General Resume Formatting Issues

For all things resume, less is generally more.

Your resume is not an exercise in seeing how many different types of fonts, font sizes, and bullet styles you can cram into one page. You may want to use a different font for your name or main headings. You may want to highlight important information with a different bullet style from that used in the rest of your résumé. However, limit your fonts and bullets to one or two styles. If using more than one, choose a second one that is complimentary to the first.

Place your most important information in the top third of your résumé. Employers will do a quick visual scan of your resume and may not even make it to the bottom of the page. Therefore, include your strongest information in the most eye-catching position, the top third, to make your reader want to read the rest of the material. Use the rest of your page space to back-up what you state at the beginning.

Use white space to your advantage. White space is exactly as it sounds—the parts of the page that do not contain type or graphics. Aim for a balance of white space throughout your resume to make it visually appealing and easy to read. If your resume is crammed full of type from top to bottom and left to right, it will be difficult to read and will be a turn-off to your reader, no matter how well you have composed the information. Use your formatting wisely to accommodate for white space. You can do this by changing font size (but do not go smaller than 10-point type), using bullets and tabs, creating space before and after headers, and so on. (Keep bulleted lists short; too many bullets are just as distracting as a lot of type.)

Use your headers wisely. Your name and contact information should be easily located. From there, a gradation of heading sizes should follow but not be overdone. More than three sizes of headers can make your resume look cluttered. Also avoid excessive use of bolding, italics, and underlining. These enhancements should be used sparingly to highlight only the most important information. Use these features too much, and your reader will be left confused as to what is important and what is not. Worse yet, your reader may determine that you yourself do not know what is most important.

Keep your font size readable. Your name and contact information may be quite large and in a fancier font, but the rest of your document should fall within standard sizes; 10 to 12 point for most of your text (you can also use half sizes, such as 10.5 and 11.5). Experiment with your headers to find something attractive that works, but remember to be consistent. You want your headers to grab attention, not leave your reader feeling dizzy.

How Many Pages?

Your resume should be as long as it needs to be to convey all the pertinent information while still using sharp, concise writing. The length is guided by your work experience. Some new grads have a two-page resume. Some executives have a one-page resume. What is important is the best approach for each individual situation. Obviously, your resume will be at least one page and should be formatted in such a way to fill the page without crowding it.

You may have heard some "hard and fast rules" about page length when it comes to resumes. Some will tell you that a person just entering the workforce or fresh out of high school or college should never have more than one page. Even those within the resume-writing profession do not always agree on this issue. But to say that a college graduate should ALWAYS have a one-page resume is akin to saying that an executive should ALWAYS have a two-page or longer resume. The fact of the matter is that resumes are individualized, creative documents to best showcase a particular person's history. Oftentimes that history can be well summarized on one page; sometimes it cannot. A general guideline to keep your resume tight and focused is helpful, primarily because it forces you to focus on what is most important and keeps you from becoming too wordy. However, if you need additional space, use it; but use it wisely.

If your resume falls onto a second page, use your judgment about whether or not to keep it on two pages or condense it to one. If only a few lines spill over, reformat or cut it to make it fit on one page. Any additional pages, whether they are the second, third, or fourth, should have enough information to cover at least half the page, if not most of it.

Who is most likely to need additional pages? Obviously a seasoned worker with a long history will have a greater chance of needing additional pages. For graduates, those with advanced degrees (masters or doctorates) may require additional pages to cover relevant educational experience and/or publications. (These groups will also more likely fall into the category of needing a CV, or curriculum vitae, instead of a résumé.) However, those with significant experience, whether paid or unpaid, or with extensive related activities may also find that two pages are better than one.

Built-In Templates

Built-in templates can be helpful guides, but it is often best to strike out on your own. The problem with templates that come as part of your word-processing program is the same problem that occurs with using resume-generating software. It can be too limiting, thereby stifling your creativity, available options, and the auto-formatting functions can be extremely frustrating if you try to customize your document. Another potential problem is that your resume will come out looking as though it was generated from a template. You want your resume to speak to your audience about who you are and why you are unique—not scream, "I used a template!"

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of writing your resume from scratch, it may help to invest in a good book outlining all the bells and whistles of your particular word-processing program or to enroll in a course. This will help boost your confidence as well as teach you new things. Heck, you can then add it to your list of computer skills on your resume!