resume designYour resume design can help – or hurt – your job search

Throughout my career in human resources – not to mention my work as a professional resume writer – I’ve come across multitudes of candidates who embark on their job search with a resume so poorly designed that it’s a miracle that it ever got noticed. I’m not talking about aesthetics here, but rather structural resume design choices that can hobble even highly qualified professionals.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes you can make in your resume.

Using a header and footer This is a terrible idea – and what’s worse, there’s absolutely no reason to do so. What’s terrible is that people always put their contact information in the header, and ATS software can’t read what’s in headers or footers. That means that even if your resume passes through the ATS, it will be anonymous.

Uploading your resume as a PDF While some ATS software now has the ability to read PDF documents, many can’t, so again, no one sees your resume. And why do you think your resume needs document protection, anyway? Trust me, no one’s going to mess with it. If you’re worried about formatting, don’t. ATS software is going to deconstruct it, anyway.

Trying to cram everything onto one page I know, I know. Everyone told you that a resume should be on one page, and I’ve heard anecdotally that some recruiters insist on it. But it’s simply not possible in many cases, not unless you eliminate margins entirely and reduce the font to microscopic size. While three or more pages is excessive, most mid-career folks need two pages to adequately showcase their experience.

Using a resume template The reason I write my clients’ resumes as simple Word documents without any fancy formatting or templates goes back to the ATS issue. The more “stuff” on the page, the more confused the software gets, and may just pass on your resume. How you design your resume doesn’t matter a bit to employers; content is what matters.

Conflating the resume with a job application Often, when clients send me their resumes, the resume is a hybrid of resume and job application. But resumes aren’t job applications, and an impactful resume doesn’t conflate the two. The main difference between resumes and job applications is that resumes are marketing tools, while job applications are legal documents, used  to conduct background checks (to learn more about background checks, here’s a good infographic.)

But seriously, what are the benefits of converting a written document into a picture? Yes, we all like pictures; but I’m going to argue that despite the perceived lack of IQ in the recruiting world, we Human Resources folks actually know how to read. A clever political cartoon captures the zeitgeist, but when the issue involves selecting a candidate to become a colleague, we want to rely on more than a picture.

And does your resume describe your employer(s)’s business? It shouldn’t. Your resume is about YOU, not your employers. Read why

Here’s a silly trend in resume design: the infographic resume

Those in favor of an infographic resume note that submitting one differentiates the candidate from the sheep in 8 1/2 x 11 clothing. True, except for the following considerations:

  • 1) only for so long as it would take everyone else to jump on the infographic bandwagon
  • 2) most resumes are submitted online to be parsed by ATS, and as you likely guessed, ATS can’t read JPEG or GIF
  • 3) You’re annoying the recruiter who if he or she even bothers to look (and ok, they likely will. At least I would have), now has to figure out where and how to evaluate yours against those that are submitted as Word docs

People defend the infographic resume for creative fields, as it does feature the candidate’s design sense front and center. But that’s what an embedded link to the candidate’s online portfolio is for. Is it as immediate? No. But it’s fine.


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