Resume design is a subjective business, and while one employer might want to see a simple, clean layout with traditional fonts, another may be drawn to a colourful document with fancy graphs and charts. Anyone who has questioned friends, family, previous employers or career advice experts on the how-tos of ideal resume presentation has likely come to the frustrating conclusion that there are no hard, fast rules. Creating a picture-perfect marketing document that puts you at the top of the pile is no straightforward matter.

However, despite the inevitable disagreements on what makes for a professional eye-catching resume, there are certainly best practices in resume design that can increase the odds that it will receive a positive review. Most significantly, bad resume strategy and design can turn an employer off in an instant, and take a candidate out of the running before they even get a foot in the door.

If you are concerned about resume mistakes in your design, consider the following:

  1. Flashy fonts, color, or graphics – You want your document to stand out, especially if it ends up amid thousands of other applications. However, your resume is meant to be an informative marketing piece, detailing your qualifications as concisely and professionally as possible. Unique fonts that are tricky to read, color splashes that detract the eye, or confusing graphics that lack valuable content attract the wrong kind of attention. Focus on content first (also, some graphics do not translate in Applicant Tracking Systems, and render that potential real estate on the page useless when used in online applications.)
  2. Length (too long, or too short) – Length is a tricky thing to paint a large brushstroke over, as often times experience, industry, or position can dictate whether or not a resume should go beyond a 1 page piece. In most cases, a standard 1-2 page resume is sufficient to include the most relevant details of an applicant’s qualifications and experience. However, if you are a senior level professional applying for a position of complex responsibility, you want to ensure that you include enough information to prove your competency. Think about your audience. Is it an entry-level position where a few key accomplishments will help you stand out? Is it crucial that you possess key qualifications before they will assess your “uniqueness”? Are they looking at a handful of high-level candidates and scrutinizing their previous complex areas of responsibility? As with any marketing endeavour, you want your message communicated as efficiently and effectively as possible. Refine your statements. Ditch repetitive or “thin” statements that don’t add to your message. Keep it concise, but if you are deleting information you know to be valuable just to stay within a page limit, don’t worry. Three pages won’t necessarily be an impediment, but neglecting to mention that Pulitzer Prize probably will be.
  3. Objective statement – The reality of a resume is that is isn’t just about the employee. In fact, when designing a resume, it’s just as important to think about the employer. An objective statement, which is included at the beginning of a resume and outlines the professional goals of the applicant, is not only outdated but also an ineffective use of space on the page. Employer’s are less interested in your goals – yes, you want the job. Yes, you want to contribute to an organization that can utilize your skills and help you develop into a successful professional. What employers really care about is their own goals, and the goals of the organization. Use the beginning of your resume to show, as clearly as possible, that you can help meet their objectives.
  4. No action – It’s tempting to start your accomplishment statements with “responsible for…”, but it doesn’t pack the same punch as “executed…”, “directed…” or “streamlined…” Accomplishment statements need to begin with an action word, and the more precise the verb, the better.
  5. Grammar, spelling and punctuation – The most seemingly obvious bit of advice is often the most overlooked. Check and recheck your punctuation, grammar, and spelling. One misspelt word can communicate more than a paragraph of statements – if you can’t take the time to ensure accuracy on an application, what does that say about your diligence or attention to detail when at work?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations for an excellent resume, but it does cover the basics. Be careful, be deliberate, be concise, and always consider your audience. You are, after all, creating a resume to attract the attention, and the right kind of attention, from a potential employer. What do they want to see? What will they be impressed by? And how much time do you have in that initial skim to make sure they read it?

Career Compositions

Career Compositions is a team of Certified Resume Strategists and writers offering expertise in personal branding and marketing documents for career professionals across Canada.

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