It is not just the content of your resume which gives prospective employers information about you—the formatting of your resume also tells employers about your understanding of standard practices, your ability to do things in a consistent manner, and your eye for detail. If hundreds of people apply for the same position, an employer may eliminate candidates simply because their resumes are improperly formatted. TeachUcomp offers a comprehensive course in Microsoft Word, so look for that if you want more specific information about document formatting. For now, let’s take a look at the basics of proper resume formatting.
Basic Formatting Techniques
The first thing to think about when formatting your resume is the font, or typeface, that you use. As with every other aspect of your resume, you want the font that you use to send a message of professionalism. Therefore, it is important to avoid using novelty typefaces when designing your resume—stick to basic fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Never, ever use a typeface like Comic Sans for a resume—keep your font traditional and formal. When sizing text, keep things between 10-12 point. Anything smaller than 10-point text can be difficult to read, while anything larger than 12-point text looks like you’re trying to fill space. A great idea is to use 10-point text for most of your resume, and 12-point text for the Section Headings. Use bold text sparingly and consistently—for example, if you use bold text for one of your Section Headings, use it for all of them.
A second thing to be aware of when formatting your resume is the margins. Your resume margins should be no more than one inch wide on all sides, and no less than half an inch wide. If your margins are more than an inch wide, your resume will look “empty;” while margins that are less than half an inch wide can make your resume look cluttered. Bodies of text should be aligned either to the left side of the page, or to both the left and right sides of the page—never center text on your resume.
Finally, it’s important to consider the specifics of printing if you intend to mail hard copies of your resume to potential employers. Because so many resumes are submitted online these days, you can set yourself apart by also mailing a printed copy of your resume to a company after completing an online application. If you choose to do this, it’s important to pay attention to printing details. If it is an option, consider having your resume professionally printed—many office supply stores will print your resume for you while you wait, and they offer several choices of quality paper. If you choose to print your resume at home, keep a few things in mind. First, set your printer for the highest quality printing possible. Second, use quality paper. Most large discount stores now sell high-quality paper which is ideal for printing a resume. Choose a white or off-white linen paper, and avoid any simulated granite or marble papers—keep your choice traditional. Third, purchase matching envelopes when you purchase the paper, if possible. Coordinated paper and envelopes look very professional, and will earn you points. When printing, make sure to match up the paper’s watermark with your text. To see the watermark, hold the paper up in front of a light source. Finally, when mailing a hard copy of your resume to a potential employer, it’s a good idea to hand address the envelope. Even if your printer is capable of printing out a matching envelope, studies show that hand-written envelopes are opened first.
If you are reentering the job market after several years, it may be a bit confusing to see employers asking that you send your resume as one file type versus another. The first thing to keep in mind, when applying for jobs electronically, is that you should always follow the employer’s application directions exactly. Most companies now use applicant tracking software, or ATS, to extract and synthesize data from resumes. If you submit an improper file format, your resume might never be seen. For this reason, it’s very important to pay attention to which file format each job application requires.
According to employment statistics, 99% of employers request that resumes be sent as one of two file types: either a Microsoft Word file, or as a PDF. If you are asked to submit your resume as a Microsoft Word document, make sure to pay close attention to the file extension required. By default, Microsoft Word 2007 and later save documents with a .docx extension – a file format that provides a smaller file size and better security than the .doc file type (which was the default in versions Word prior to 2007). Many ATS systems used by employers have a problem extracting text from .docx files, so it’s always best to submit the file with a .doc extension unless instructed otherwise.
PDF stands for Portable Document Format. PDF is a standardized format that displays documents independent of software applications such as Microsoft Word and operating systems, and can be opened and viewed by several free programs such as Adobe Reader. If you are asked to submit your resume as a PDF, simply choose “PDF” from Word’s “Save As” command. If you are using an older version of Microsoft Word, you may not have the option to save as a PDF. In such a case, you can use a software program such as Adobe Acrobat, to convert the file into a PDF. If you are unsure how to save a document with a .doc extension in your version of Microsoft Word or as a PDF, we recommend consulting TeachUcomp, Inc.’s course “Mastering Word Made Easy” for specific instructions.
Sometimes, an employer will ask that you copy-paste your resume into an online text box or field. To do this, first open the document in Microsoft Word, and then press Control + A on your computer’s keyboard. This should highlight all of the text in the document. Next, go to the employer’s website, and click within the text field where you will paste your resume. Once you see the cursor blinking within the text field, press Control + V on your keyboard. You should see your resume “appear” in the window—or at least part of your resume. If the formatting of your resume appears to change when you paste into the employer’s text window, do not attempt to fix it. Trust that the employer’s ATS system will correctly extract and assemble the data from your resume.
For more help on resume writing, check out our course Mastering Your Resume Made Easy.