Resume Bait: Using Basic Design Principles to Catch Attention

You see lots of advice these days about how to write a great resume. It seems that everyone has a surefire tip or a foolproof theory. Remember to list all your work experience and educational credentials. Don’t forget to include the right keywords. Put your strongest achievements at the top. Let the companies know how you can help them.

This is all good advice. Content is definitely important. But what can be almost as important is the appearance of the resume. Consider the fact that most employers have lots of resumes to look at and will usually screen them first. This means that you can count on them taking less than a minute to look at yours before deciding whether to hold on to it or discard it. If you want to make sure that you survive that first screening, you need to make your resume both appealing to the eye and easy for employers to read and process. And this is where the right design comes into play.

With that in mind, let’s give a little bit of thought to the look of your resume. Although there is no precise rule that applies to all resumes all of the time, there are some basic guidelines that you should follow to give your resume the kind of look that is likely to yield the best results. Here are some of them:

1. Catch their eye without straining their brain.

Unless you are applying for a job in the creative design field, you don’t want to make your resume too off the wall. Remember, your goal is not to win the award for “most creative and original resume”—your goal is to get hired for the job. For most jobs, the best approach is: “simple yet attractive.” It’s OK to try to make your resume stand out—up to a point. But where you should draw the line is adhering to a conventional resume format, since most employers know that format, are comfortable with it, and want to be able to easily locate the information they are looking for.

2. Consistency is key.

The most critical element of your resume layout is consistency. All sections should have the same look to them. If the first section begins with a certain type of heading (e.g., bolded, lined), then all subsequent sections should begin the same way. If you use a certain spacing (single, double, triple) between the first two sections, you should maintain that same spacing between all other sections as well. You also need to be consistent with little things, like your use of numbers (spelled out or in numeric form) or abbreviations. Whatever layout you decide to use, make sure you keep it the same throughout your entire resume. The human eye is very good at catching patterns, so if the reader can see right away that everything that is italicized and bolded is a name of one of your former employers, then you are making it easy for the reader to mentally organize that information quickly.

3. Focus on the font.

Always remember that your primary goal is to make your resume pleasing to the eye and easy to read. Therefore, you want to stick to one, or at most two, fonts throughout your resume. Choose a proven font such as Times New Roman, Georgia, or Palatino. If applying for a technical position (e.g., computer science or engineering), Arial might be OK. Your primary font size should be readable and not too large or too small. In general, it’s best to keep the font size of your main content between 10 and 12.

4. Save your bullets for when you really need them.

Bulleted text is terrific and is something you should definitely use in your resume for things like highlighting your key accomplishments, etc. But be careful not to go crazy with them. If your entire resume comes across as one long bulleted list, then the bullets quickly lose their effectiveness. The same principle holds true for other things like bolded text, capital letters, underlined text, etc. You need these things in your resume to highlight important information and break up the monotony of the text. But don’t overdo it! Also, don’t do too much mixing of different methods. This could make your resume look like a jumbled mess and make the text visually unpleasant for the reader.

5. Bring the balance.

Whitespace is very important to the appearance of your resume. Too much of it will create an impression that content is lacking. Too little of it can make your resume look cluttered and messy. A good idea is to use a one-inch margin on all four sides of the paper. But the most important thing you can do is to balance your resume so that the content and spacing is evenly spread throughout the page. For example, you don’t want the top of the page to look too full and the bottom too empty. The same is true for the right and left sides. One thing you can do is to divide your page into four quadrants and then make sure that each quadrant has a fairly equal amount of text and whitespace.

Before you submit your resume, give it a final look. Do you like what you see? Put yourself in the shoes of the employer scanning your resume. If he can read your resume and pick out all the important stuff you want him to learn about you in less than 30 seconds, then you most likely have an effective resume. If not, then go back to the drawing board and apply the basic guidelines so that you resume will appeal to that employer and make it easy for him to quickly see why he should hire you.

Bill Post, Small Business Research Analyst, provides research on issues of concern to small businesses for Custom Business Cards. Prior to his involvement with 123Print, Bill was a small business owner himself, providing marketing and branding services to other small businesses in the Washington, DC metro area. Before working with 123Print on Business Cards, Bill also spent several years after receiving his degree in the fast-paced corporate world. It was there that Bill not only honed the skills he uses to help small businesses get ahead, but where he realized that he’d rather help the little guy prosper than make huge corporations money.

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