After avoiding the 7 deadly sins of résumé design, you may be asking, “If I can’t use crazy colors, clip art, and other types of decoration, how do I make my résumé stand out from the crowd?” Like many things, the answer lies in the details.
Even if you can’t hire a fancy designer and are stuck with Microsoft Word, a few tweaks can turn your blasé résumé into an elegant and functional showpiece.
Update (Oct 25): As promised, here’s a template of the final résumé. Please credit this site, LifeClever, if you post it elsewhere. Thanks!
The typical résumé
Before starting your résumé makeover, first take a look at a typical one:
Like most résumés, it was created in Microsoft Word. It doesn’t look horrible, but it could use improvement. You can improve almost all résumés with four steps:
- Pick a better typeface
- Remove extra indentations
- Make it easy to skim
- Apply typographic detailing
1. Pick a better typeface
If you’re using Times New Roman, Word’s default typeface, change it now. Times doesn’t read well on-screen and lacks typographic subtleties such as non-lining numbers. Because it’s available on virtually all computers and designed to be readable on on-screen, try Georgia instead.
At the same point size, Georgia appears larger than Times New Roman, so you’ll want to set the font size a point or two smaller. Just don’t go below 9 points.
To improve readability, also increase the line spacing (also called leading) to at least 120% of the font size.
To do this in Word:
- In the menubar, go to Format and select Paragraph.
- In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly and set the line spacing to 14 points.
Our example résumé currently uses Times New Roman set at a size/line spacing of 11pt/13pt. Let’s change it to Georgia with a size/line spacing of 10pt/14pt.
Here’s the full page:
If you can’t stand Georgia and aren’t worried about on-screen legibility, feel free to choose another appropriate typeface.
2. Remove extra indentations
Next, reduce the number of indentations. Better yet, take them all out. While useful in outlines, too many indentations in a résumé will cause your eyes to jump all over the page, destroying page harmony. The goal is to have all text align to each other.
After reducing indentations, also hang your bullets.
- Replace any spaces after a bullet with a tab character.
- Select the bulleted list.
- If you don’t see the horizontal ruler, go to the View menu and select Ruler.
- On the ruler, drag the First Line Indent marker to left by 1/8th of an inch.
Here’s a detail showing the résumé before and after removing indentation:
To align all the cities and dates on the right, use tabs.
Already, you can see a huge improvement.
Also notice that the top margin is now reduced to 0.5 inches. This helps compensate for the additional line spacing in step 1.
3. Make it easy to skim
To make the résumé skimmable, you have to create a distinct typographic hierarchy. By typographic hierarchy, we mean Ellen Lupton’s definition from Thinking With Type:
A typographic hierarchy expresses an organizational system for content, emphasizing some data and diminishing others. A hierarchy helps readers scan a text, knowing where to enter and exit and how to pick and choose among its offerings.
Our example résumé already uses bolds and italics to highlight important information such as names and job titles. If you aren’t using them, set them now.
The headings for the major sections, however, don’t stick out enough. Even with “Education”, “Legal Experience”, and “Skills and Certifications” underlined and set in bold, they look too close to the job titles.
To make these section headings more distinct, use horizontal rules above and below each section heading.
In Word, select the section heading and go to Format in the menubar. From here, you’ll make changes in Paragraph, Font, and Borders and Shading.
- In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly if it’s not already chosen, and set the line spacing to 16pt.
- Under Spacing, set the Before field to 6pt and the After field to 8pt.
- Select the Character Spacing tab.
- For Position, choose Raised from the pulldown and type “1pt” in the field.
Borders and Shading
- Select the Borders tab
- Under Setting, select Custom
- For Style, select a solid line. For Color, choose black. For Width, choose “3/4”.
- In the preview area, click the Top Border icon to the left of preview image.
- To add a bottom border, repeat step 3 using grey for Color, and “1/4” for Weight.
- In the preview area, click the Bottom Border icon to the left of preview image.
Here’s a detail of the difference:
And now the full page:
To give more emphasis to job descriptions and responsibilities, deemphasize the cities and dates by setting them in grey.
4. Apply typographic detailing
Our résumé makeover is almost done, but it needs some finishing touches:
Use smart quotes
Never ever use inch and foot marks (straight quotes) as quotation marks and apostrophes. They should always be curly. Microsoft Word has automatic curly quotes turned on by default. If not:
- In the menubar, go to Tools and choose AutoCorrect.
- Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
- Under Replace as you type, click the checkbox next to “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”.
Space out text set in ALL CAPS
In general, avoid setting type in ALL CAPS. Because the letters start to look the same, it’s harder to read. In small doses, text in ALL CAPS is acceptable if you space out the letters.
The extra spacing between letters help makes each letter more distinct and readable:
- Select the text set in ALL CAPS.
- In the menubar, go to Format and choose Font.
- Select the *Character Spacing** tab.
- In the Spacing pulldown, choose “Expanded” and type in “2pt” in the field.
Separate durations of time with en dashes
Durations of time such as “9–5”, “Monday–Friday”, and “October 5–December 31” should always be separated by en dashes, not hyphens.
On the Mac, press Option-Dash to create an en dash. On a PC, hold down the Alt key and press 0150.
Adjust spacing in phone numbers
The space after the closing parenthesis in a phone number is often too wide. To reduce this, select the space and change its font size in half. So if the rest of the text is 10pt, change it to 5pt.
The final résumé
After adding the finishing touches, here’s the final résumé:
No rules are set in stone, so feel free to experiment. Just do so judiciously. You can find additional guidance here:
- Thinking With Type, also check out the book’s website
- The Elements of Typographic Style
- Erik’s Typo Tips
- Five simple steps to better typography
- The Rules of Typography
Remember don’t hesitate to post additional résumé tips in the comments!
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