Content is only a part of your resume, albeit a critical one. The way your resume looks is important too. After all: It’s human nature to be drawn to well-organized, visually appealing documents—and to be turned off by haphazard documents that are hard on the eyes!
Here are some tips for making your resume attractive as well as informative.
- Keep your resume to one page, and fill the entire page. Adjust the margins as needed to balance the page. If you are applying for a federal job or graduate school, a resume or a curriculum vitae (CV) are often longer than one page as they require more detail.
- Use a common font (e.g., Times New Roman, Calibri, or Arial) in 10- to 12-point size. Your name can go up to 18- or 22-point.
- Ensure that your resume’s headings stand out from the rest of the text, making them easy to find (through the modest use of bold, underline, indentation, ALL CAPS, • bullets, etc.).
- Use full-page underlines to make sections stand out.
- Use bullet points for skills and competencies statements to make them easier to read.
- Right-align dates (employment dates, graduation dates, etc.).
- Use consistent formatting and punctuation throughout.
- Balance text and whitespace on the page. Hold your resume at arm's length to look for areas that have too much whitespace or too much text.
- Use margins of a half-inch to one inch.
- Proofread! Ensure that your final document has absolutely no errors.
Use the CLA Career Services resume template and checklist to guide you through formatting your resume.
Be careful when using resume templates
Templates from sources like Google Docs and Word are not known to consistently be readable by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which can significantly affect your application outcomes. If you do choose to use a template, make sure that it is clean and does not distract from your experiences.
There are multiple ways to organize and lay out the content of your resume, but most students and recent graduates choose the chronological resume format.
On a chronological resume, the "Experience" section lists your experiences in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience appearing first. In addition to jobs, you include volunteer and internship positions—paid or unpaid.
The chronological resume layout highlights your experiences (and education) more than your skills.
Pros: Your experiences (jobs, internships, volunteer positions) and your educational background are emphasized. This is helpful if you've held multiple positions, especially if those experiences relate to the position you’re applying for. A chronological layout also allows you to show your progress/promotions in positions.
Cons: When you highlight your experiences over your skills, you may be emphasizing experiences that don't relate to the position you’re pursuing. Also, gaps in your employment history will be more noticeable. (Note, however, that employment gaps are common among students and recent graduates.) If your skills relate to the position more than your experiences do, you may want to use a skills-based resume layout (described immediately below).
An alternative to the chronological resume format is the skills-based resume (sometimes called the combination resume). On this type of resume, you focus less on your experiences and more on your skills. You do provide a brief list of your experiences, but you first emphasize the specific skills you have—particularly those closely related to the position (or program) you’re pursuing.
Pros: The skills-based/combination resume layout gives you a chance to highlight skills that the employer seems to be seeking in the open position. This is particularly helpful if your skills are more relevant than your experiences. A skills-based/combination resume allows you to list your most relevant skills near the top of your document. It can be a useful strategy for students who are newly entering the professional workforce, or for people who are transitioning to a new career field.
Cons: This format may be too long. It's also unfamiliar to some employers.
Other commonly used resume formats that you should be familiar with:
- Electronic/scannable—Some organizations request electronic resumes, which they then scan for keywords that match what they're looking for in a candidate. A scannable resume can be helpful, but you must know how to create an effective one and know how to use keywords. Keyword scans usually look for nouns, not action verbs. The organization’s job description explains what the organization is looking for and is a good source of the keywords you should use when writing a scannable résumé.
- International/Curriculum Vitae (CV)—If you're searching for a job outside the United States, you may need to change the format of your resume or develop a much more extensive curriculum vitae (CV). Some countries require photos, handwritten cover letters, and a variety of formatting changes. Research the country or company norms, and again: