Good Resume Format, Bad Resume Format

What fonts are appropriate? Are colors okay? What about decorative elements? Should you use a template? Is it important that your resume be unique or visually striking?

These are just a few of the questions we get almost every day here at Career Services. It all comes down to one thing–what is a resume really supposed to look like? And how much does it matter? If you’ve already figured out whether you need a resume or a CV and written amazing bullet points, it’s time to attend to the formatting. Follow this guide to create a beautiful, professional resume.

Know Your Industry

The first rule of resume formatting is to consider your field. What are the norms of your industry? Is it more traditional and conservative? Is it creative and unconventional? Or somewhere in between?

One clue is the type of dress that’s expected. Are you trying to get a job where business professional attire is expected–where you’ll wear a suit to work? If so, that’s a good sign that you should use a more serious, conventional resume style, avoiding any decorative flair. Think accountants. Your resume should demonstrate your professionalism, seriousness, and understanding of rules and norms.

On the other end of the spectrum, do professionals in your field wear casual clothing and sport dyed hair, piercings and tattoos? In that case, a more unique, colorful and even artistic resume may be a good choice. Think creative professionals. Your resume may be considered an example of your work, and a conventional resume could be a strike against you if it suggests lack of design skills or aesthetic sensibility.

Most fields are somewhere in between. In that situation, a good bet is a basically conventional resume with perhaps one or two modest embellishments that help you stand out–but nothing too showy or distracting.

The Conventional Resume

conventional-resume
A traditional, conventional resume. Click to view larger.

So what does that standard, zero-decoration resume look like? Here’s an example. Please note that the examples in the post are solely to demonstrate formatting styles–the actual content of the resume is just silly. Do not put counting sheep or smelling roses on your resume.

Some things to note: there is no color and no decoration whatsoever. The text is a plain old professional font (in this case, Times New Roman) and the formatting is straightforward and simple: just a bit of centering, bolding and all-caps to create sections and organization.

If you are in a more traditional field or are applying for a job with a rather serious company, you’ll want your resume to look pretty much like this.

The Creative Resume

What about those really out-of-the-box jobs where you want to show off your creativity? If you’re an artist, a graphic designer, or another creative professional, you have a lot more leeway when it comes to formatting your resume. Think of it this way: would you want to hire a designer whose resume was boring or ugly? As a creative professional, your resume is part of your portfolio and an example of your work. I won’t include a specific example here, because no two are alike. It really comes down to your skills, style, and personal brand. But a quick search for cool graphic designer resumes should give you some ideas.

The Middle Ground

middle-ground-resume
This resume strikes a balance between conventional and individual. Click to view larger.

What if you’re not an artist, but you don’t work in a highly conventional field either? Going with the traditional format illustrated above is still a good bet–it’s a solid, professional choice and won’t count against you. But it’s not required, either. You can use a format that’s a bit more modern and individual if you like.

Here’s an example of this kind of “middle ground” resume, using the exact same content as our conventional resume above. Note the use of somewhat more interesting fonts and a tiny bit of color. The resume has a few individual touches–but nothing too flashy that might distract from the content.

Can you see how this resume seems to belong to a different type of candidate, even though the text is exactly the same?

What Not to Do

So far, we’ve seen three styles of resume, each of which is a good choice for the right situation. But are there some things you should avoid altogether, no matter what field you’re in? There most certainly are–and here are a few examples. Once again, we have the exact same content with only the formatting changed. And what a difference it makes! Click any of these to view larger.

bad-resume-1
Please do not ever do this.

One thing your resume should never, ever be is cutesy. If your resume bears any resemblance to an invitation to a child’s birthday party, something has gone horribly wrong. I don’t care if your experience consists entirely of making balloon animals at children’s birthday parties. Your resume is a professional document.

bad-resume-2
What am I even looking at here?

Another thing to avoid is a resume with no formatting whatsoever–just a plain document with no clear sections and nothing emphasized. You want the employer to know at a glance that what they are looking at is, indeed, a resume. And you want the most important information to jump off the page. Spotting your name, education, key skills and so on should be instant and effortless.

bad-resume-3
Don’t ruin a good thing with a distracting formatting choice.

Finally, watch out for design choices that are distracting. This last example would be perfectly fine–but that unnecessary background really gets in the way! One weird formatting element can undermine the whole document. When in doubt, play it safe with simple, straightforward formatting.

Formatting Matters

Take a look at the 5 examples in this post. They all look pretty darn different, don’t they? To my eye, each one seems to suggests a different candidate, with different priorities, goals, and levels of professionalism. And yet they all contain the exact same text. That, my friends, is the power of formatting. What you say in your resume is very important–but so is how  you say it with fonts, colors, headings and so on.

Got questions or concerns about your own resume formatting? Career Services is here to help!


Shalom Leo Bond
Career Development Facilitator
UNM Career Services

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