Resume Formatting & Layout Tips

What does a beautiful, professional, show-stopping resume look like on the screen? How about on a printed page? Could you spot the most visually appealing resume in a stack of contenders even if you didn’t have a chance to read them very closely?

Even if you haven’t had a formal training in layout or the principles of design, there’s a strong chance that you could identify the winner right away. And most hiring managers have the same innate attraction to a document that appears balanced, calmly presented, and well organized. Here a few visual traits that all great resumes tend to share.

1. The text is relaxed, not cluttered.

Choose a font size between 11 and 12. Many job seekers are tempted to keep their font small, since this lets them pack more information onto a single page. But instead of accomplishing this with tiny font, use more efficient word choices to clear up space. Select tight, specific verbs. Get rid of adverbs and adjectives. And remove information that isn’t directly relevant to your core argument (why you should be hired for this job instead of someone else).

2. Headings and subheadings offer parallel structure.

If the first item in a list of bullet points begins with a past tense verb (as in “Managed inventory”) then every other item in the list should begin the same way (as in “won,” “launched,” “Initiated,” “led,” and “Organized.”) Parallel structure makes your information easier to process, easier to skim, and easier to remember.

3. Font is limited to three sizes and three styles, no more.

Ideally, you should be using a simple font like Times New Roman or Garamond, your text should be limited to two colors at the most, and your style changes should be limited to italics and bold text. It’s always nice to attract attention, but try to do this with your words and your claims, not a dizzying array of font sizes and colors. Let your words take center stage.

4. Margins are relaxed, and consistent spaces appear between subheadings.

If you choose to insert one space between your education section and your work history section, use a single space to separate your other sections as well. You can also use two spaces or even three, but matter which choice you make, stay consistent. It’s also a good idea to keep your margins wide and calm. Sometimes the way you manage blank white space on the page can send a message that’s stronger than words.

5. Sections are dense with information, but short.

In our digital era, readers expect a style of writing that conveys a complete unit of information in a short block of text. Whether they’re reading a book, a webpage, a marketing circular, or a resume, most people begin to tune out if they reach a fifth line of text without receiving a self-contained message they can take away. To get around this obstacle, keep each paragraph of your cover letter and each section of your resume short and substantive. Break complex information down into bite-sized blocks no more than five lines long.