Top 3 Expert Formatting Rules for Writing Professional Resumes in the 21st Century

professional resume

The best expert formatting tips to get an interview!


Mike Weitz, Professionally Written, L.L.C.

If you are looking to land that higher level position and better salary then you must start with a professional resume that truly stands out. Employers receive tons of applications in the modern age. With online job search sites and companies that have their own internal systems, it is not unusual for positions to receive hundreds if not thousands of applicants.The better the job the more people will apply.

Employers deal with such a barrage of applications that they just briefly read them, and only those that pass through automated scanners designed to filter out unqualified ones. This means that “you need to find ways to make your resume pop.”[1] You must shine through among peers with the same experience. However, the best methods are not as obvious as it would first appear. Research from experts on the best methods to format professional resumes reveals pretty consistent guidelines that can help you craft the document that gets you the interview.

Rule #1: Keep it Brief

A resume is just to get an interview. It is not a biography; you should not put everything you have ever done on it. The interview is when they will get to know your complete story. If an interview is a film, then your resume is its trailer. It entices your employer. It is just a highlight, the Cliff Notes to your book.[2] An efficient design is an absolute necessity; you only get 20 to 35 seconds to convey to the interviewer why you are one of the few qualified candidates who should be called in. If your resume can not be digested in that brief window of time, then you risk being overlooked. If your best attributes are buried in a sea of text or graphs, you will lose your opportunity. The eyes should flow smoothly as information is processed quickly while hitting all the important keywords that show you are a great fit for the position.[3]

Your resume should only be one or two pages long, depending on your professional experience. Students and entry level positions only require one page. Mid-level managers and those with a long work history should use two. An efficient rundown of your best achievements is paramount; experience is not an excuse.[4] Can you break down your professional career into a movie trailer? Does your teaser make us want to know what is going to happen next? Your resume should be formatted so that you give them just enough to leave them wanting more. Remember, your resume is to get the interview, to get them to take a seat to see your movie.

Rule #2: The Interviewer is Your Audience

Your professional resume’s format needs to be “user-centered,” written to your particular audience. Too many treat it like a billboard; an advertisement everyone is going to read. Usually that is not the case. While there are rare times when a small business owner will also be the one checking resumes, interviewing, and hiring, mostly it is actually a human resources representative or mid-level manager who carries such responsibilities.[5] Your resume is your most “effective marketing tool.” It does not matter if you are an administrative assistant, a driller working an oil rig, a lawyer, or vice president of operations. It is not a static, single document; you cannot rely on a generic work history and expect to have an ad that will land you an interview.

Professional resumes are “fluid” and “dynamic” pitches dependent on their audience. You need your most recent and relevant information that reveals your qualifications. This is especially true for executives.[6] If you are speaking to an audience within your industry, then jargon-heavy language is not only appropriate but it conveys expertise. However, if you are transitioning from one industry to a new one, then use efficient methods of translating that complex terminology into terms anyone can understand.[7] If this does not seem like a formatting issue, then understand that every resume will have the same basic information: contact details, objective, work history, and education. The trick to standing out among piles of uniformity lies in the ordering and emphasis placed on those building blocks. Your resume’s format should have all those basics while constructing a captivating rhetorical message aimed at your audience.

Rule #3: Resume Formatting is Balance

Some call this “the quadrant test” since most English speaking readers “read from left to right and from top to bottom.” Make sure that your “information is ‘balanced’ (about an equal amount of text and white space) on the page.” With four equal parts, create symmetry in how it looks. This makes it easier for the eye to scan information quickly. This is why the first quadrant, the top-left part of page one, will be looked at first and read by most people. It is critical that to put your “most important information” here, immediately after your name and contact. For many, this is your career profile and your list of particular, verifiable achievements.[8]

The Career Profile and Achievements sections used to be called “the objective,” where you state the position and company you are applying for.[9] However, it is a dated concept that is belied by the obvious fact you are already applying for the job. More recent research tells a different story. Professional resume writing fine tunes these sections of into an objective that also includes skills and proof how you can provide value to the position. Then a scan of the rest of the document should back those statements up.[10] The higher level you are the more critical this is. They should be like the caption on a work of art. Offer a succinct summary of your accomplishments. You need to be quick and to the point.[11] Being concise is an important element of proper balance. If you follow these expert formatting rules you will be well on your way to crafting a perfectly tailored resume that will drastically increase your interview rate.


Summary: Formatting Your Professional Resume


  • Resumes get you interviews
  • Don’t put everything on it
  • Avoid images and graphics
  • 1 – 2 Pages max
  • Efficient language

Audience Driven

  • Your specific interviewer
  • Industry & Job Title Applying For
  • Avoid generic sales pitches
  • Changing audience
  • Order and emphasis of information

Balance Your Formatting

  • Even white & black space
  • Quadrant Test
  • Easy to scan


Professionally Written, L.L.C. resume Oklahoma services are 24/7. If you can’t come to us for any reason, we can always meet over the phone, online, or fill your details in our online contact form. We also offer paralegal services, resume services and career coaching Oklahoma services.

EndNote References—

[1] Daniel Scalco. “How to Structure Your Resume,” The Huffington Post (January 20, 2017). (accessed February 5, 2017).

[2] Purdue University. “Resume Workshop.” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). (accessed February 3, 2017).

[3] Allen Brizee. “Resume Design,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 3, 2013), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[4] Angie Olson, Allen Brizee, and Katy Schmaling. “When to Use Two Pages or More,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 12, 2013). (accessed February 3, 2017).

[5] Purdue University. “Resume Workshop.” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). (accessed February 3, 2017).

[6] Bernard Koteen. “Resumes,” Harvard Law School Job Search Toolkit. (accessed February 8, 2017).

[7] Allen Brizee. “Résumé Overview Part 2,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (July 31, 2009), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[8] Allen Brizee. “Resume Design,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 3, 2013), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[9] Allen Brizee. “Résumé Sections Part 1,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (April 5, 2012), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[10] Purdue University. “Management Résumés,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 11, 2013). (accessed February 3, 2017).

[11] Marcelle Yeager. “How to Write a Top-Notch Executive Resume: Sharpen your tools for the next step in your career,” US News & World Report (January 19, 2017). (accessed February 4, 2017).