When it comes to crafting a better resume, some of the most important features should focus on the basics. While it may seem to be an obvious characteristic of a quality resume, the appearance of the resume itself can be critical to the entire selection process.
A resume should look sharp, crisp, and organized. It should be offered in a presentation that makes others want to read it. Naturally, the information that is presented in the body of the resume document is critical. But the way that we present information can be just as important. This is also a reflection on the person whose name appears at the top of the page.
It’s easy to get so caught up in the things that we want to say that we lose sight of the way that we say it. We want to add all of the important qualities that we possess and the experiences that we can bring to the table, but in doing so we can miss a fundamental message that the document is ultimately sharing with the decision maker reviewing our resume. The resume itself serves as a reflection of the way that we present information. It is a point of first impression regarding our writing style, our ability to present facts, our ability to influence others, and our overall attention to detail. Building a better resume—one that sets you apart from others—also shares an important message through those details.
Use a resume format that grabs attention—and holds attention. It’s important to use a format that is visually appealing, but it must also be easy to read, and easy to follow. The reader must be able to segregate jobs, segregate skills, and segregate other valuable information about the candidate. The resume must be well-organized, and allow the reader to take all of the different pieces that make up who the candidate is, and put them together in a systematic way that paints a clear picture. Allow the decision maker to structure their thoughts in a way that helps them draw a conclusion—and the right conclusion.
In the most basic of terms, the most important thing on a resume is your NAME. Your name should stand out and be the first thing that people see when they look at your resume. Isn’t that the point? We want decision makers to see and remember our names and who we are. That’s not to imply that it should be in big purple letters across the top of the entire document and outlined in flowers or fireworks—but it should stand out. Use a font (typically 18-24) that is larger than the rest of the text.
Use fonts for the text that offer a professional appearance and are easy to read. Scripted or complex fonts should not be used for your resume. This isn’t a love letter or a wedding invitation. It’s not a royal decree or a work that begins with, “Thou shalt not…”—it’s a resume.
When considering the appearance of the document itself, here’s a simple exercise: Take two or three different versions of the document and set them out on a table. Look away—and then look back down at the documents. The one that you look at first—the one that fits these simple rules, but then grabs and holds your attention—is typically the better resume. Of course, this is also a matter of style and opinion, but it’s a good place to start.
Many different factors go into putting together a quality resume. Some of those lessons might seem overly simplified or under-valued—but that’s why people miss them. Considering the time and effort that we put into our careers and the energy that goes into developing a professional development plan, we should be willing to take the small steps that put on a successful career path. Such details can make a big difference in the search process, and might guide others in their decisions as well.
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This article was first published in 2016 and updated April 15, 2020.