You’ve read all the advice for writing a stellar resume and applied all the tips for great content. You’ve spent hours reviewing and perfecting it line by line. Friends have checked and double checked your spelling and grammar.
But you’re still not getting callbacks. Is there anything else you can possibly do to improve your resume so your chances at landing a job are better?
It could be time to leave the content alone. Instead, focus your energy on the design. Yes, I said design.
Consider that hiring recruiters only look at an individual resume for between six seconds (according to a study conducted by TheLadders) and 15 seconds (according to Chameleon Resumes). A well-organized and visually pleasing resume is important to make a strong first impression.
These four tips will help draw the eye to important information and create visual order:
1. Use the most readable fonts
Fonts fall into two main groups: serif fonts and sans-serif fonts. Times New Roman and Cambria are serif fonts, meaning each letter has a tiny edge. Arial and Calibri are rounder, sans-serif fonts. (Wikipedia’s article on serifs gives a quick explanation of the difference.)
The difference is important because serif fonts look great at larger point sizes, but the further you reduce them, the less legible they are. The serifs create clutter and strain the eyes, especially in large blocks. They are not good to use in the main body of your resume.
Instead, use a serif for section headers and a sans-serif for the body. The change in font creates clear visual separation that attracts the eye to important information.
For example, use Cambria for job titles and the dates you were employed, then switch to Calibri for the content describing the position. TheLadders reports that company titles and employment dates are two of the most reviewed parts of your resume. Changing the font will guide the eye naturally to these sections.
If you prefer to stick to one font for consistency, use a sans-serif. Sans-serifs look fine in larger text and are still easy to read in smaller sizes.
2. Create separation with visual space
Spacing is an important visual cue to the brain, as well as a resting space for the eyes. Two common mistakes on resumes are:
- Bolded text, underlines or italics to separate sections, as in this example. Instead, use white space to create visual separation.
- Uniform spacing between a section header, its content and different sections, as in this example. Instead, create visual hierarchy by separating sections with more space.
I can’t say it enough: spacing is important. The visual cue it sends to our brains can’t be replaced by bold text. Nothing says “this section is ending and the next is beginning” like a nice double space in your document.
It’s equally important to keep the header and its associated content grouped together. Section headers should not be stranded out in the middle of no man’s land. Remember, a recruiter spends less than 15 seconds scanning your resume. Anyone should be able to glance at a section header and automatically understand it belongs with the bullets below.
If you like a cleaner look with lots of white space, use half the amount of space between section title and content in relation to the space used between sections. Your resume will still have white space, but you won’t sacrifice visual organization.
3. Use header space wisely
Every line you can save in your main header is one more line you can dedicate to describing your skills below. Every piece of contact information does not need its own line like this resume example or this one. Instead, use one line for your entire address and another for your cell phone number and email. Here’s a great example of a space-saving header.
Don’t list multiple addresses, phone numbers or email addresses. List the closest address to the job you’re applying for. Include the one phone number and one email address where you can most easily be reached.
4. Write in bullet points, not paragraphs
A recruiter will glaze right over large chunks of text on a resume because paragraphs don’t stand out. List your accomplishments in bullets to improve the chances of catching the recruiter’s eye.
If you submit most of your resumes through online applications, you may be tempted to write in paragraphs because bullets don’t always copy well into form fields. Don’t give in to this temptation! The solution is to keep three identical resume documents up to date:
- Resume.doc (a.k.a. your working document)
- Resume.pdf (a.k.a. your submittable document)
- Resume.txt (a.k.a. your copy/paste document)
Use dashes instead of bullet points for the .txt document. The dashes will copy and paste without format errors into an online application.
It’s slightly more work to keep three documents up to date, but the extra effort will be well worth it when you start getting follow-ups.
Have you applied any of these tips to your resume? Has it made a difference?
Bridget Conrad is an advertising and marketing professional. She writes Branded, a photography blog about the everyday adventures and misadventures of attempted adulthood.