The 7 deadly sins of résumé design
So you’ve labored with sweat and tears writing your résumé, and now you’re all set to turn it into a magnificently designed creation. Unfortunately, with the freedom of modern computers and fancy software, comes huge opportunities for abuse. When it comes to résumés, both non-designers and professional designers commit some almost unforgivable sins. Here are the 7 deadly sins of résumé design and how to repent:
- Fancy “résumé” paper
- Times New Roman
- Teeny tiny font size
- Grey text
- Excessive decoration
- Weird paper size
- Horizontal format
Take a tour of any office supply store and you’ll see shelves of extravagant “résumé” papers featuring special “linen” and “parchment” finishes. Avoid these like dog poop on a New York summer sidewalk. They’re too expensive and don’t make you look extra special.
To repent: Save your money and get paper with a plain smooth finish. It can be slightly heavier than regular copy paper, but not stiff as a board. An ever so slight hint of cream is fine. It’ll make your resume easier on the eyes than the super-ultra-pure-snow-driven white paper many designers are fond of. I prefer Neenah Classic Crest in Natural White with a Super Smooth finish. Never ever use pink paper with strawberry scent.
The default typeface in Microsoft Word is Times New Roman, and thus it’s the default for most résumés. It’s a tragedy, because Times’s letterspacing and wordspacing is wretched in Word. The result is an unharmonious mess.
To repent: Choose a different typeface. I won’t go into explaining x-heights or the difference between Humanist Sans and Geometric Sans. If you’ve got money to spare, pick any of the typefaces in FontShop’s professional collection, and you’ll be a step above Times New Roman. If you’re cheap, use Matthew Carter’s Georgia. It’s free and already installed on your computer. If you send your résumé electronically as a PDF, it also looks quite good on-screen. If you need more guidance, check out Before & After’s tutorial on picking typefaces.
Designers fresh out of school love teeny tiny type. The belief is that it looks elegant, refined, and allows for more white space on the résumé. It’s a shame. For all that elegance, no one can read it, because most people in hiring positions won’t have fresh baby eyes with 20/20 vision.
To repent: Set your résumé no smaller than 9 points for sans-serifed type and 10 points for serifed type. Anything smaller, and your résumé is at risk of being shredded.
Designers also love grey type. On an inkjet printer, grey text looks better because it reduces the appearance of noise. If you go too light, though, it becomes illegible and unfaxable. But wait, should you really be using inkjet to print your résumé?
To repent: Use a laser printer and print in 100% black for ultimate clarity. If you do go grey, don’t go lighter than 75% black.
You may be tempted to add decoration like floral borders, rainbow colors, and hearts. Perhaps, you want to use an illustration of a swan, tiger or unicorn to represent you. This is great if you want to look like a box of crayons melted on your résumé. Otherwise, don’t try to be cute.
To repent: Add some character by setting your name slightly larger, or in a different weight as the same typeface as the rest of your résumé. Use color, but very sparingly, if at all. No more than one color in addition to black.
If you live in the United States, the standard paper size is 8.5 x 11in. In Europe, it’s 210 x 297mm. Anything else will fit awkwardly in a binder or file. When it doesn’t fit, it gets thrown out.
To repent: Keep to the standard paper size of your geographic location. It’s easier to print and package.
In an attempt to stand out, some designers format their résumés in a landscape format. This is more annoying than innovative.
To repent: Keep to a portrait format. The first person who sees your résumé is usually a Human Resources person who sees hundreds of resumes daily. Too much variation from the norm makes it harder for them to make a quick assessment of you. If you want to stand out, write a good cover letter instead.