Why You Should Never Use A Resume Template

After reviewing hundreds of resumes for students and alumni across a huge range of majors and professions, I have come to a stark conclusion. No one should ever use a resume template. Allow me to explain.

Templates Cause More Problems Than They Solve

You know the templates I mean, right? They come prepackaged in your word processor or on a “resume building” site. They promise to make it easy to put together a beautiful, professional resume. They include little pre-sized fields and sections and directions about what to say. They have decorative touches that mostly come in the form of rectangles in various sizes and colors. And you should never, ever use one.

Resume templates may seem helpful, but they actually cause more problems than they solve. When it comes to formatting your resume, there are basically two kinds of people: visual artists, and everybody else. And neither group should use a template!

Let’s start with most people. If you’re not a visual artist, your resume should be extremely plain and minimal. We’re talking either the barest possible decoration or no decoration at all. You want the content on your resume to stand out–not the fonts, colors, or other formatting choices. For most people, anything beyond the tiniest little aesthetic touches is going to be distracting. Resume templates are often way overdone and seem to assume we live in some kind of post-resume universe where employers no longer expect your resume to look like, well, a plain old resume. I assure you, for better or worse, we do not reside in such a universe!

On the other hand, if you are a visual artist, resume templates are even worse. Many artists are well-served by a simple, traditional resume and a portfolio; in that case, the advice above applies. Others, especially graphic designers, ought to view their resume as an example of their work. In that case, your resume should be a completely unique document showcasing your skills and style. The one thing an artists’ resume should never be is a canned, generic template designed by someone else. What does that say about you as a designer?

So on the formatting side, there is really no reason for anyone to use a template. But that’s not even the only problem with them! Templates also make it really awkward to change your resume–you get everything just right in those little predetermined boxes, but what about when you have to add or subtract some content? It’s a big mess, and minor formatting tweaks become a big hassle. And changing your resume–updating it with new experience, tailoring it for each job–it just about the most essential and frequent task you face with it.

Templates also foster dependency; you’re outsourcing a chuck of the mental work to the template instead of just learning to do it yourself. Remember, this is a writing assignment you’ll be asked to do again and again, for the rest of your life. It’s never to early to develop the skills and confidence to create a great resume on your own. And really, even though writing your resume can be unpleasant, tedious, time-consuming, and even scary, once you learn how to do it, it’s not actually that difficult–at least not in any way that a template can improve.

There is no good reason to use a resume template. They are too decorative for most professionals, too generic for artists, and too much of a hassle for everybody.

The One Exception

There is an exception of sorts, which is that sometimes you are more or less required to use a “template” in the form of an employer’s in-house resume builder. Examples include resumes for federal jobs and CVs for structured application processes like medical residency. In this kind of situation, of course, go with the requirements! These are actually pretty different from the everyday templates I’m castigating here. For one thing, they are usually even less decorative than standard resumes. And most importantly, they are standardized because they are being used for a specialized purpose in which the employer is looking for some specific information, in a specific order, from all candidates. These are the exception that proves the rule.

What to Do Instead

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to ditch templates once and for all. So what should you do instead? I recommend a good brainstorming session to identify your experience, and a some writing and rewriting to develop awesome bullet points. Then, if you’re a visual artist, turn to your own creative process to design something that demonstrates your skills and approach, showing the client what you can do. If you’re everybody else, open a blank document, type your resume in a plain old professional font, and use simple formatting to highlight key content and build clear sections. Bullet points, left, right and center alignments, font sizes, and a bit of bolding and italicizing are the only tools you need.

Don’t box yourself in with a template. We can provide examples and feedback to help you at every stage. Contact us if you get stuck!

Shalom Leo Bond
Career Development Facilitator
UNM Career Services