How to achieve an impressive resume design

How do you impress employers before they ever read your resume? Just like the marketing wizards and advertising gurus do: with visual appeal.

The resume design inspiration

Imagine that it is your sweetheart’s birthday and you’ve just stepped into a gourmet shop to find a little gift. The display of chocolates catches your eye. Some come wrapped in rich-looking gold foil, some are cradled in heart-shaped boxes, and some are packaged to give you a glimpse of the goodies inside. On the shelf beneath these enticing temptations is a stack of plain boxes wrapped in what looks to be white butcher paper; unadorned print spells out the words “chocolate candy”. The sales clerk approaches and asks whether there is anything he can help you with. You inquire about the chocolates and learn that they are all priced the same. The sales clerk further enlightens you that, without question, the chocolates in the white butcher paper far-and-above taste the best. But you had your heart set on the pretty ones in the gold foil! Now what? With our sweethearts none the wiser, many of us would opt for the nicely packaged gift to make a better impression.

The importance of resume design for your career

Although you (and your resume) are not a commodity, the hiring process has some parallels to the chocolate scenario. Visual appeal is critical, yet both novice and experienced writers often disregard it. This artistry is frequently the missing link in a resume’s evolution from average to outstanding.

If your experience and credentials are impressive, visual appeal will enhance them. If you have some minor flaws or even a glaring hole in your background, visual appeal can help overcome those weaknesses. Without visual appeal, you will look homogenous (at best) amid the stack of your competitors. With visual appeal, you win that all-important, never-to-have-a-second-chance-at favorable first impression. Essentially, visual appeal allows you to out-position your competition at the starting gate, an enviable position to be in because front-runners frequently win the race.

What exactly is visual appeal?

Albeit somewhat intangible, visual appeal is the quality that classifies your resume design as “pretty.” Visual appeal can also mean that your resume looks easy to read. It extends an invitation and offers a measure of energy to help the reader get started reading. It gives the impression of “wow, this is impressive” before the reader ever scans one word. Although visual appeal is subjective, there are a few objective, tangible principles that you can rely on to improve the attractiveness of your resume. Let’s take a look at them.

Resume Design Elements

The resume design for an established business-law attorney applying to an old-line Boston firm will be different from that of a Generation-X Webmaster applying to an Internet service provider. There is no one-size-fits-all design. With the capabilities of word-processing and desktop-publishing software, the possibilities for design variations are endless.

If your word-processing program includes resume templates, you might want to experiment with them. They tend to work best if you have a strong, progressive work history. If you don’t fall into this category (and you don’t know how to customize the template to your needs), the template designs can be limiting.

There are a number of traditional and not-so-traditional resume designs throughout this resume writing guide website. In reviewing the resumes, look for the following design elements, which transform good resumes into gorgeous resumes:

  • Visual pattern
  • Balance and symmetry
  • Tasteful font-work

Think in Threes

The mind likes a group of three. Whether making decisions about format, number of items to include in a list, or items in a sentence, consider using threes to group your thoughts. In the preceding resume excerpt for job-seeker, you will note the theme of threes. Within the Qualifications Summary are three key skill areas, completed later by the employer entry with three bulleted items to support those skill areas.

Several sentences contain lists or phrases of three. Although not shown here, the resume is finished off with a repeat of the graphics used in the beginning summary section. The “think in threes” mantra is a loose guide and you need not apply it religiously in 100 percent of cases. Don’t think that you can never again write a sentence that contains a list of two items or four items. Just be aware that groups of three often balance best.

Visual Appeal tips for Resume Design

  1. Be consistent in design treatments. Use the same tab spacing or amount of vertical space between every category heading. If you apply bold and underline to one position title, use these treatments consistently on all other position titles throughout the resume. The same idea holds for treatment of company name, position title, space between paragraphs, or bulleted accomplishments.
  2. Avoid starting too many consecutive lines with bullets. This polka-dot effect doesn’t allow you to control the reader’s eye; fewer groupings of bullets will help guide the reader’s eye to key information.
  3. Add white space. Use the Format, Paragraph, Indents and Spacing command to add, say, 5 to 8 pts of space before or after paragraphs.
  4. Minimize the space between the bullet position and the text position. Between .15 to .2 is ideal.
  5. Reserve bullets for accomplishments rather than responsibilities.
  6. Limit the number of tab stops on the page. Too many causes the resume to look busy.
  7. Break up lengthy paragraphs. Organize paragraphs into logical pieces of information with a subheading.
  8. Balance the resume top-to-bottom and left-to-right. Avoid the Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa look.
  9. Use one font style, possibly two. You could reserve the second font for, say, your name or category headings.
  10. Design within the “Food Chain.” Use a logical hierarchy of fontwork (bold, underline, point size of fonts) and case (all caps, small caps, upper and lower case) to provide a sense of order and to control the reader’s eye toward important information.