How To Make Your Resume Look Professional

How To Make Your Resume Look Professional

In my last post I addressed resume content: what your resume should and should not include. If you need a refresher, look here.

This post will cover how to make your resume look compelling and professional. You can’t have hiring managers laughing at you. Let me help.

In the process of scanning many letter and resumes, HR professionals look for easy ways to exclude bad candidates from the process. Even good candidates don’t make the cut if their resume or cover letter are unprofessional, uninteresting, or annoying. There are several things you can do to make sure your letter and resume are dropped directly into the recycle bin. That’s not what you want, though!

Considering all the hard work you’re going to do to apply, please take the time now to do it right. A few simple fixes to the layout and design of your resume can help immeasurably.

The short version of this post is: Make the pertinent information easy to read and easy to find.

How Creative Should I Be?
There is a fine line between creative and quirky and if you don’t know the difference, err on the side of conservative. Contrary to what some articles on resume writing say, hiring managers don’t want you to use fancy visual tricks to try to stand out. Your experience should be what sets you apart, not your font or paper.

Choose a classic serif or simple san serif font. Though we don’t use resume scanning software at Agency a la Carte, some human resources departments do, so using anything other than Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri might render your resume unreadable. If you’re applying to a small company or for a design position, different fonts can be okay, but don’t go crazy. A standard font won’t cost you the job, but trying too hard to be different will. Show your talent and design acumen in your portfolio, not your resume. The point of sending in a piece of paper with your work history printed on it is to get a job, not bemuse the hiring manager.

White or cream paper are fine. There’s no good reason to use color, but if you feel you must, choose a barely noticeable, hint-of-color paper. Never, ever use colored type. Resumes aren’t party invitations. You can’t be festive or silly or creative in a job application. Really.

Layout is important. Many online resources will tell you that 2014 is the year of being unconventional with your resume. Maybe. If it’s readable and puts the important information first, an unconventional layout can be fine. But unconventional just means don’t force yourself into a standard, chronological, task-based resume. Your resume, whatever the format, has to make very clear your contact information, what you have to offer, and your relevant experience. I’ll cover what to have in the resume in my next post, but whatever the content, space it well. Nobody wants to read a cluttered resume. If we’re trying to hire you but can’t scan through your resume to see what makes you qualified, we don’t care that you laid it out nicely. Judicious use of spacing will sell your ability to communicate important information without clutter. Make the pertinent information easy to find. Please.

Avoid the templates your word processing software might offer. Because so many employers solicit electronic resumes, they need a file any computer can read. Templates use detailed code to create the final product, and many computers don’t have the software to read that code. If you rely on tricks like a template, your resume might be garbled and useless.

For the sake of all that’s good and professional, don’t use clipart or images or other embellishments. A resume is not a newsletter or a holiday card. Simple font, simple layout, simple document. Believe in your experience and your skills enough to trust simple words on a page to sell you.

And please proofread. Again. I know I’ve said it all over this site, but nothing will get your resume into the trash faster than a typo. Proofread. Seriously. Nobody cares how bright or clever or talented you are if you can’t be bothered to make this one piece of paper perfect.

The next post will be about content. Here’s a sneak peek, though: keep it to one page by editing out everything that’s not relevant.