The Essential Resume Writing Format Guide

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Confident PeopleThe first bite of food is with the eye; if it doesn’t look tasty, you won’t want to put it in your mouth. The same is true of a resume. If your resume writing format is unappealing, it won’t matter how good the content is, the reviewer won’t want to read it. This is why great resumes not only have good content, but also catch the eye like a peacock in a park full of pigeons.

What Makes a Great Resume Writing Format?

Imagine it is your job to read the resumes that come in. It’s Monday morning and you are handed a huge bundle of resumes to get through by the end of the day. Each resume is filled with densely packed text, a bit like pages from a book; these resumes are devoid of distinguishing features. No matter how enthusiastically you start, by the time you’ve read the first five or six, it’s going to become heavy going.

Now imagine you come across a resume where the big blocks of text have been broken down into more digestible paragraphs, qualifications appear in neat tables, key points are bulleted, and subtle splashes of colour neatly differentiate sections. Without even reading it, you can tell there is something special about this resume compared to the others.

Less is More

What does Google’s search page look like? I bet you can immediately visualise it; clear of clutter, plenty of whitespace, draws your eye immediately to the important bit you want to interact with. It’s no wonder other search engines, with their cluttered interfaces have become virtually extinct.

This clean crisp look featuring plenty of whitespace is what you should be aiming for with your resume. But what do we mean by ‘whitespace’?

Basically speaking, whitespace is any section of a document that doesn’t have anything in it. These blank areas help to break the paragraphs and other sections, helping to make the document less crowed. Whitespace can also confer these additional benefits:

  • Improves legibility by making it easier for a reading eye to stay within a section of text
  • Promotes understanding by allowing the brain to differentiate sections of information, aiding comprehension
  • Increased attention by drawing the reader’s concentration to a particular section at a time
  • Communicates elegance, openness and freshness, all of which reflect well on you

While this sounds easy to do, in practice, people tend to try and fill all the blank spaces in a resume even when they know this will harm its look. After all, isn’t all this whitespace valuable page real estate that would be better served by filling it with information to promote yourself?

Well consider the following:

  • The average resume is roughly 2,000 words.
  • The average time a reviewer spends reading a resume is 3 minutes.

That’s an average of 11 words per second. Have you ever tried reading at a speed of 11 words per second? It’s possible, but you’re unlikely to take on board what’s been said.

So, either resume reviewers can read and take on information at superhuman speeds or they are skipping bits or even entire resumes that bore them.

Quantity is not quality. Cut the waffle from your resume and use the space saved for whitespace. It will make your resume stand out from those who don’t. The reviewer will be grateful for it and if they want more detail, they can ask you at the interview you’ll be more likely to get.

The Font of All Knowledge

What type of font you use for your resume writing format says a lot about you. Some examples are:

  • Arial and Calibri are seen as clean. Great for people with reading difficulties as they tend to find these fonts easier to read.
  • Century Gothic and Segoe are seen as stylish. Useful for jobs in fashion or design.
  • Times New Roman and Baskerville Old Face can be seen as both traditional and reliable. However, they are just as likely to be seen as old and fuddy-duddy.
  • Curlz MT is just hideous. It is not whacky. It is not original. Use if you want your resume to go straight in the bin without passing go or collecting $200.

If you don’t know what font to use, then use Arial. It’s easy to read, looks professional and comes loaded as standard on the vast majority of computers.

Fonts and Sending Resumes Electronically

If you plan to send your resume electronically, it is worth noting that if the recipient’s computer hasn’t got that font on it, it may default it to one it has got. This can cause two types of problem:

  1. The amazing chic font you found for the modern designer job will turn into Times New Roman, making you look a bit old fashioned and not right for the role
  2. Your resume looks amazing on your computer, but the reviewer’s computer doesn’t have the font you used and the one it replaces it with is a slightly different size, ruining the layout your spent an entire day putting together and making your resume look poorly formatted

Font Continuity and Size

Another rule of thumb for using fonts on resumes is you stick to using one font for the entire document. Using multiple fonts in the same document, even if it is just for the headers, looks wishy washy.

When it comes to how large the font should be, it is preferable to use font size 12. This size is comfortable for most people to read, including those people with reduced eyesight. You can get away with font size 11 if you really need to get more information in. Never go smaller than font size 11 though, even people with good eyesight have difficulty reading smaller fonts.

Want to Make a Point? Use Bullets

Everyone likes bullet points. They break up blocks of text into smaller bites that are easier to digest, helping the reader identify the individual key points quickly. They can be use just about anywhere in a resume where the information is best presented in a list format.

A great place to use them is for laying out individual responsibilities in previous job experience or listing out hobbies and interests.

However, don’t go overboard with the amount of information in each bullet. Keep it down to a maximum of no more than two or three sentences for each bullet point, otherwise they’ll lose their impact on the reader.

When to Use Tables

Seeing a table in a resume is like seeing an island of order in the sea of lesser resume chaos. Those familiar neat columns and rows of information will make the reviewers job of comprehension so much easier, pleasing them no end.
Things in a resume that can really benefit from tables are things like qualifications. These lend themselves to a tabular format by naturally having several column headings; the qualification name, the date you took it, the grade achieved, and the learning organisation you took it with.

Should I Include a Photo

With an ever-increasing number of people creating LinkedIn profiles, it has become more and more common to see photos of potential employees before you hire them.

If you have a picture of yourself where you look professional and that you would be happy for others to see, then there is no harm including a photo embedded into your resume.

However, if you don’t have an appropriate photo that you are 100% happy with, then don’t include one. There are plenty of other ways to make your resume stand out in the crowd.

Sending Your Resume

Mailing or Hand Delivery

When posting or hand delivering your resume, make sure you print it out on crisp thick white paper. It usually doesn’t matter if you print double sided or on two pages, but NEVER fold your resume. If you don’t already have one, purchase an A4 Envelope for your resume so it can be posted without folding.

Electronic Submission

If you are sending your resume electronically, unless a specific format is requested, you should send it as a PDF. The reason to send it as a PDF is that pretty much every computer, tablet and phone can read a PDF. Whereas Mac documents, Word docs or other formats may not be supported by the recipient’s device. PDFs also cannot be changed easily and retain the document layout and format fairly well, meaning your carefully designed resume writing format won’t change. You can easily find and download free document to PDF creators by doing an google search for them.

Before you go…

Have you checked out the extra resume writing advice on these pages?

10 Highly Effective Resume Writing Tips

The Resume Skills Recipe for Success

Power Words to Get Your Resume Noticed