in a large, complicated spreadsheet, but avoid that look in a resume. It would be visually distracting, emphasizing the white space (or gray space) rather than the textual content. The material in a large gray block would seem gloomy to the reader. A reader might easily interpret the white sections as "good" things and the shaded material as "bad" things, or vice versa. My resume includes one horizontal line dividing my work experience from all the other front matter, for which font emphasis and suitable white space between lines serve well. You use "quite a few dividing lines" currently. How many different sections do you have that require such delineation? You'll get a more appealing result by using bold titles in a clean, san-serif font to highlight sections. You can set section titles a point or two larger than the body text for added emphasis.

hassan2k
hassan2k

Good tip, thank you. Mohamed

pgrmacdonald
pgrmacdonald

You could even get rid of the colons after Objective, etc for a cleaner look.

SirWizard
SirWizard

Those colons were glaring at me, too. In ordinary text, a colon indicates that what follows is auxiliary to what preceded it. Just before a line break, they are ridiculous. Following in-line section titles, they are inferior to suitably set tab stops and font formatting. Other than the exception of literal book (or other published) titles that include a subtitle, I don't think I've ever seen a resume where colons were necessary.

bckerr
bckerr

Following a colon is usually a list of some sort. In this case, it is appropriate.