10 Essential Formatting Rules for Your Resume

Nancy Anderson
Posted by in Career Advice

The rules for resume formatting seem to change with the seasons as career experts weigh in with their preferences. Creative companies may count you out for having a boring layout, while traditionalists would run in terror from a resume with bright graphics, charts and fonts in multiple sizes. While you can't please every hiring manager, you can improve your chances of making the shortlist by presenting an orderly, visually optimized resume. Follow these tips to get your resume in shape for your next job search.

1. Limit Your Fonts

Stick to basic fonts in legible sizes, and limit yourself to two whenever possible. Choosing two complementary fonts for the headings and body sections can make your resume easier to scan, but fonts should not overshadow the important information. Hiring managers are more likely to toss your resume than struggle through a messy word jumble.

2. Choose Simple Formatting

No matter how creative you are, reign in your formatting elements when creating a traditional resume. Bold and italicized fonts are suitable for offsetting small portions of text, such as job titles, but avoid overusing them. Every style decision you make should draw a reader's eyes to the most impressive details, so avoid unnecessary distractions, such as colorful fonts and underlining.

3. Balance the White Space

Dense blocks of text are dizzying to the eyes, so resist the urge to pack every inch of the page with words. Start with 1-inch margins, and only adjust them if you need to accommodate one or two straggling lines. To maintain balance, picture your resume as a grid with four equal quadrants, and make sure the amount of text and open space is roughly the same in each section.

4. Create Readable Sections

Assume that most hiring managers are not willing to dig around for relevant qualifications before moving on to the next resume. Your layout should be concise and organized with natural breaks that help the reader quickly move from one point to the next. Use bulleted lists, and choose efficient words that convey a clear image of your accomplishments. Ask a friend to check your resume. She should be able to summarize your qualifications after a 20- to 30-second read-through.

5. Use Parallel Structure

Hiring managers have to sift through high volumes of information. Use a consistent grammatical structure in your statements to make it easier for readers to retain information. If one bullet starts with a past-tense verb, they should all follow the same format. For example, use "coordinated volunteers," "reduced profit loss," or "designed a marketing plan."

6. Use Consistent Spacing

You may be tempted to tweak the spacing in some areas if your resume is too empty or too full, but experienced hiring managers can see through your most clever formatting tricks. The spaces after headings and descriptions should be the same throughout, creating a neat and professional layout.

7. Include a Career Summary

Objective statements are out, and career summaries are in. While objectives are bland and formulaic, career summaries let you create a narrative that frames the rest of the resume. Use it to pitch your value proposition, and connect the dots between your qualifications and work history if you are making a career change. The summary should be roughly five sentences or less, and you can tailor it for each application.

8. Use Keywords

Prepare for the possibility that an employer uses applicant tracking software to generate a preliminary list of compatible candidates. Mimic the language from the original job posting, and incorporate relevant keywords into your job titles and descriptions.

9. Include a Profile Link

Hiring managers are curious about who you really are, and the Internet is a readily available tool for investigation. Show your eagerness to share more information about yourself by including a website or profile link with your contact information. You get an opportunity to showcase your work or testimonials while ensuring that recruiters find the correct information. You don't want to lose out on a job because the recruiter read someone else's profile.

10. Avoid Images and Headers

Unless you are crafting a graphic resume for a creative position, keep embedded images and objects, such as charts, out of your document. Applicant tracking software may process these elements incorrectly (“Should You Customize Your Resume Layout For Each Position?”), turning your carefully formatted resume into a chaotic mess. The same holds true for headers and footers. Keep your contact information in the body of the document to make sure your resume is easy to mine for keyword matches.

A resume isn't meant to be a novel, so don't feel frustrated by the limited space. Hiring managers use it to gain an immediate sense of how well you prioritize and articulate information. Cut out anything that doesn't strengthen your story, and keep editing until your statements are descriptive, impactful and to the point. A clean format can get you through the early recruiting stages and land your resume in front of a company's decision makers.

Photo courtesy of Orange Resume at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Sylvia that is so true - it's not about you, it's about them. When you write your cover letter, it's about how what you bring will benefit the company - again - not about you but about them. @Abbey adding a profile link is a great idea. You can include your Linkedin profile link or your Beyond profile link or any others that you might have that would give the hiring company a better peek into who you are and what you have to offer. And it goes without saying - as a professional - always keep your social media sites clean. I always say - never post something that you wouldn't show to your Mom. That's a rule of thumb for me and I have lived that way. Best of luck on your endeavors.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I really love the idea of including a profile link. This is a new concept to me, and probably many others. As stated in another comment, you must take care in what your profile shows. One thing that many people probably don't know, though, is that many employers check social media profiles, whether you list it on your resume or not. They do this to see what type of person you are, and your social media profiles can say a lot about you. If you are interested in being a professional, you have to think about the things you post, whether you are sharing the link with prospective employers or not. Keep it clean, don't share too much information, and think of what might turn you off as a hiring manager.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    This article does a nice job of distilling the many disparate resume formatting ideas and focusing down on the pieces that really drive results. Like so many other things when conducting a job search, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the advice and options available - having it narrowed down to specifics like this is really beneficial.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    I agree with the author's advice to ditch the career objective. Quite frankly, hiring managers want to know what you can do for them, not what you want them to do for you. That said, I think your summary should really focus on how your experiences, skills and training can benefit the company.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comment. @Catherine sending a .pdf is probably the best format. So true that computers vary and what might look good on your computer screen might be garbled when the hiring manager looks at it. Don't get bogged down in worrying about the length. Just worry about getting the pertinent information into your resume. Typically an employer is only interested in the last ten years and then, only if it's pertinent to the position you are seeking. If you worked in say lawn care for the past 20 years and now you want to be an administrative assistant and work inside and all year round - well, most of your experience in lawn care wouldn't be pertinent for your new career. For instance, I spent 20 years in the Navy and, now, that time is condensed into three lines on my resume. The important things to remember are that it's neat, clean and concise. Remove the fluff. Input appropriate keywords into your resume also. That's what the ATS is going to look for. You want to get your resume through ATS and into the hands of a real person and keywords are the way to do it. In addition, if you are among the more mature workers and never had to a resume - take some time to look for samples on the internet. That will help get the creative juices flowing so that you can easily write your resume and start applying for jobs.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    One-page resumes can be a two-edged sword. Applicant trackers may not have a problem with longer resumes since those programs can digest a few hundred words within seconds. However, human eyes don't have time to wade through two pages. Someone might try submitting one resume for the computers and then a separate one for human resources to see what happens.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    Many older workers were hired before resumes were a requirement. They struggle greatly with crafting a proper and compelling resume. The ten tips listed in this article are a great place to start. The tips are solid, substantial, and above all, helpful. Formatting is a great deal of the resume battle, and that is addressed very well here.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I hear varying advice about whether a resume needs to fit on one page. Some people say that is no longer true; other people say it's still true. I'm guessing it should be short, because recruiters aren't going to read a really long resume. Is the one-page rule still good advice? As I gain more job experience it is hard to fit everything on a page, and hard to decide what to leave off.


    I will definitely apply some of these tips when I work on reformatting my resume. I especially like the tip of using keywords that are specific to the job description, company or industry that you are applying for. One suggestion that I would add is to send employers a pdf version of your resume instead of a word document. This prevents all the formatting that you worked so hard on from getting messed up when the employer views your resume.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. @Tara it is important to include links on your resume - links to your social media sites. And, of course, this should go without saying - make sure that you have cleaned up your social media sites. Remember that rant that you went on last week over something happening in our world? You input a comment that would make your Mom blush? Well, it might make a prospective employer blush, too. In other words - clean up your social media sites. Everyone fears coming up with a resume; how it should be formatted; how long should it be; what type of font do I need; should I use bullet points and the list of fears goes on. If you are a creative type and are applying to creative/design type positions - then show your personality. But, if you are going for a non-creative position, you might want to consider just doing a straightforward black and white resume with the proper margins, great fonts and the like. So by all means - include the links to your social media sites; be creative if you can; and include the keywords that are necessary to get your resume in front of a hiring manager.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    There's a lot of really great information in here. I especially think the inclusion of a profile link is something that many people--myself included--wouldn't necessarily think of, and yet in this age of increased digital presence, it's so important. I know I like to check out a business' website before considering their service--it's not that different when you're, essentially, the service being offered.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Design rules for resumes are similar to...well, design rules generally speaking! No matter what type of design you're doing, you're trying to appeal to the reader/viewer. When I reformatted my resume with design principles in mind, I began to receive many more offers of work than before the redesign. It's amazing how such simple changes have the power to work in your favor, isn't it?

  • Jill Coleman
    Jill Coleman

    Thanks for all the great information here: one inch margins, include a profile link, etc. The most interesting advice to me (especially as an older job seeker that doesn't think of things like this) is to include keywords from the job description in case the employer uses applicant tracking software to generate a preliminary list of compatible candidates. Good stuff!

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I have always struggled with choosing the right fonts for my resume and this article’s advice of using no more than two different fonts is going to be useful for me. I’ll have to print out my resume and check how much white space I have on it as well, I never thought to check for that before.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Really great advice here. Keeping it simple is a solid strategy for most professions. I think, though, an important point is that the style and formatting of a resume changes within industries. For example, a graphic designer is often expected to stray from some of the routine standards and show skills in design with the resume formatting.

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