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The 7 deadly sins of résumé designSo you’ve labored with sweat and tears writing your résumé, and now you’re all set to turn it into a magnificently designed creation. Unfortunately, with the freedom of modern computers and fancy software, comes huge opportunities for abuse. When it comes to résumés, both non-designers and professional designers commit some almost unforgivable sins. Here are the 7 deadly sins of résumé design and how to repent:

  1. Fancy “résumé” paper
  2. Times New Roman
  3. Teeny tiny font size
  4. Grey text
  5. Excessive decoration
  6. Weird paper size
  7. Horizontal format

1. Fancy “résumé” paper

Take a tour of any office supply store and you’ll see shelves of extravagant “résumé” papers featuring special “linen” and “parchment” finishes. Avoid these like dog poop on a New York summer sidewalk. They’re too expensive and don’t make you look extra special.

To repent: Save your money and get paper with a plain smooth finish. It can be slightly heavier than regular copy paper, but not stiff as a board. An ever so slight hint of cream is fine. It’ll make your resume easier on the eyes than the super-ultra-pure-snow-driven white paper many designers are fond of. I prefer Neenah Classic Crest in Natural White with a Super Smooth finish. Never ever use pink paper with strawberry scent.

2. Times New Roman

The default typeface in Microsoft Word is Times New Roman, and thus it’s the default for most résumés. It’s a tragedy, because Times’s letterspacing and wordspacing is wretched in Word. The result is an unharmonious mess.

To repent: Choose a different typeface. I won’t go into explaining x-heights or the difference between Humanist Sans and Geometric Sans. If you’ve got money to spare, pick any of the typefaces in FontShop’s professional collection, and you’ll be a step above Times New Roman. If you’re cheap, use Matthew Carter’s Georgia. It’s free and already installed on your computer. If you send your résumé electronically as a PDF, it also looks quite good on-screen. If you need more guidance, check out Before & After’s tutorial on picking typefaces.

3. Teeny tiny font size

Designers fresh out of school love teeny tiny type. The belief is that it looks elegant, refined, and allows for more white space on the résumé. It’s a shame. For all that elegance, no one can read it, because most people in hiring positions won’t have fresh baby eyes with 20/20 vision.

To repent: Set your résumé no smaller than 9 points for sans-serifed type and 10 points for serifed type. Anything smaller, and your résumé is at risk of being shredded.

4. Grey text

Designers also love grey type. On an inkjet printer, grey text looks better because it reduces the appearance of noise. If you go too light, though, it becomes illegible and unfaxable. But wait, should you really be using inkjet to print your résumé?

To repent: Use a laser printer and print in 100% black for ultimate clarity. If you do go grey, don’t go lighter than 75% black.

5. Excessive decoration

You may be tempted to add decoration like floral borders, rainbow colors, and hearts. Perhaps, you want to use an illustration of a swan, tiger or unicorn to represent you. This is great if you want to look like a box of crayons melted on your résumé. Otherwise, don’t try to be cute.

To repent: Add some character by setting your name slightly larger, or in a different weight as the same typeface as the rest of your résumé. Use color, but very sparingly, if at all. No more than one color in addition to black.

6. Weird paper size

If you live in the United States, the standard paper size is 8.5 x 11in. In Europe, it’s 210 x 297mm. Anything else will fit awkwardly in a binder or file. When it doesn’t fit, it gets thrown out.

To repent: Keep to the standard paper size of your geographic location. It’s easier to print and package.

7. Horizontal format

In an attempt to stand out, some designers format their résumés in a landscape format. This is more annoying than innovative.

To repent: Keep to a portrait format. The first person who sees your résumé is usually a Human Resources person who sees hundreds of resumes daily. Too much variation from the norm makes it harder for them to make a quick assessment of you. If you want to stand out, write a good cover letter instead.

So what does a good looking résumé look like? Check out my follow-up post, Give your résumé a face lift.

126 Comments

  • Casey

    gravatarAug 2, 2009
    7:32 am

    Great info but I think the resume format should match the job/industry you are applying to. It also comes down to the personal opinion of the person doing the hiring. I had a resume designed and two people were interviewing me. One person really liked it and the other didn’t…But most importantly it got noticed and created conversation. I would say have common sense and keep it simple and not over done. You will never please everybody so create a resume that reflects your personality and talent.

    Good Luck Cheers

  • Ravi

    gravatarAug 27, 2009
    8:36 am

    All the comments are great. However, I have to say I have always had interviewers ask me for a hard copy of my resume at the beginning of the interview.

    Frankly, I have come to view that as a test of your organizational skills. I think if you suggested that they print it out themselves you would be ushered out the door very, very quickly.

  • blackmagic21

    gravatarSep 1, 2009
    7:19 pm

    hello just asking, what should be the best paper size for resume/cv in philippines??? is it short or long bond paper??? waiting for reply..thanks^^

  • Pol27

    gravatarOct 23, 2009
    3:13 am

    To a beginner this sounds intringuing, since simple groups are very natural objects to define, whereas vertex algebras seem more convoluted. ,

  • Norfolk Photographers

    gravatarOct 28, 2009
    5:58 pm

    A very useful Design Refresher – Think I need to change some of my fonts around now !! More work …

    Tim

  • themisfit

    gravatarNov 2, 2009
    10:51 pm

    Don’t forget spraying it with perfume (unless your applying to be an escort)!

  • TFord

    gravatarDec 3, 2009
    8:11 pm

    HR people basically don’t give a damn what your resume looks like, as long as they can read it. And most of them just scan it to make sure you fit the job requirements. So forget the nitpicky advice about fonts. Most HR people wouldn’t know a font if it jumped out of the PC and bit them. … You’re probably going to be submitting your resume as a PDF anyway, in which case you ought to make sure the file will transmit OK and be clear enough to copy. Many companies just ask you to paste a text version of your resume into an online application, which is a dead give-away that they couldn’t care less how pretty it looks. Just make sure you leave out the silly dingbats.

  • smartnsavvy

    gravatarDec 6, 2009
    10:58 pm

    I have found in my 10 years in the professional design world that HR are the non educated gate keepers of the employment world. Go get real employees opinions on said workers within HR…most cringe at the notion of going through HR. Really, what do people in HR do all day?

    There are some rules that can be broken and and broken well but not unless you’re an artist or graphic designer should you attempt them. Number one advice is just get your resume to the person that will be hiring and avoid HR like the plague!!!

  • James

    gravatarJan 9, 2010
    11:13 pm

    Wow, tough crowd. This is a perfect list of rules for design “begginers”. Of course designers and talented creative types may be able to make an impact by cleverly breaking some of these rules – but you’re probably going to have to use some software other than Word to pull that off. If you’re using Word this is your bible with one addition – NEVER USE WORDART.

    Nice work Chanpory

  • Andrew

    gravatarJan 21, 2010
    2:00 pm

    @James, I was thinking the exact same thing. Tough crowd indeed!

    @Chanpory, great advice! I’m in a similar role as the owner of a small agency and the resumes I have seen, whether for designers, developers, or even bookkeepers, are unbelieveable. My alltime favorite was one in Comic Sans (no joke!!).

    I think the key point is that design must always help achieve the goal. The goal for a resume is to get an interview. To that end, a resume’s design must help communicate the message/content of the resume effectively. Creatviity can have a place in your resume, but you ought to be conservative with it in my opinion: what’s clever, creative, and “the best resume I’ve seen” to one person might just be tacky and overdone to another.

  • DWalla

    gravatarJan 23, 2010
    2:49 am

    OK…. this entire “7 deadly sins” is bullcrap. Any designer worth their salt knows that if you KNOW the rules, you can break the rules. There is nothing I like more than receiving a fantastically creative resumé. After all, they are coming to us to be creative. It lets me see how well they understand how to sell themselves. I hate to say it, but your resumé ideas only makes them look like the cream of the crap… not the cream of the crop.

  • Vail Wedding Photographer

    gravatarJan 25, 2010
    11:26 pm

    I think its just a matte of time until the resume gets replaced. Sort of old fashion.

  • kathy

    gravatarJan 27, 2010
    9:58 am

    I think you are all missing a very important piece—who is the audience? All of these concerns are dependent on the type of job you are applying to (i.e. your audience). No matter what you are designing, this is the #1 variable to consider. What is important when applying to a creative job, is very different than what is important in the financial world, for expample.

  • Chris

    gravatarJan 31, 2010
    12:30 pm

    Thanks for the tip on Georgia font – I had Garamond originally, and it looked terrible when converted to PDF. Just tried out Georgia and loved it!

  • GC

    gravatarFeb 9, 2010
    9:51 am

    When we go to interviews, it’s nice to bring a copy of our resume along. That’s why it matters how it looks when printed. Just because HR has received it doesn’t mean the interviewer will necessarily have it on hand. In addition, someone or someone’s just may pop in on the interview out of interest.

    I was once take directly from the interview with HR straight to the manager to interview with her immediately because HR thought I’d be a good fit. I’m glad I had another copy of my resume on hand. It’s just good form to bring extra copies of a resume.

  • Sally

    gravatarFeb 23, 2010
    2:20 pm

    PS Speaking of bad font; what’s up with the font on this page?! Its super bold and narrow… and hard to read! Maybe try Georgia instead ;)

  • Briongloid

    gravatarMar 19, 2010
    1:09 pm

    I’m personally a huge fan of Palatino Linotype. (or its cousin Book Antiqua)

    It’s a nice serif font that’s easy to read and scan down through, it’s nicely formed and spaced and it’s ubiquitous but not always commonly used. And even if you don’t have it you can download it free.

    Somebody up there also made the point of trying to mimic the style and branding of the company you are submitting to. If possible you should always do that.

    One idea is to send the cv/resume in a nice folder the same colour as the company’s branding, to use similar coloured paper or to use the same fonts.

    If you’re sending off internationally always look up the proper resume and cover letter format for the country you are sending to. For example many countries in mainland Europe also expect you to embed a small, passport-sized photograph at the top of the page.

    Be sure to use the correct spelling also. True it’s best not to entrust your spelling and grammar to a machine, but, if you’re applying from one English-speaking country to another, be sure that you spellcheck it in the appropriate language – e.g. British English v US English.

    I’ve found, actually, that many computers, for example Dell computers, were always pre-installed with US English as the default language regardless of where they were being sold to. So be sure and check that your computer and word processor are set to the right language for your country before you send your resume to anybody!

  • Jad

    gravatarMar 31, 2010
    4:49 am

    This is so good to know and follow… I totally agree with kathy, but when you haven’t met the contact person the question would be: what should you present a graphically enhanced CV (Branding), a formal black & white CV or a flash animated CV?

    Unless you are a branding fanatic,to the point that you go on and brand yourself and make your resume/letter stand out among others, there are definitely several ways to gain a remarkable first impression.

    It also dependent on the culture of the company you’re entering and the position you’re applying for… and how old are you and your experience…

    your CV is your spirit and vision, at the end.. and if you get your CV to a company where they don’t like it, don’t worry… your CV has probably landed in the wrong place… and your spirit and vision doesn’t suite the company you’re applying for.

    I truly think design is essential, in order to stand out… but design alone doesn’t make the CV standout… it’s the content and experience and the way you brand yourself.

  • Joel Richard

    gravatarApr 7, 2010
    11:47 pm

    Wow. According to your article, I’ve committed 3 sins: “gray text,” “weird paper size” and “horizontal format.” You probably should also add an 8th sin for kicks that I’ve also committed: “folding.” Now, taken that I’ve broken lots of your rules in resume design — why is it that I’ve been working for my company for 3 years and 10 months thanks to my “poorly designed resume”? There has to be something wrong.

    A graphic designer’s resume should reflect his or her craft. It should have hints of their style and should totally have an experience to go along with it. Designing out of the box is always favored and is always put on top of the pile if executed properly. You should never confine yourself to designing freely. Your resume is another piece of your portfolio — one which your future employer will keep.

  • AllyMandor

    gravatarApr 20, 2010
    3:31 am

    I don’t believe filenames have been mentioned here. When sending a resume electronically, the filename resume.doc is the kiss of death. Be sure to change the filename to reflect your own name. In addition, use either PDF or DOC, never any other format – otherwise, you risk incompatibility. Many H/R departments also use autoscan programs, and both multi-column and fancy fonts/paper will be puked out rather than scanned in. When sending electronically, the plainer, the better! Finally, whether or not sent electronically, be brief. These days, virtually no one is worth a two-pager. The point is to get IN the door for an interview… you can elaborate later, during the interview.

  • Geisha

    gravatarApr 23, 2010
    7:01 pm

    Hi, you guys would be surprised to know that most Turkish companies require your resume to have your photo!! (It mostly (read:always) works in my favour :P )

    yeah, so my resume looks pretty messed up when I try to fit in my photo. It looks like a very detailed I-card!

    I think a photo within the resume screams prejudice.

    Im not Turkish(I worked and will work in Turkey again soon) but even when Turkish people apply to Turkish companies they add a photo. By the way, I know for a fact that some American companies ask for photos within a resume too (reference : my Turkish friends who’ve applied to American companies).

    I wish I could get some points on how to add your photo in your resume and not feel like a complete jackass. :P

  • MGBYG

    gravatarMay 1, 2010
    2:57 pm

    As an engineer and industrial designer who needs to walk a fine line between ‘logical’ and ‘artzy-fartzy’, I have found a san-serif font works far better than all the suggestions above. I have been using Tahoma for years and have gotten a call-back on every position I have applied for the last dozen years…I am 5 for 5.

    Tahoma kerns nice and tight and 10pt leave plenty of white space.

  • d5xtgr

    gravatarMay 24, 2010
    1:07 pm

    If you know how, typesetting your documents in TeX can really improve the font appearance through proper use of ligatures and a line-break algorithm that evaluates the appearance of the entire paragraph rather than that of the individual line. It can produce PostScript or PDF files for electronic usage. Failing that, it may be possible to use the Computer Modern fonts for which the program is configured in other programs like Word, and I expect these would still be a cut above Microsoft’s pet fonts.

  • Cinny

    gravatarMay 31, 2010
    3:01 pm

    I think everyone should come out of the dark ages. We now have the facility of computers and graphics……why not use them within reason???????/

    Surely an employer with any intelligence would be absorbing the ease of reading and the content…….not crossing a prospect off because of the font used. Lets move into the 21st century people.

  • pat g

    gravatarJun 24, 2010
    1:51 am

    As a recent “job seeker” I found this very useful. though of course we call them CVs in the Uk, the tips are all good. Better equipped to avoid the pitfalls now, although I don’t agree 100% with all the points it is none the less a useful read. Thanks again. Pat

  • toast

    gravatarJul 29, 2010
    4:23 pm

    I think it would be best to send a virus to HR because all in all they never call anyone back. Most of HR have no clue about anything tech, nor do they have any creative brain at all. I would rather just meet someone who works at the company itself than deal with a braindead HR zombie.