Your Resume's Appearance: Make Sure It's Easy to Read (page 5)
EVERY ELEMENT AND section on your resume is important. This sheet of paper needs to convey all of the information a potential employer needs to make an educated decision about whether or not you're qualified enough to invite for an interview. Because of your resume's importance, it's imperative to spend considerable time developing the content, so that every word, line, and section makes a positive impact on the reader. Not only should your resume pique the reader's interest, it should excite him or her about the prospect of meeting you in person.
No matter how good the content, however, it won't make a bit of difference if an employer is turned off by your resume's appearance, and chooses to skip it in favor of a better looking one on the pile. The first impression your resume makes is critical. It should be visually pleasing to the eye, printed on high-quality paper, coordinated with your cover letter and envelope, and not look intimidating.
It doesn't matter which resume format you decide to adopt (chronological, functional, targeted, etc.). When creating a traditional printed resume, how the document appears on the page is the first thing a reader notices.
If you don't believe you have the creativity and taste necessary to create a visually appealing document, study as many sample resumes as possible, paying careful attention to layouts, fonts, line spacing, margins, and other visual elements.
This article explains many of the design elements you need to consider when creating your resume. As previously mentioned, make sure your entire resume package (your resume, cover letter, personal business card, envelope, etc.) are all coordinated and work together for a greater overall visual effect. Using the same paper type and color, font, ink color, and design elements for each of these documents helps you convey the fact that you're well organized, detail oriented, and able to communicate well in writing.
Choosing the Best Resume Paper
When you are creating your resume and cover letter, how these documents look and feel are as important as what they say. When applying for most jobs, you want your cover letter and resume to convey a highly professional and somewhat conservative image. To achieve this, you will have to choose the right paper, select the right resume format, and decide whether or not to add a touch of color in order to make your resume stand out. Resumes that stand out in a positive way are the ones HR professionals and recruiters read first.
When you visit an office-supply store or print shop to purchase resume paper, you will be surprised at how many different shades of white there are. You will also find paper stocks in several different weights and textures, some containing watermarks, and most will have at least some cotton content.
The most traditional choices for paper color are bright white, ultra white, or ivory. The paper colors in the white family ensure the text on the page will be legible (depending, of course, on the font, typestyles, and ink color you choose). Resumes printed on white paper are also better for scanning, which helps eliminate the possibility of applicant-tracking software misreading something on the page.
For traditional printed resumes, it's also acceptable to use a slate or light gray paper. Avoid using bright-colored or dark-colored papers, however, which will cause your resume to stand out for the wrong reasons. As for the weight of the paper, 24- or 28-pound bond paper works fine. One way to help your resume stand out is to use a heavier paper stock. Expect to pay between $.15 and $1.00 per sheet for quality resume paper unless you buy a box of 50–500 sheets at an office-supply store.
Warning: Don't try to fold a resume that's printed on a heavy paper stock (over 28-pound basis weight) in order to insert it into a business-size envelope. If you're using a heavier paper stock for a resume package, send it in a large (9 by 12-inch) envelope.
Make sure the paper color and ink color work well together to maximize readability. The ink color you choose for your resume and cover letters should be standard black. Navy or burgundy are also acceptable. Some people choose to use a small amount of different colored text (a second color) within their resume to highlight specific items. This strategy can be effective, but using multiple colors is not considered traditional. Multicolor printing is also more expensive if you're using a professional printing service, and using a color inkjet printer doesn't usually offer the print quality needed for a resume. Unless the multicolor print quality of your resume looks totally professional, use one ink: traditional black.
According to the director of marketing at Paper Direct, "You want your resume to stand out, but you also want your documents to look professional and be easily readable. Sometimes that's a contradiction. No matter what type of paper and ink color you select, it's vital that your resume, cover letters, thank-you notes, and envelopes all match. Part of being professional is being coordinated."
The job you're pursuing and the industry you hope to work in should also determine the look of your resume. Graphic artists should show creativity through the use of graphics, design, and color in their resume package, whereas someone applying for a traditional job in the business world should stick to the basics in terms of traditional resume layout and design.
When choosing resume paper, make sure you see and feel a sample of the paper stock prior to purchasing a sealed package of that paper. Finally, when printing your resumes and cover letters on a laser or high-quality ink-jet printer, make sure the paper you choose was designed for this equipment.
Instead of racing to your local office-supply superstore and grabbing the first package of paper you find suitable for your resume, shop around a bit. Visit a local print shop or copy shop and look at all of the different types of available paper. As long as you select a resume paper that conveys a professional image, the actual paper you choose is a matter of personal preference.
"Avoid paper that is too loud or outrageous. Although I am always looking for someone with energy and creativity, fluorescent green paper screams flashy, inelegant, and egotistical to me! It also detracts from the actual content of the resume. Who can concentrate on a candidate's skills when you can't stop looking at the paper?
—MARGARET, HUMAN RESOURCES EXECUTIVE
Make sure your resume package forms a presentation that you're pleased with and can be proud to show and distribute to potential employers. Remember, the appearance of your resume package says a lot about you and will most likely play a major role in creating a positive (or negative) first impression with an employer.
Resume Paper Selection Do's and Don'ts
- Don't use generic, 20-pound, white bond paper that's typically used with photocopy machines and laser printers.
- Do select paper with at least 50% cotton content and a basis weight of between 24 and 28 pounds.
- Do keep in mind when selecting a paper color, bright white or ultra white are the most traditional shades of white used for resumes and cover letters. Ivory, slate blue, or gray papers are acceptable alternatives.
- Don't overspend. Papers that contain a watermark can add a touch of formality to your resume package, but these papers typically cost more and don't add a huge amount of impact to your resume's appearance. Using paper with a watermark is a matter of personal taste.
- Do use a dark ink, such as black, blue, or burgundy, when printing your resume package. Incorporating a second color ink, such as red, can also be used sparingly to highlight key points in your documents. Keep in mind, however, that using two ink colors on a resume is not considered traditional. If you're having your resume professionally printed, using multiple colors gets costly.
- Do ask for a sample before ordering paper for your resume and cover letters from a mail order or Internet-based company. When placing your order, include matching envelopes and matching note cards (for your thank-you notes), so that everything looks consistent.
Selecting Fonts, Type Size, Margins, and Ink Color
When creating a resume to be read, you have a bit more freedom in terms of the font(s), type sizes, and ink colors to choose than if you're creating a resume you know is going to be scanned. (See the last section of this chapter for tips on how to create a scannable resume.)
Choosing a Font
For readable resumes, after you've created the content, and you know which resume format you will be following, choose a font that is easily read and pleasing to the eye. Once you select your font, stick with it. Use only that one font on your resume. Mixing and matching fonts makes your resume package look cluttered and unprofessional. Some of the most popular fonts for resumes include:
- Times Roman
- Century Schoolbook
Upon choosing one of these basic and easy-to-read fonts, you also have access to a variety of typestyles that can be used to capture the reader's attention. You want to use different typestyles sparingly and only to highlight specific pieces of information. Boldface, small capitals, underlined, and italic type can be used effectively.
Exhibit 5–1 shows a few examples of standard styles you can choose from when creating your resume package.
As you can see from Exhibit 5–1, when you have a paragraph or series of bulleted points that use too many different typestyles, it looks extremely unprofessional and busy on the page. However, highlighting a single word in a sentence with bold or italics, for example, can add impact.
Choosing a Type Size
Based on how much information you need to fit on a page, you can select the font size that's most appropriate. Font sizes are measured in points. Most people use a 12-point font when printing their resume. If you need to fit more text on a page, however, you can use a smaller, 10-point type, or if you don't have enough information to fill the page, you can use 13-point type.
Within your actual document, refrain from mixing type sizes. When using 12-point type, use it for the entire document. Also, avoid using a type size that's too small or too large. Don't go any smaller than 10-point type or any larger than 13-point type. If your resume is printed using a font that's too small, it will be difficult to read. Likewise, if the font is too large, your resume will appear unprofessional and childish.
Exhibit 5–2 shows how different type sizes look on the printed page:
Adjusting the Margins
When using resume-writing software or the Resume Wizard built into recent versions of Microsoft Word (see Chapter 8 for details), the margins of the page will automatically be set for you to accommodate the text on the page. The margins are the white space around the edges of the printed page.
If you are manually creating your resume on a word processor, however, it's your responsibility to set the margins on the page. For example, with Microsoft Word, you can easily adjust (and modify) the margins of a document by selecting the Page Setup, then Margins option under the File pull-down menu. When using most word processors, you can adjust the top, bottom, left, and right margins. As a general rule, you will want to set the margins as follows for an 8½-by-11-inch page:
Your resume should be no longer than a single page, especially if you are starting out in your career. If you have a lot of information to include, keep in mind that you can adjust these margins slightly to help fit your resume to a page—for example, you could reduce the left- and right-hand margins to only an inch. But don't get too creative: If there's no white space left on the page, your resume will be difficult to read, so make sure you're not changing margins to accommodate information that isn't necessary to include. Edit first; then reformat.
"Make sure your resume looks clean, polished, and balanced. Your resume is a potential employer's first view of you. You want to make sure that you reveal yourself in the best manner possible."
—NICHOLAS, PUBLIC RELATIONS SPECIALIST
Choosing an Ink Color
As mentioned, black ink on white paper is the most common traditional printed resume. You can stray from this rule by using a dark blue (navy) or burgundy ink color. If you choose to incorporate an ink color other than black, and you do it tastefully, you could wind up with a resume package that grabs the reader's attention in an extremely positive way.
Should you choose to incorporate colored ink or papers, it's an excellent strategy to work with a resume-preparation specialist or a graphic designer to ensure your selections will have the most positive impact possible. Using ink and paper colors that clash make you look foolish and unprofessional, and they could keep the content of your resume from getting read.
Printing Your Resume Using a Computer
Using virtually any computer that's connected to a printer, you can create and then print resumes using a word processor or resume-writing software. When printing your resume and cover letters, however, be sure to use the highest quality printer possible. It is not acceptable to use a dot matrix printer or an older ink jet printer, because the resolution and quality of these devices isn't high enough, in most cases, to generate a professional looking document. Ideally, you will want to use a 300dpi, 600dpi (dots per inch), or better laser printer for generating your resume and cover letters.
If you own a computer, but no laser printer, you can create your document using any word processor and then save the files to a disk. You can then visit any Kinko's, CopyMax, or other printing company, and for a fee, have your files printed on a high-quality printer directly from your disk.
Making Your Resume Scannable
A scannable resume is a printed resume that is scanned and evaluated by a computer as opposed to being read by someone. You will have to modify the resume's content and appearance for the scanner.
The biggest rule to follow when creating a scannable resume is to create the content by using nouns and keywords in the text as opposed to action verbs. When it comes to actually printing your resume, consider the requirements of the computer system being used by the potential employer to which you will be sending your resume.
When a resume is scanned into applicant-tracking software, it's put through a scanner, which takes the entire document and converts it into digital form. The software then picks apart the resume, word for word, looking for specific keywords and phrases. For this process to work, the scanner must be able to read your resume clearly. Thus, it's important to format your resume and print it in a way that helps eliminate the possibility of computer error.
Some of the key formatting points included:
- Use only white paper with black ink.
- Use a standard font that's easily readable by a computer scanner.
- Don't use underlined, bold, or italic text.
- Use simple formatting—no lines, boxes, columns, or other graphic elements. Also don't use the following symbols: #, %, &, or hollow bullets that might not be readable by the scanner.
- Make sure the ink is dark and easily readable.
- Use a laser printer (as opposed to an inkjet printer, dot matrix printer, or a typewriter) to print any document you know is going to be scanned.
You've read about the importance of using action verbs in a traditional resume to add excitement and impact as you describe your skills, educational background, and work experience. However, when creating a resume that will be scanned, adding excitement to your resume does little good, because the computer software that will evaluate your resume (to determine if it's worthy of being read by someone in the company's HR department) will only be looking for a specific set of keywords and phrases. A list of keywords (see Exhibit 5–3), and a sample scannable resume (Exhibit 5–4) follow at the end of this chapter.
Prior to scanning your resume into its applicant-tracking system, the potential employer creates a list of keywords and phrases that best describe the position available, the job requirements, and the necessary skills. Your primary objective when creating a scannable resume is to make an educated guess and include as many keywords and phrases as possible that you think will match up with the list already entered into the computer. The resumes with the greatest number of matching words and phrases will be the ones the applicant-tracking software tags as representing qualified applicants; these are the resumes that the HR department or person in charge of hiring will most likely evaluate.
When creating a scannable resume (after you have determined what content to incorporate into your document) carefully read the ad to which you're responding and the job description the company has written for the position. Any keyword or phrase, industry buzzword, specific job title, years of experience, degrees or licenses required, skills, or personal traits, and so forth, mentioned in the ad or job description should definitely appear within your resume.
In essence, what you're creating is a keyword-based resume printed on paper that will be accurately scanned. Especially if you're applying for a job within a medium- to large-size company, developing this type of resume is critical, because more than 80% of employers are now using applicant-tracking software to assist in their hiring and recruiting.
An electronic resume can be imported into applicant-tracking software, and in most cases, should be created using a keyword style for it to have the most impact and generate the best results for you.
When creating this type of resume, some applicants choose to add a section near the top of their resume (below the heading and objective), called Keywords. This is simply a listing of keywords pertaining to your qualifications that the computer might be looking for.
As long as your resume focuses on information you know the employer is looking for, in a format the employer's computer system can understand, your chances of landing the job you apply for will be improved. The best way to ensure that you are submitting the right type of resume to a specific employer (i.e., a traditional printed resume versus a scannable resume) is to contact that company's HR department and inquire about how they evaluate incoming resumes. Also, ask if they have any specific submission guidelines.
Although computers have become an integral part of recruiting and job searching, it's still important to create a traditional printed resume that you can hand to someone at the start of a job interview, or mail if the company you're contacting doesn't use applicant-tracking software. Investing the time necessary to create both a readable resume and a scannable resume as your job-search process begins is definitely a worthwhile strategy. These two resumes should contain the same basic information (targeted to the job for which you're applying), but should be worded, and perhaps, laid out, differently on the page. Depending on the type of job you're pursuing, you also might consider creating an electronic or digital resume that can be sent via e-mail, added to online databases, or used when applying for a job from a website.
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