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

Resume Format

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

In the previous article I discussed the Top 3 formatting rules for writing professional resumes. This post will extend those by placing them squarely in how resumes are handled in today’s business environment. At the end of the 20th century professionals used word processors to create fancy looking documents with graphs, colorful effects and charts. They would print them up to hand to an interviewer, or email them as a document or PDF to maintain formatting integrity.

The 21st century is the electronic age. Today your resume is immediately digitized and fed through scanning technology that sorts them based on keywords. Even small companies have adopted these systems as their prices have become affordable. This makes it even more difficult to guarantee your resume’s formatting will remain intact on your potential employer’s screen. To overcome this hurdle, research suggests three more expert formatting rules for writing professional resumes.

Rule #4: Fonts Make Resumes Easy to Scan

Fonts are one of the tricks of the trade that will make your resume easily readable. Many of these rules are counterintuitive to what you have been taught in your English college, graphic design, or business writing courses. Resume formats must be easily filtered through different technological mediums. This includes font selection, type and emphasis, and page layout. Brizee claims the “subtle use of fonts is the brush that will paint an easy to read narrative.” Crafting a professional resume demands the eyes “flow over the page without stopping.” You should select a font type that encourages the reader to keep going. There are two main font groups. Serifs have fancy stems at the ends of letters, like Times New Roman. Sans-serif fonts include Arial, Geneva, and Helvetica; these are considered easier to scan because they lack those stems which are less ornate but keep the eyes moving. You should use these for headlines to highlight information while using serif fonts for description.[1]

Strategically using fonts naturally categorizes information on the page. Instead of playing around with sizes, you should select one or two fonts that you will use consistently throughout. Use bolding and capitalization for emphasis, avoid italics and underlining.[2] Stick to standard fonts to avoid conversion issues between computers, online frameworks, and file formats.[3] Different operating systems can “show up as code or nonsense on someone else’s” monitor. This also applies to the automated applicant tracking software that needs to read your resume, which can become confused by uncommon fonts.[4] Brief sentences with limited use of bullets, in a font size of 10 to 12, with margins of no less than 0.5 inches is your limit. You must work within those narrow parameters to avoid errors that radically alter your resume format.[5]

Rule #5: Resumes must be ATS (Applicant Tracking Software) Friendly

Many experts suggest primarily using a resume for scanners because it will often be fed into them without your knowledge. If you want one that you print to physically hand to an interviewer, at most it will be used as a quick reference. However, a resume is to get the interview; you need one that is scanner friendly. Some companies source online job search engines when they are looking for candidates.[6] Even emailed or paper resumes are fed into their systems; rendered into the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) language used by many corporations, human resource managers, and online employment sites designed to “pre-qualify candidates.” This is why some suggest limiting your fonts to sans-serif only, which can avoid causing problems for the OCR.[7] Others claim that as long as you use the most standard serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, the conversion should be safe. It is always a good bet to check your potential employer’s guidelines regarding their specific requirements.[8] ATSs are keyword driven, and strange characters can throw them off.

Avoid JPG and PNG formats as most systems can only handle text-only word documents. Some can read PDFs, but not all. Tables also throw their output off.[9] Fancy graphics, clip art, images, banners, and even templates all cause errors for ATSs and risk being rejected completely.[10] Vertical lines, boxes, and even some bullets will have the same effect.[11] Graphics can ruin your chances, just as those who try to keyword stuff get rejected.[12] Finally, these formatting rules apply equally to writing professional cover letters.[13]

Rule #6: Do Resumes Right or Pay Someone To

There is no beating around the bush. You need to do it right. Ignoring these fundamental formatting principles can make or break your chances for getting an interview. For the young professional it is often more cost-effective to receive some career coaching to help you construct verifiable achievements while putting the time and energy into learning how to write for themselves through free blogs and videos. This article also contains many references to aid your research. The higher level of manager or professional, the less likely the energy investment is going to be worth it. Many are “short on time… focused on the big picture rather than the details and… may not have written a resume in a long time.” For executives it is imperative to hone in on a proven record of value and innovation in way that breaks down that “big picture.”[14]

A quality expert will help you think through your history in a way that effectively highlights accomplishments “against goals.”[15] This is fundamental to a finely written career profile that will catch your employer’s attention.[16] Professional resume writers can compare your resume to vacant job listings and software systems to ensure that yours will be one of the few to rise to the top in a process very similar to search engine optimization (SEO).[17] This trend toward scanning software will only continue in the future as these systems become more refined.[18] It can be a lot for one to keep track of, and many executives who have been working for a long time prefer to have this done for them. In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, if you are looking to save time by hiring a professional resume writer, Professionally Written L.L.C. crafts them at an excellent rate. Our resume Oklahoma services are 24/7. If you can’t come to us for any reason, we can always meet over the phone or fill your details in our online contact form. We also offer paralegal services and career coaching Oklahoma services.

Summary

Fonts

  • Sans-serif for headlines
  • Serif for descriptions
  • One or two types max
  • Bold or Capitalize only
  • Common font types

ATS Friendly

  • San-serif fonts
  • Times New Roman
  • No graphics or tables
  • No images or banners
  • Check file formats
  • Check employer guidelines

Do it correctly

  • Formatting rules matter
  • Time & Energy investment
  • Break down the ‘big picture’
  • Find an expert

EndNote References—

[1] Allen Brizee. “Resume Design,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 3, 2013), https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/631/01/ (accessed February 3, 2017).

[2] For example, Haddaway insists, among others, on only using one type of font. See, Amanda Haddaway. “Top 6 Tips For Resume Formatting,” Work It Daily, January 8, 2014. https://www.workitdaily.com/resume-formatting-tips/ (accessed February 8,2017).

[3] Resume Help. “Resume Writing Tips,” Resume Help. https://resume-help.org/resume_writing_tips.htm (accessed February 8, 2017.)

[4] Mike Simpson. “Best Resume Format Guide For 2017.” The Interview Guys. http://theinterviewguys.com/best-resume-format-guide/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[5] Georgetown University. “Resume Writing Checklist.” Georgetown University Cawley Career Education Center. https://careercenter.georgetown.edu/resumes-cover-letters/tips (accessed February 8, 2017).

[6] Robin Schlinger. “The Right Resume Format To Get You Noticed,” Work It Daily (March 14, 2015). https://www.workitdaily.com/right-resume-format-noticed/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[7] Mike Simpson. “Best Resume Format Guide For 2017.” The Interview Guys. http://theinterviewguys.com/best-resume-format-guide/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[8] Sachiko Sakamuro, Allen Brizee, and Katy Schmaling. “General Guidelines on Preparing a Scannable Résumé,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 11, 2013). https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/547/02/ (accessed February 3, 2017).

[9] Robin Schlinger. “The Right Resume Format To Get You Noticed,” Work It Daily (March 14, 2015). https://www.workitdaily.com/right-resume-format-noticed/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[10] Robin Schlinger. “4 Rules For Every Resume,” Work It Daily (September 15, 2013). https://www.workitdaily.com/right-resume-format-noticed/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[11] Sachiko Sakamuro, Allen Brizee, and Katy Schmaling. “General Guidelines on Preparing a Scannable Résumé,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (March 11, 2013). https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/547/02/ (accessed February 3, 2017).

[12] Trista Winnie. “Resume Format Advice to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems.” Jobscan Blog (September 26, 2014).

https://www.jobscan.co/blog/resume-format-advice-to-beat-applicant-tracking-systems/ (accessed February 9, 2017).

[13] Mike Simpson. “Best Cover Letter Format Guide For 2017.” The Interview Guys. http://theinterviewguys.com/cover-letter-format-guide/ (accessed February 8, 2017).

[14] 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). http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/2017-01-19/how-to-write-a-top-notch-executive-resume (accessed February 4, 2017).

[15] Don Goodman. “3 Steps To A Killer Resume.” Work It Daily (September 17, 2013). https://www.workitdaily.com/steps-killer-resume/ (accessed February 9, 2017).

[16] Laura Smith-Proulx. “Is Your Resume Summary Boring Employers?” Work It Daily (September 20, 2013). https://www.workitdaily.com/resume-summary-boring-employers/ (accessed February 9, 2017).

[17] James Hu. “8 Things You Need To Know About Applicant Tracking Systems.” Jobscan Blog (August 11, 2016). https://www.jobscan.co/blog/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-applicant-tracking-systems/ (accessed February 9, 2017).

[18] Jessica Holbrook Hernandez. “Top 5 Resume Trends In 2017.” Work It Daily (January 2, 2017). https://www.workitdaily.com/top-resume-trends-2017/ (accessed February 10, 2017).