Resume Formatting Tips from the Pros

Just as you wouldn’t walk into an interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt, don’t send your resume out if it’s underdressed.

By Warren Simons | February 2008


Besides introducing you with an air of professionalism, a well-formatted, well-organized document drives an employer to key information about you, such as technical proficiencies, your stable work history or the awards and promotions you’ve earned. Just as you wouldn’t walk into an interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt, don’t send your resume out if it’s underdressed. Follow these seven tips:

1. Use Appropriate Font Type and Size  

A font with serifs is much more likely to be read – and understood – than a font without them. So, skip the bells and whistles and use a conservative font like Times New Roman.  This is commonly used on resumes and mass mailers for a reason: It’s aesthetically pleasing and easy to the read. Once you select a font, maintain its consistency throughout the document.

An ideal font size is 12 points. Avoid using a font smaller than 11 points, though if you’re targeting a single-page resume, you can use 10.5 point type. You can use 18- or 24-point type when writing your name in your resume’s header (above your contact information), and in section titles. 

2. Use Section Titles

Using section titles ensures your resume doesn’t become a cluttered block of text. By clearly delineating each section, these titles – such as "Professional Experience," "Summary of Qualifications," and "Technical Skills," help employers easily navigate the document.

Increase the section title one to two points above the size used in the resume’s body. In the sample below, "Employment History" would be 1 point larger than the company’s name and city, the date range, and the job title:

Employment History
 
ABC Company, New York, NY
Software Engineer

2000 – Present

Also, surround each section with white space of between eight and 14 points. For effective use of white space and section headers, view some sample resumes here.

3. Effectively Format Your Professional Experiences

You want your resume to be easily scanned. In other words, a hirer should be able to quickly find company names, years of employment, and job titles. To accomplish this, maintain a uniform style throughout your document, with the company name, city and state left aligned and years of employment right aligned. Just below the company name, list your title. For example:

Employer Name 1, City, State
Title

2000 – 2005

  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3
 
Employer Name 1, City, State
Title
1998 – 2000
  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3
 

Don’t bury dates in hard-to-find places.  They should be fixed on the same line as the company name, unless you are demonstrating promotions. Which leads us to the next point:

4. Clearly Demonstrate Promotions

Listing positions of increasing responsibility is a great way to impress someone. To do this, write your title and the date you held the title under the fixed company name. The right-aligned date should represent your entire tenure at this particular company: 

ABC Company, New York, NY
Project Manager (2005 – Present)

2001 – Present

  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3
  • Bullet 4
 
Senior Software Engineer (2004 – 2005)
  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3
 
Software Engineer (2001 – 2004)
 
  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3
 

5. Use Bullets Correctly

Using too many bullets makes your resume too long. Remember, your resume is a marketing tool that has a single goal: to help you obtain an interview. While you should include all pertinent information, delete superfluous data that isn’t relevant to the position you’re applying for. 

Aim for four to six bullets in each section, including your Summary of Qualifications.  Avoid exceeding eight bullets for any single position. Focus on quality, not quantity.  Listing 15 bullets at every position will make an employer’s eyes glaze over.

(One note: Some recruiters ask candidates to list everything.  Do not do this if you are applying directly to the company.)

6. Format Consistently Across Pages?

Margins are a great tools to either lengthen or shorten your resume. If you’re trying to fit the document onto one page, go to File, Page Setup, and Margins (in Microsoft Word), and set your top and bottom margins at .5" for more room. 

If your resume stretches to two pages, make sure that at least 50 percent of the second page is completed.  (Increasing font size and playing with the margins can work wonders here.) If you have a two-page document, always make sure to include your name on the second page in this format:

Name Here
Page 2

 

7. Maintain Date Consistency

Keep dates uniform throughout the entire document. Your resume should use either months and years like in these two examples:

Employer Name, City, State

05/00 – 07/05

Employer Name, City, State
05/2000 – 07/2005

Or just years, as in this example:

Employer Name, City, State

2000 – 2005

Don’t interchange the formats throughout the document.

Don’t underestimate the contributions formatting and visual layout make to the success of your resume. A well-formatted resume gives you a strong advantage in a competitive job market.

Warren Simons is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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