Don’t assume that aesthetics is less important than content—your resume’s aesthetics can have a massive effect on your chances of catching a hiring manager’s eye, especially if you’re neck-and-neck against another candidate.
Let’s take a look at the main topics about aesthetics for a standard resume (both reverse chronological, functional, and combination styles) and which deserve the most attention when writing your resume.
Table of Contents
- Resume Layout
- Fonts: Styles, Size, and Color
- Lines and Symbols
- Paper Selection
A resume’s layout has a major effect on the reader no matter what its content.
The layout is the first thing to affect the reader because it’s the first thing the brain processes—before even the text or texture is noticed. So, your resume’s layout is vital.
Resume alignment is straightforward: that’s because resumes are almost always left alighted since most people in the Western world read text from left to right.
Headings, experience bullet points, educational information, and additional skills should all be left aligned.
The exceptions are your name and contact details: these can be center aligned. Sometimes, you might also want to center your resume introduction if it looks good.
The “correct” resume length is hotly contested. But, unless you’re got an extensive list of publications or vast amounts of experience in your industry, your resume should be one-page long.
Two or three pages are only appropriate for some specialized roles or in particular fields:
One-page resumes are focused, concise, and uncomplicated. Additionally, they avoid the risk that extra pages could get detached or lost. One page is the most common length for a resume and is used by entry- and mid-level professionals. We recommend you use a one-page resume outside of exceptional cases.
Two-page resumes provide a longer list of experiences and achievements; however, they run the risk of you “inflating” your experiences (i.e., adding too much detail).
On the other hand, they are suitable for candidates with extensive experience or candidates with a long skills list.
Three-page resumes can potentially offer a wealth of information, but you might end up adding “fluff”—useless information that you add just to fill space.
We discourage you from using a 3-page resume unless you’re an experienced executive or an academic with lots of publications to list.
The last—but by no means least important—aspect to consider in resume layout is your resume’s page margins.
One-inch margins are frequently used, so they’re unlikely to offend.
However, you can vary your margins within a range of ½–1 inch. For example, you might use wider page margins if you have less work experience, or you might opt for narrower page margins if you want to include more details.
But watch out: if your margins are too wide, your resume might have too much white space and look “empty.” By contrast, if they’re too narrow, you might make your resume look “cluttered” because of a lack of white space. Check out this example resume to see how margins should look:
For more examples, check out Resume Genius’ resume builder, which aesthetically selects margin sizes to ensure that your resume contains the perfect amount of white space (blank space).
The amount of white space is a good indicator of a resume’s layout: too much white space makes a resume appear empty; too little white space makes a resume feel cramped and “busy.”
To create a professional resume, you’ve got to select an appropriate font style, size, and color.
Choosing the best font for a resume can be difficult. There are thousands upon thousands of font styles, and resume experts have long debated which is the best font for a resume.
Before choosing a particular font style, you need to choose between serif and sans-serif fonts.
Serifs are the small lines attached to the ends of the letters:
Serif fonts are most commonly used in word processing or other nontraditional forms of typesetting.
Sans serif—“sans” being French for “without”—is lettering without these small lines or “hooks.”
Choosing between using sans or sans serif is a matter of personal preference—no font can be definitively said to be better than another. Personal preference plays a large role, and since guessing a hiring manager’s preference is impossible, choosing your favorite is fine.
Looking at the fonts in the blue box above, you might think that they’re a variety of sizes. Actually, they’re all the same size (in points)—even Garamond, which looks particularly small!
Although on a resume, 11-point font looks aesthetically pleasing for most font styles, the truth is that each font varies (as you can see in the blue box), so feel free to experiment with font style and size until you’re pleased with the result.
Your resume font size should be linked directly to font style. Styles vary so much that one font may look horrible at 10.5 points, whereas another font looks best at 10.5 points and bloated at 11.5 points. To achieve a perfect balance, first choose a font style, then adjust its size.
If your resume exceeds a page by just a few words or a sentence, try using synonyms or rewriting sentences to make them shorter. If you can’t shorten your resume by rewriting it, try adjusting the margin and font size.
Just remember, don’t sacrifice your resume’s aesthetic quality with the single-minded goal of fitting it to one page.
Resumes are conventionally written in black—it’s the most widely accepted approach. Resumes can, however, use subtle additions of color to help them stand out in a stack of uniformly black-and-white documents.
Here are a few examples of how to use color on your resume. If you choose to use color, it should be a primary color and it should be muted—no bright neon! Simple and subtle reigns supreme in the resume world.
The key with color in resumes is retaining the focus on the words rather than moving the reader’s focus to colors. Colors on resumes are meant to help convey information, not hinder it.
3. Lines and Symbols
Beyond margins and font selection, the layout of a resume can be influenced by the use of lines and bullet points. These are the only two nonalphanumerical symbols allowed on a professional resume: clipart, word art, smiley faces, and even diamonds are not acceptable.
Lines break up a page and stop the eye from reading further momentarily, allowing the brain to process the information it just read for a fraction of a second longer.
Break lines can be inserted into a resume after a career objective or qualifications summary. They can also be used to separate special titles or sections like key skills if writing a functional or combination style resume.
Only bullet points or spacers should be used on a resume. The most common symbol used is the conventional bullet point—the small black dot. This is the preferred form of bullet point and is the safest choice.
If you’re a little more unconventional, you could consider an alternative bullet point 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.
Choosing the right resume paper is vital.
After the content of a resume, the formatting, margins, fonts, and spacing are next in importance. Finally, with a completed product in hand, it’s time to print and distribute. This is where paper comes into play.
White is the conventional paper color choice for resumes. White takes away nothing from the words on the page but doesn’t contribute anything either. White is conventional, and is a safe choice for resumes regardless of career level and industries.
Using colored paper is a quick way to add style to a resume—that’s because next to a bunch of white documents, a slightly yellowed or “cream”-hued resume instantly stands out without being obnoxious. Although this isn’t a conservative approach, it’s no radical option; so, it’s a great alternative for anyone who feels their resume needs a boost.
A common resume paper weight in office and home printers is 20-lb bond weight. This is acceptable for a resume; however, for such an important document, you might want to spend a few extra dollars for about 25-lb bond-weight paper because it’s slightly weightier and has a nicer texture. Anything exceeding 25-lb 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 subtle crosshatching, whereas others have even less noticeable imperfections pressed on them to give them a unique feel.
Look for a well-weighted paper, while textured 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 thus have a cotton fiber percentage of 50%–100%, resulting in an impressive document.
Filing cabinets are built to house 8.5 × 11 inch documents, and this is the size scanners are by default set to process as well as the size common manila envelopes are made to contain, so you should be wary of printing paper smaller or larger.
Resume Genius’ Resume Builder
Don’t want to go through the hassle of creating your own resume? Use our resume builder—you just enter your details and you’ll have a great resume within minutes.
We also invite you to download those resume templates for free, and insert your own bullet points. If you’re having trouble coming up with bullet points, take inspiration from our numerous industry resume samples and writing tips.