Give your resumé a face lift

Give your resumé a face lift

October 24, 2006 by Chanpory
After avoiding the 7 deadly sins of resumé design, you may be asking, "If I can't use crazy colors, clip art, and other types of decoration, how do I make my resumé stand out from the crowd?" Like many things, the answer lies in the details.

Even if you can't hire a fancy designer and are stuck with Microsoft Word, a few tweaks can turn your blasé resumé into an elegant and functional showpiece.

The typical resumé

Before starting your resumé makeover, first take a look at a typical one:


Like most resumés, it was created in Microsoft Word. It doesn't look horrible, but it could use improvement. You can improve almost all resumés with four steps:

  1. Pick a better typeface
  2. Remove extra indentations
  3. Make it easy to skim
  4. Apply typographic detailing

1. Pick a better typeface

If you're using Times New Roman, Word's default typeface, change it now. Times doesn't read well on-screen and lacks typographic subtleties such as non-lining numbers. Because it's available on virtually all computers and designed to be readable on on-screen, try Georgia instead.

At the same point size, Georgia appears larger than Times New Roman, so you'll want to set the font size a point or two smaller. Just don't go below 9 points.

To improve readability, also increase the line spacing (also called leading) to at least 120% of the font size.

To do this in Word:

Line Spacing in Microsoft Word

  1. In the menubar, go to Format and select Paragraph.
  2. In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly and set the line spacing to 14 points.

Our example resumé currently uses Times New Roman set at a size/line spacing of 11pt/13pt. Let's change it to Georgia with a size/line spacing of 10pt/14pt.

Here's a detail of the difference:

Change font

Notice how the Georgia's numbers blend in better than Times New Roman.

Here's the full page:

Resumé after setting typeface, size, and leading

If you can't stand Georgia and aren't worried about on-screen legibility, feel free to choose another appropriate typeface.

2. Remove extra indentations

Next, reduce the number of indentations. Better yet, take them all out. While useful in outlines, too many indentations in a resumé will cause your eyes to jump all over the page, destroying page harmony. The goal is to have all text align to each other.

After reducing indentations, also hang your bullets.

In Word:

Hanging Bullets in Microsoft Word

  1. Replace any spaces after a bullet with a tab character.
  2. Select the bulleted list.
  3. If you don't see the horizontal ruler, go to the View menu and select Ruler.
  4. On the ruler, drag the First Line Indent marker to left by 1/8th of an inch.

Here's a detail showing the resumé before and after removing indentation:

Remove indentations detail

To align all the cities and dates on the right, use tabs.

Remove indentations full

Already, you can see a huge improvement.

Also notice that the top margin is now reduced to 0.5 inches. This helps compensate for the additional line spacing in step 1.

3. Make it easy to skim

To make the resumé skimmable, you have to create a distinct typographic hierarchy. By typographic hierarchy, we mean Ellen Lupton's definition from Thinking With Type:

A typographic hierarchy expresses an organizational system for content, emphasizing some data and diminishing others. A hierarchy helps readers scan a text, knowing where to enter and exit and how to pick and choose among its offerings.

Our example resumé already uses bolds and italics to highlight important information such as names and job titles. If you aren't using them, set them now.

The headings for the major sections, however, don't stick out enough. Even with "Education", "Legal Experience", and "Skills and Certifications" underlined and set in bold, they look too close to the job titles.

To make these section headings more distinct, use horizontal rules above and below each section heading.

In Word, select the section heading and go to Format in the menubar. From here, you'll make changes in Paragraph, Font, and Borders and Shading.


Paragraph adjustment

  1. In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly if it's not already chosen, and set the line spacing to 16pt.
  2. Under Spacing, set the Before field to 6pt and the After field to 8pt.


Font adjustment

  1. Select the Character Spacing tab.
  2. For Position, choose Raised from the pulldown and type "1pt" in the field.

Borders and Shading

Adding borders

  1. Select the Borders tab
  2. Under Setting, select Custom
  3. For Style, select a solid line. For Color, choose black. For Width, choose "3/4".
  4. In the preview area, click the Top Border icon to the left of preview image.
  5. To add a bottom border, repeat step 3 using grey for Color , and "1/4" for Weight.
  6. In the preview area, click the Bottom Border icon to the left of preview image.

Here's a detail of the difference:

Horizontal rules detail

And now the full page:

Typographic Hierarchy

To give more emphasis to job descriptions and responsibilities, deemphasize the cities and dates by setting them in grey.

4. Apply typographic detailing

Our resumé makeover is almost done, but it needs some finishing touches:

Use smart quotes

Never ever use inch and foot marks (straight quotes) as quotation marks and apostrophes. They should always be curly. Microsoft Word has automatic curly quotes turned on by default. If not:

  1. In the menubar, go to Tools and choose AutoCorrect.
  2. Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  3. Under Replace as you type, click the checkbox next to "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes".

Space out text set in ALL CAPS

In general, avoid setting type in ALL CAPS. Because the letters start to look the same, it's harder to read. In small doses, text in ALL CAPS is acceptable if you space out the letters.

The extra spacing between letters help makes each letter more distinct and readable:

Character spacing

In Word:

  1. Select the text set in ALL CAPS.
  2. In the menubar, go to Format and choose Font.
  3. Select the Character Spacing* tab.
  4. In the Spacing pulldown, choose "Expanded" and type in "2pt" in the field.

Separate durations of time with en dashes

Durations of time such as "9–5", "Monday–Friday", and "October 5–December 31" should always be separated by en dashes, not hyphens.

On the Mac, press Option-Dash to create an en dash. On a PC, hold down the Alt key and press 0151.

Adjust spacing in phone numbers

The space after the closing parenthesis in a phone number is often too wide. To reduce this, select the space and change its font size in half. So if the rest of the text is 10pt, change it to 5pt.

The final resumé

After adding the finishing touches, here's the final resumé:

Final resumé

No rules are set in stone, so feel free to experiment. Just do so judiciously. You can find additional guidance here:

Remember don't hesitate to post additional resumé tips in the comments!

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Special Thanks: The example resumé shown in this post was kindly provided by my friend, Catherine Tullner.

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