The Anatomy of a Perfectly Formatted Resume

Nancy Anderson
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Although the content of your resume is what really interests recruiters, the layout is also important. The right layout makes it easy for recruiters to identify your skills and determine whether you meet the minimum requirements for the job, and the wrong layout could leave you looking unprofessional. Keep these tips in mind as you format your resume.

Section Headers

Your resume should have sections for education, work experience and professional certifications. If you don't have a lot of experience in your field, you may also want to include a list of volunteer activities, especially if those activities are relevant to your desired job. One thing you should remove from your resume entirely is the career objective. Instead of helping you, objectives can seem outdated and can actually hurt your chances of landing the job, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Text Formatting

When formatting the text of your resume, use a font that is easy to read. Calibri, Garamond and Arial are good choices. Don't overwhelm recruiters with crowded text and lengthy paragraphs. Instead, use bullet points to express yourself in as few words as possible. Make text easier to read by leaving some white space around each section.

The right format for your resume depends on your work history, skills and career trajectory. If you can show progressive responsibility in one industry, list your jobs in reverse chronological order. The functional format, which emphasizes skills instead of job titles, is ideal if you want to break into a new industry or overcome long gaps in your job history. If you decide to go with a functional resume, create a new section for each of your skills.

Graphical Elements

In most cases, you should not include any graphical elements in your resume. Graphics make it difficult for recruiters to focus on your achievements, which can hurt you in the long run. If you really want to add some color, create a simple logo, and place it at the top of the page. Avoid inserting photos, infographics, tables and charts.

Document Length

Your resume should take up approximately one full page. It may seem difficult to condense your work history into just a few paragraphs, but it's doable if you focus on your achievements and eliminate any unnecessary sections. Use two-column lists to showcase your skills without taking up too much room.

File Format

If a potential employer does not specify a preferred file format, send an ASCII or PDF version of your resume. ASCII is a standardized format that appears the same in every email program. PDF files work on both Windows and Macintosh computers, reducing the risk of missing out on a great opportunity because the recruiter couldn't open your resume.

When revamping your resume, don't focus all of your efforts on the content. Take time to work on the layout, and make sure it is as appealing as possible to hiring managers and HR professionals.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Syreeta thanks for your comment. Maybe for some companies a two-page resume will work while for others, it won't. The rule of thumb is to try to only include the past ten years and only include relevant information. If you are applying for a management position, why do they need to know that you worked at McDonald's when you were a teenager? The ATS is looking for certain keywords and you should try to manipulate your resume so that those keywords are used throughout the resume and the cover letter. Don't forget that many companies still want a cover letter and that the cover letter goes through the same system. Comparing two or more like job descriptions will give you a great clue as to what keywords to use since you will probably see them in most, if not all, of the job descriptions.

  • Syreeta H.
    Syreeta H.

    Great article! However, from what I am gathering from recruiters and temp agencies is that a job seeker may be better off having a two page resume if their work history justifies it.
    Reason being is that when an ATS is looking for certain keywords in your resume it may not find the words it needs to consider a job seeker a "good" match in one page.
    One thing that I have experimented with is comparing different job descriptions for the same job to see what is often repeated in those job description and tweak my resume accordingly.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Yes @Melanie in most cases one page is sufficient. The rule of thumb in today's job world is that you only include pertinent information and you keep your resume down to about the last 10 years. For a high-level position, that's a different story. Most high level people will use a service - such as a headhunter - to find their next position. That's a different world from the standard job seeker's world. Glad that the objective statement is being phased out, too. It didn't really add anything to the resume and it took up valuable real estate!

  • Melanie E.
    Melanie E.

    A one-page resume is sufficient in most cases. Then only time it should be longer, is if the applicant has an extensive past work history or if he/she is applying for a high-level position. Important facts about an applicant can get buried and/or missed. Most hiring managers simply skim over the first page when making a decision on whether they want to interview the applicant.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I, like many others, love that the objective is out. That as always been one of the trickiest part of the entire resume for most people. Using bullets to highlight skills and experience is the best way to get yourself across to an employer. Often, the objective was a stuffy and fluffy paragraph that seemed to sound similar from one person's resume to the next, and really did little or nothing to separate candidates.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    I completely agree with the statement of abolishing the career objective. It's important for a resume to convey what you can offer the organization, not what the organization can offer you. It is a good area to reinforce what you can do for the company, however. Ex: "My familiarity with X graphic design program will help your company increase sales and reduce employee time spent on manually creating brochures."

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jacob thanks for the questions. I think that it's a personal preference. Many people swear by infographics but, for me, a standard resume is just fine. I think that maybe creative types might try to be more creative when it comes to formatting and design. I can't speak for the hiring managers but I know if I was the hiring manager - a clean, neat, comprehensive standard resume is all that is needed.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Does optimal formatting change from industry to industry? Are hiring mangers looking for certain bullet points and headers from, for example, sales, that would be different from what you want for a content writing or logistics position resume? The content would change, but should the format change based on the type of position being sought?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Katharine all you can do about work gaps is to be honest. Give a brief overview in your cover letter and then move on. Concentrate on what you can offer the company - for the company's benefit and less on the work gaps. Most companies would like to see a resume be short, sweet and to the point - one page @Catherine. But, if you need to make it two pages, go for it. The rule of thumb, at least today, is to only include the last ten years. I guess companies figure that if you worked on something more than ten years ago that your knowledge and skills will be rusty and out of date. As for the way that the resume looks - use your own judgment. I would choose a common font like Arial, Times New Roman or Courier. Font size - probably around 12 or, if you need the space a 10. No smaller than that. Personally I will bold the company as well as my job title but it's entirely up to the individual. Some people don't bold anything while others think that if they have everything in bold that it will garner more attention. Not true. So go with what feels right for you - for your circumstances. All the best.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Resume writing has changed so much in the past 20 years. There are no more "Objective" sections and infographics are becoming the norm. In another 20 years, computers may be so sophisticated they can read and interpret video resumes sent in by candidates. Technology changes the job search game so rapidly nowadays.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I'm sure badly formatted resumes are one of those instant turnoffs for recruiters; which is a shame because they can be so hard to format! Is it a good idea to use bold and italics to emphasize certain things (job titles, dates etc) or should you keep it all uniform? What font size do you recommend? I always worry about using a big font that the recruiter will think I just want to fill up more space...


    For my resume, I was told that unless I have worked in a field for years and years and have achieved many great things, my resume should always be on just one page. I also liked your suggestion for people with work gaps to focus on their skill sets. It can be very daunting to approach working on a resume for people who haven't worked in years because of their obvious gap in their employment history. Does anyone have other suggestions for people with a work gap?

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    I think people have a tendency to underestimate the importance of the first impression--and usually that involves the way something looks. Resumes are no different; if it looks sloppy or over-full, there's bound to be a slightly-negative reaction to it. And no one wants any kind of negative reaction to their resume! This is really great information; thanks for putting it out there.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comment. @Hema I am with you! I always had a hard time articulating a great career objective and was happy to know that most companies aren't interested. I am finding that creating a storyboard into my life and career is a great way to go. But it's not for everyone. Thanks @Lorri for sharing this article on your social media.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I’ve always had difficulty writing my career objective so I’m happy that it’s considered outdated now. I save my resumes as PDF files and send them out in that format too as there’s almost no chance of introducing any errors into the file when proofreading. More people need to embrace PDFs for their resumes as it is so easy to make mistakes in Word.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Well-formatted resumes are so much easier to read. HR professionals are tremendously busy people (I know: I've been in HR!), so you greatly improve your chances of being selected for interview if your information is easily accessible. A simple logo can add a distinctive splash of color to the top of your page, making your resume stand out a little — so I'd recommend that.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I love the idea of creating a logo. Especially in creative industries, potential employers want to see your graphic design skills or even branding efforts. I've read so many great articles on this site that focus on branding and a logo on your resume or customized letterhead is a solid strategy for job seekers.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    I am sharing this one to my wall on Facebook. I am currently revamping my resume and this article gives some very helpful insights into how employers view resumes. I will definitely be using this article as a resource when I write it, because it has a ton of new information, like leaving out the objective, that I had no knowledge of.

  • Sharnelle A.
    Sharnelle A.


  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Bill thanks for your email. We have tons of articles posted here on Beyond that will help you to get past the ATS. The best answer I can offer is to keep it simple, keep it short and to the point and make sure that you are utilizing keywords that the ATS will be looking for. (Many articles on that, too)

  • Bill Winterle
    Bill Winterle

    And how will this resume get past the Applicant Tracking System?

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