In this blog, I will share the resume design best practices that catch reader’s attention within seconds.
As a recruiter, do you edit your candidates’ resumes before sending them to your clients? You might do so to add your logo, format it according to some preset requirements, or fine-tune the resume’s content.
In my 10 years of experience as a resume writer, there are three objectives that recruiters tend to adhere to when editing a candidate’s resume:
- They help the candidate put their best foot forward by emphasizing their most critical skills.
- They don’t overdo it; they don’t want to accidentally misrepresent the candidate.
- They try to make changes quickly so that they don’t unnecessarily elongate the interview cycle.
In this article, I will share how you can meet all three objectives by performing minor resume design and formatting changes to shift your clients’ attention on the most critical aspects of the candidate’s profile.
This process will only take a few minutes, but these resume design best practices will have a dramatic impact on the resume’s legibility and the candidate’s impact on your client.
1) Ensure Consistency in Resume Design Elements
Design consistency doesn’t only make a resume more visually palatable, but it also gives the reader a sense of order, logic, and purpose. These resume design best practices create a good visual pattern, which includes intelligent use of white space, bullets, and subheadings, among other things.
The reader’s eyes are drawn towards inconsistencies such as bolded text, italicized text, white spaces, and numbers. You can use this principle to draw attention to pertinent information.
You can add key skills as subheadings to ensure that your clients’ eye gets drawn to accomplishments relevant to their interest.
Subheadings can also be used to add white space and separate crammed information. (See below.)
Here, subheadings are separating a wall of bullets to improve legibility. They’re also drawing attention towards the most impressive accomplishments within the two categories:
b) White Space
You can use white space to draw attention to key information such as skills, headings, and job titles.
White space simply consists of parts of a document where there is an absence of text. The easiest way to add it is to hit enter to add a blank line.
By adding white space, I have emphasized and distinguished critical information such as key skills, resume sections, and job titles. I boxed all the white space below:
c) Text Formatting
You can bold or italicize key skills, job titles, and subheadings.
Doing so creates a design inconsistency and draws the reader’s eye.
However, make sure you don’t overdo formatting because it can make the resume look messy.
Since the reader’s attention needs to be immediately drawn towards the candidate’s key skills, that content has been emphasized with bolding and italics:
Numbers look different from words and they slow readers down, forcing them to pay more attention. In other words, they are a gentle visual “interruption.”
To do so, you can replace words with their numeric counterparts. Doing so in regular prose is a grammar no-no, but it’s fine to do so in resumes.
In this case, impressive numbers were added to make accomplishments stand out:
2) Keep Important Text to the Left
Resume design best practices also apply to content alignment. After skimming the top of the resume, readers tend to go down the left side of the page. This is because that’s how people naturally skim.
Try it — try skimming this blog. Do you pay more attention to the left side of the page, the right, or the middle?
The left-side skimming rule is compounded by the fact that your clients will be paying close attention to your candidates’ job titles — and those are all placed along the left margin.
In this glance downwards, our eyes will naturally sweep over the first words of each line.
Therefore, it’s critical that we optimize this space to try to get your client to slow down and read and retain the information rather than just skim it.
a) Results and Problem Solving
For each bullet, think about the key result that the candidate achieved or the key challenge that they resolved. Place that result or challenge at the start of the bullet.
Here, I identified the primary business wins achieved by the candidate and placed them to the left of the page:
Putting these results to the left helps even the most careless of skimmers realize how active and solution-oriented this candidate is.
b) Headings and Numbers
On the same note, you can add quantifiable accomplishments, subheadings, and relevant job titles to the left.
In the examples below, I located quantifiable results that a candidate achieved and put them to the left of the page. Additionally, I placed job titles as well as subheadings to the left:
Otherwise, this information can get buried and may get missed.
c) Company Names
If you want to place more attention on impressive company names or if you want to give less attention to irrelevant job titles, you can place the company names to the left instead.
One of my candidates was aiming for web development roles. To de-emphasize his “marketing associate” title and still highlight his role at IBM, I placed the company name to the left of the page:
3) Optimize the Order of the Resume Content
When talking about resume design best practices, the order of content is equally important as the readers tend to go from top to bottom while looking at a resume. Therefore, you should order the resume’s content from most impressive and relevant to least impressive and relevant.
a) Visual Center
Hiring managers usually spend no more than six seconds on a single resume before moving onto the next one. So, It’s critical to immediately grasp their interest using the visual center i.e. the top one-third of the first page.
The visual center is where readers pay the most attention.
The main objective of the visual center is to gain the reader’s attention in the shortest span possible. For that to happen, you need to focus it on the most important skills and accomplishments.
The content that you can include in a visual center can include:
– A powerful branding statement that conveys the candidate’s main strengths.
– Relevant keywords, tools, and certifications in a key skills line or table.
– The most impressive accomplishments throughout the candidate’s career.
– A summary explaining the candidate’s main strengths.
Though some prefer summaries in the visual center, in my surveys of what makes a good resume great, I have seen that accomplishments in the visual center help create a strong first impression that carries throughout the rest of the selection process.
Below is an example of a visual center showcasing the candidate’s top achievements:
b) Resume Sections
The order of information in a resume is largely flexible. Different resume sections are of varying importance to the client.
This depends on the job as well as the candidate’s seniority. So, you should order resume sections based on these conditions.
To do so, add or remove sections based on the candidate’s career level.
For executive- and management-level positions, recruiters mainly focus on professional experience. So, sections like volunteer experiences, courses, and tools can be pushed to the bottom.
On the other hand, in the case of recent graduates, it’s important to add courses, volunteer roles, and extracurricular activities to make up for their lack of formal experience.
The example below showcases relevant sections in a new graduate’s resume:
Once you’ve selected the sections that you want to add in the resume, prioritize them based on the candidate’s career level.
For executive- and management-level positions, professional experience is the most important section. So, you should put professional experience at the very top, right below the visual center:
On the other hand, for recent graduates, education and projects are considered more important. So they’re placed above the experience:
Since hiring managers go over resumes from top to bottom and are mostly interested in recent roles, you should order professional experiences reverse-chronologically:
On the same note, within the experiences, you should order bullets from most to least impressive:
To prioritize resume space for recent roles, summarize the earlier ones by shortening them and only focusing on transferable skills:
And finally, remove experiences that are not relevant to the candidate’s industry.
I often see resume designs that mitigate the value of the content. By following these best practices on design elements, you can quickly fine-tune candidate resumes in order to showcase their biggest strengths.
I often work with candidates who struggle with putting together a visually appealing resume that showcases their biggest achievements and also with articulating their accomplishments during interviews. I’ve been told by my recruiter friends that they also run into this issue.
If you’d like me to give a workshop to you and your colleagues on any of the following topics, please get in touch.
1. Questions to ask candidates to elevate their resume and interview strategy
This workshop is for recruiters who have star candidates, but they don’t know how to communicate their strengths on their resume or during interviews. By asking strategic questions similar to the ones mentioned in this article, recruiters will learn how to understand and relate candidate strengths to the target job.
The second component of this workshop is focused on presenting these strengths optimally in a resume. It will involve balancing the candidate’s technical skills with their business acumen.
I will show you how to shorten your coaching process so you’re not spending hours with each candidate.
I’ll also break down the roles you’re currently hiring for into interview questions, specifically designed to get candidates speaking about their accomplishments. These will come with scorecards that you can mark up and share with your candidates. All of these resources will be created for your firm specifically so that your branding and style are woven throughout.
2. How to shorten a resume within 15 minutes
This workshop teaches recruiters how to shorten resumes within a few minutes and without compromising the resume’s content.
I will talk to you about how HR Managers, technical staff, decision-makers, and interviewers all read resumes. What are they looking for? How can you quickly answer their questions in your candidates’ resumes without alienating your reader?
I cover all this and more during this workshop.
3. Using resume design best practices to spotlight candidates’ strengths
In this workshop, I will show you how to make quick edits to resumes to help your candidate make an impression more effectively.
Based on how people read resumes and resume heat maps, I will share design principles to make different resume sections immediately engaging.
Where do readers pay the most attention? How can you slow them down and get them to read the resume and not skim it? How do you use design best practices to shine the light on your candidates’ biggest strengths and away from their perceived flaws?
I have been working as a resume writer and interview coach for ten years; I know exactly what candidates struggle with and have built systems to help them overcome their unique challenges.
4. The basics of interview coaching
In this workshop, I’ll show you how to teach candidates how to carry themselves in an interview, how to dress, and all the fundamental do’s and don’t’s of in-person and Skype or Zoom interviews.
Additionally, I’ll talk deeply about how to answer general background questions like “Tell us about yourself” based on the candidate’s unique career history. We’ll touch on the three frameworks I use to get candidates to speak about themselves succinctly and in-line with the role they’re interviewing for.
Finally, we’ll talk about the optimum answer length and structure and explain why answers that “show, don’t tell” get the best feedback from interviewers.
5. Coaching star candidates
This workshop is specifically designed to help you coach your star performers. In this, I’ll show you the most important closing questions to ask, how candidates can maximize their impact with thank-you notes and follow-ups, and in which order they should talk about their history. Here are a few templates for following up and fixing interview mistakes.
We’ll cover top-down and bottom-up approaches to stories shared during interviews and how to use both to improve recall so that they don’t falter or end the interview on a low note.
If you prefer to deliver this workshop yourself, please download my slides here for free.
Alternatively, if you’d like to refer candidates to our resume writing and design service, you can check out the details here.
Would you prefer that we train you one-on-one to implement resume design best practices yourself? Email me at email@example.com so I can develop a custom quote for you.