Top 10 Resume Formatting Tips

Elizabeth Enck

Top 10 Resume Formatting Tips

Your resume is often the first impression you make on an employer. When an employer is receiving hundreds of resumes for each job opening, how can you stand out? The key is to get noticed in a short amount of time. Since you often have only a page, maybe two, to share your experience and skills, having the right formatting is key. By following these 10 steps, you are on your way to making a lasting first impression.

1. Page Length

The average employer spends 10-20 seconds looking at a resume for the first time. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, does it? So how can you make sure they find what they are looking for? One way is by making sure your resume is a brief document, in most cases this means one page. If you are new in your field it’s likely that you will only need one page.

If you have more than 10 years of experience or an advanced degree you may find you need two pages. What is important to remember is that the first page should include what you think would be most important to the employer. Typically this is the most recent or relevant experience and skills directly related to the position.

2. Fonts

You want to make sure to stick to fonts that are easy to read. This means basic fonts, nothing too busy or fancy. If the employer is just scanning your resume, the fonts must be easy to see. This also means font size is important. Keep your fonts between 10-12pt. Your name at the top of your page can be bigger in size, such as 14-16pt. It’s important to print your resume out to make sure it is still easy to read. Sometimes the computer screen makes fonts appear larger or clearer than they may look on paper. Make sure your font is easy for you to read and also would be easy for an employer of any age to read.

3. White Space

White space refers to the part of your resume without any text. It’s important to have white space on your resume. If your resume is too full of text it will be overwhelming and difficult for an employer to read through. If you have too much white space it may feel like your resume is lacking and that you don’t have much experience to show. Balance is key. Again, printing out your resume and holding it about a foot away can help you decide if your resume looks balanced between the white open space and text.

4. Templates

There are many resume templates available. You can find them online or even in a program like Word. However, be careful about using a resume template. Often, templates are set up as tables. This can make it very difficult to format in any different way. They also use sections or layouts that you may not want in your resume. Another reason to avoid using a template is to make your resume unique to you. Do you want your resume looking exactly like everyone else’s? Probably not. Resume templates can provide you with some ideas to get started, but it’s often easiest to start with a blank document.

5. Prioritize

There is no single resume format that is best for everyone. You want to tailor your resume for the positions you are applying to and make sure to format it to work in your favor. Make sure to prioritize the information on your resume. What do you want an employer to see first? That’s the order you should put it in.

If your education section is most important, list it first. You may find it helpful to have a “Relevant Experience” section that you list first. The resume is flexible and you have some control over what order you list your sections.

6. Emphasis

There are ways that you can add emphasis to your fonts to make it easier for an employer to read. Using bold, italics, underlining or all capitals can be helpful.

Make sure to use these in moderation. If you use too many, it hurts instead of helps. The most common areas people emphasize are section headings, job titles or employer names.

7. Consistency

Consistency in your resume is key. As mentioned earlier, emphasis is a great way to help someone navigate your resume. However, you must be consistent in your use. If you use bold fonts for your section headings, make sure each section heading is in bold. Also, if you list dates on one side of the page, make sure all of the dates are on the same side and also each line up. It’s these little things that can make your resume appear polished and show you paid attention to detail.

8. Sections

There is no list of exactly what sections you should have in your resume. While you should have an Education section and some type of Experience section, there is a lot of flexibility. If you want you may have a “Relevant Experience” and an “Other Experience” category. If you have done volunteer or community service work, that may be a section you want to include.

If you have technical skills you may want a section for that. Make the resume work for you and tailor your sections to your experience and the types of jobs you are applying for. If you don’t have something, don’t include it.

9. Contact Information

We all want to be contacted by an employer after applying for a job. Make it easy for them. Put your contact information (name, address, email and phone number) at the top of the page. There are several formats, but typically centering it at the top of the page is the best way to make it easy for an employer to find.

10. Spelling/Grammar

Finally, you must proof for spelling and grammatical errors. While spellcheck is great, it’s not everything. It can be very helpful to have someone else look over your resume too. Often, after staring at your own resume for a while it’s easy to overlook things. A fresh pair of eyes may catch mistakes you missed.

About The Author

Elizabeth Enck

Elizabeth Enck was a career counselor at The University Of Tennessee for 6 years. She worked with undergraduate, graduate students, and alumni with their career planning and job searching. This included providing assistance with resumes and cover letters, interviewing including conducting practice interviews, and guidance through the job search process. She has a Master's Degree in Counseling with an emphasis on career counseling.

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