The Sharp Decisions Insider’s Guide to Resumes, Volume 1: Formatting

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Resume building is the critical first step in a serious job search. Tweaking and tailoring your CV is a true art – and a time consuming one at that – but the subtlest choices can mean the difference between a job and an opportunity lost. We’ve collected some excellent layout and formatting tips from the Sharp Decisions recruiters for improving how you look on paper.

Contacts are key: Include ALL of your contact information at the top of the first page. This may seem too obvious to mention, but you’d be amazed at how many (good) resumes we’ve received that omit a working phone number or email address. Provide both. Your home address is helpful, but unless you’re the candidate of the century, we’re probably not going to snail mail you about a position.

Font style: When writing your resume, be sure to use a basic font that’s straightforward and easy to read: Arial and Times-based fonts are always appropriate. Leave the script fonts for wedding invitations and greeting cards.

Font size: Don’t be tempted to use a tiny font just for the sake of cramming your entire resume on to a single page. Our recruiters agree that in general, they would rather have to consume fewer pages of information, but not with a microscope. Consider culling irrelevant information before trying to make everything fit with a font size adjustment. Remember that size is not uniform across fonts – so a 12-point Times font will not have the same height or spacing as a sans-serif font.

If you plan to print a hard copy or bounce a PDF version, print or export a test to make sure everything looks proper. A document’s size looks different on-screen than it does on paper, and you may not notice that you’ve been working with a magnification that is far greater or smaller than what the final product will look like.

On the subject of file formats: Bear in mind that when you are submitting a resume to a recruiter (rather than directly to a Human Resources department), it’ll likely end up getting imported into some type of Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These software systems have parsing functions that automatically import your information into a database, and complicated layouts and certain file formats can cause lots of junk data to get brought in as well. Plain text and minimally formatted Word documents tend to work best, while PDFs seem to bring in the most superfluous ‘information.’

Prioritize your content: Recruiters and employers often have only a few moments to review your resume when it comes in, so you need to make sure that the right information stands out. List the most relevant experience for the job you’re applying for first and foremost.  Use specific titles for positions you’ve held – and if you’ve been in the work force for a while, only include the most relevant experience.  Bloomberg is probably not terribly interested in that summer job you had at the pool – unless of course, you’re a lifeguard.

Design: Try to leave some white space in your design to make it easier to read, and guide the eye to important information. Bullet points, bullet points, bullet points. It may increase length, but it’ll be far easier to make your accomplishments stand out if they’re not buried in a paragraph.

Style: There are many different types of resumes out there, along with useful templates to get you started – but remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Seeker)! Review them to figure out which format best suits your needs, whether it’s chronological, functional, or targeted.  Don’t get swayed by pretty (read that, ‘tacky’) graphics or complex layouts. If you develop a relationship with a recruiter, rely on their experience to help you fine-tune a resume’s style according to what a particular client may like to see.

Increase ‘pageviews’: Lastly (and we’ll harp on this in future posts), have friends or colleagues read through your CV. Spell check functions are fine, but you can’t rely on them to catch repeated words, homonyms, and many grammatical errors.

Next up: Insider tips for resume content.


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