While generally regarded as supplementary, visual aesthetics have the potential to be much more than just a supplement, especially when the difference between standing out amongst other competitive applicants can be by just the smallest of measures.
Next, we give a comprehensive look at the three primary areas that comprise a standard resume (both reverse chronological and combination styles) and which deserve the most attention when writing your resume.
Table of Contents
- Resume Structure & Shape
- Aesthetics: Fonts & Font Size, Lines, Symbols, and Colors
- Paper Selection
The shape of a resume refers to the impact its overall look has on the reader without taking into account the meaning or significance of the text printed on said page.
The shape of the resume is the very first thing to make an impact upon the reader, as it is the first thing the brain processes before having the time to read the text or recognize the name or appreciate the paper. Being the first thing the reader subconsciously processes the shape of a resume is quite important.
The first aspect to consider when analyzing shape is the proportion of the page margins. Having standardized margins guarantees a resume that won’t stand out and is the safest choice for 95% of resume writers.
Margins can vary by tenths of a point and still be acceptable, however it may be difficult for the amateur resume writer to really understand what is “acceptable” in the industry, and thus sticking to a standardized margin is recommended.
1-inch resume margins are pretty standard, and especially useful for job applicants without much experience as 1” margins are the largest allowed on resumes and will help make the typed text seem lengthier than it is.
Resume Genius’ resume maker actually utilizes precise .63” margins, as Resume Genius experts feel that .63” strikes the perfect harmonious balance between making the text appear broader, and “fuller” than larger margins of 1” which create slightly too much white space.
It should be noted that the proportion of “white space” is a constant measurement of a resumes shape, as too much white space (blank space) on the page makes a resume seem lacking and appear barren, while too little white space makes a resume feel cramped and too busy.
As with margins, the length of a resume is a critical formatting factor that has a large impact in the overall aesthetic of the document and thus is consequential enough to give considerable consideration.
Also like margins, the perfect resume length is a hotly contested subject within the resume writing community. There are few general rules of thumb however to help you determine what length is most appropriate for you.
Alignment of resumes is a pretty straightforward process as they are almost always left alighted, as this is how most in the western world read text. Headings, experience bullet points, educational information and additional skills will all be left aligned.
Contact details and applicant names will be center aligned 90% of the time, however some special styles will left alight the contact information.
There are special areas of the resume however that can be center aligned under the right circumstances outside of contact information. The resume’s introduction is also sometimes centered. Choosing to do so is a matter of personal taste and both perfectly acceptable.
Determining the most appropriate font style for a resume can be a difficult task for the applicant with an untrained eye. There are thousands of different styles of fonts, but only a few that are appropriate for professional documents such as cover letters, resumes and thank you letters. Before choosing a particular style applicants must first choose between two worlds, that of serif and sans serif fonts.
Serif fonts have small lines attached to the ends of the letters. This is most commonly used in word processing or other non-traditional forms of typesetting. Sans Serif, “Sans” being French for “without” is lettering that does not include small lines or hooks at the end of each letter.
Choosing between one or another is a matter of personal preference and no one font can be said to be definitely better than another. Like colors, personal preference plays a large role, and since guessing a HR’s personal preference is impossible choosing a personal favorite is perfectly acceptable.
Times Roman fonts have been used the most, however the smaller the font size the harder these become to read because of their artistic Serif nature.
- Bookman Old Style
- Times Roman
- Times New Roman
Many applicants may be surprised to learn that there is no one single correct resume font size. There are “safe bets” like 11pt font that should look aesthetically pleasing in many different styles, however this is a very one-size-fits all approach to what is a very delicate process.
Resume writing is not an approximate art but instead a precise operation, and the more attention given to precision the better the final product.
Your resume font size should actually be linked directly to font style. Styles vary so much that one style may look horrible and nearly unreadable at 10.5 while another font looks best at 10.5 and too bloated at 11.5. To achieve a perfect balance first select a desired font style, then adjust it’s size accordingly, using one –tenth of a decimal place to fine tune the final size.
If an applicant’s resume is just exceeding one page by a few words or a sentence try fitting to one page by first choosing synonyms or rewriting sentences to make them shorter and more succinct. Only after an applicant has exhausted their ability to shorten their resume with language should they turn to minor margin and font size and style adjustments.
Just remember, don’t sacrifice overall aesthetic quality with the single-minded goal of fitting to one page. A resume is valued for the sum of all parts, not just its length.
Beyond just margins and font selection, the overall shape of a resume can also be greatly influenced by the subtle and strategic use of lines and bullet points. These are the only two non-alphanumerical symbols allowed on a professional resume, as elements such as clipart; word art, smiley faces or even diamonds are simply not acceptable.
Lines break up a page and stop the eye from reading further momentarily, allowing the brain to process the just read information for a fraction of a second longer should there have never existed a break line in the first place.
Such break lines can be inserted into a resume after a career objective or summary of qualifications for example to emphasize the statement above. Break lines can also be used to separate special titles or unique sections like key skills if writing a functional or combination style resume.
Symbols may only be used in the form of bullet points or spacers. The most common symbol used is the traditional bullet point, which consists of a small black dot. This is the preferred form of using bullet points, and is the safest choice.
Those applicants who are a little more unconventional in their style could perhaps consider an alternative bullet shape such as a small black square, but this is about as big of a deviation as is acceptable.
Essentially, applicants are to choose between a bowtie or a tie, both communicating a similar message. Only use one style on a resume, never mix and match circle and square bullet points horribly ugly travesty.
Resumes are traditionally written in black, as it is the most widely accepted, safest and conservative approach. Resumes can however make use of subtle additions of color throughout to help them stand out in a stack of nearly identical black and white documents.
Here are a few examples of how you can use color on your resume. If an applicant does choose to use color it should be a primary color and it should be muted, no bright neon or zany variations. Simple and subtle reigns supreme in the resume world.
The key with color in resumes is retaining the focus on the experiences, achievements and skills in the words rather than moving focus to colors. Colors on resumes are meant to assist the communication of the information, not detract or take away from its central importance.
Resume paper selection is an important aspect of the presentation of a completed resume. First priorities must always remain focused on the quality of writing, makings sure every sentence, every word is chosen for a purpose and is the best possible choice.
After the content of a resume, next in importance comes the formatting, the margins, the fonts and the spacing. Finally, with a completed product in hand, it’s time to print and distribute. This is where paper comes into play.
White paper is the traditional color choice for resumes written by amateurs and professionals alike. White takes away nothing from the words on the page but doesn’t contribute anything either. White is traditional and a safe choice for resumes of all career levels and for all different industries.
Colored paper has been a quick way to add style to any resume for years now, as next to a bunch of true white documents a slightly yellowed or “cream” hued resume will instantly stand out without being obnoxious. While this isn’t the conservative approach, it is by no means “radical” and thus a fair option for anyone who feels their resume may need a boost in standing out amongst others for a highly competitive position.
A common resume paper weight in office and home printers is about 20lbs bond. This is acceptable for a resume however for such an important document it may be worth spending a little extra money for 24-25lb bond weight paper, as this is just slightly weightier and feels better in the hand. Anything exceeding 25lb bond weight is bordering on excessive.
Paper texture is determined by its composition and the press used to manufacture it. Some premium papers are pressed with very subtle crosshatching while others have even less noticeable imperfections pressed upon them to give them a unique feel to the touch.
Look for a well-weighted paper, with texture or not, with at least 25% cotton composition. The more cotton the stronger the paper and crisper it feels. Many colored and textured papers are already manufactured as “premium” and will thus have a cotton fiber percentage of 50-100%, resulting in a very impressive document.
8.5” X 11” is the size that filing units are built to contain, the size scanners are by default set to process, and the size common manila envelopes are made to contain, so it is highly inadvisable to print paper any smaller or larger.
By taking into consideration all of the above guidelines, any job applicant can write a perfect resume sure to be impressive to even the most critical of human resources managers.
Resume Genius’ Resume Builder
Don’t want to go through the hassle of creating your own resume? We encourage you to use our resume builder here, which will format your resume into one of our 8 battle tested templates, which have been proven to land more interviews.
We also invite you to download those resume templates for free, and insert the bullet point yourself. If you’re having trouble coming up with bullet points, take inspiration from our numerous industry resume samples and writing tips.