Your résumé probably needs work. I’ve looked at a decent amount of résumés and it’s quite rare that I find an organized, well designed one. Here’s some tips on how to make your résumé clear, concise and aesthetically pleasing.
A résumé is the most essential typographical exercise you’ll face. You have a document will be read by a multitude of different people, the majority of whom will only glance at it for a few seconds. It is absolutely crucial that your résumé is legible, conveys the parts you deem important, and looks nice.
I’m no expert in typography. My knowledge of types is more in the implementing a typechecker area. However I do know the basics, thanks to Butterick’s Practical Typography. You should read the entire book, but I’d settle for skimming the section on résumés and font recommendations.
I use Butterick’s recommendations throughout my résumé. I try to keep healthy margins, I avoid too much text density, I limit my use of bold and italics. Instead of bold for headers, I use small caps.
Definitely read Practical Typography and apply it to your résumé and basically any text you create.
All of the following advice is in Practical Typography, but I figure some of you won’t read it.
Bold or Italics
I see way too much italics and bold in people’s résumés. I kind of understand why; they’re both meant to emphasize something in text and in a résumé people want a lot of different aspects to be emphasized. I try to think of bold and italics slightly differently. Bold and italics are there to emphasize text inside a body of text. Notice how the world inside is visually distinct from the other words around it? If I removed the italics, it would not be distinct. That’s where bold and italics shine.
However many times people italicize or bold something that is already visually distinct, whether that’s via text size or position.
Take this job entry:
8/19 – 1/20 Foo Corp Software Development Intern
Visually this is pretty confusing. The date range doesn’t need to be italicized since it’s already positioned apart from everything else. Likewise the job title doesn’t need to be underlined since the bolded company name already sets it apart.
8/19 – 1/20 Foo Corp Software Development Intern
This looks a lot cleaner.
Never combine bold, italics or underline in the same word.
Keep your margins wide! Don’t use those skimpy half-inch margins because you felt the need to cram one more hackathon projects into your résumé. Typography, as in all art, is about negative space. Use it wisely.
Top and bottom as well. Nobody likes text that is mere millimeters away from the bottom of the page.
Keep it nice and large. People are reading your résumé, not ants. Especially if the person reading is older, they’ll appreciate large, legible text.
Use a decent font. Please don’t use Times New Roman. I know, I know, your teacher told you to use Times New Roman. The same teacher who hasn’t applied to a job in 10 years and certainly not to a tech company. I use Charter in my résumé.
One Clean Page
Keep your résumé simple. Often times people feel the need to cram everything on their résumé, as if that makes them more impressive. Don’t. Prioritize readability over the number of extracurricular activities you can stuff into your résumé. I’m not afraid to cut old jobs or old projects. For an item to remain on my résumé, it not only must be impressive, it must be more impressive and more interesting than the other entries. It’s actually nice when I remove an impressive entry; it means I’m getting better.
There is a time and a place for multiple page résumés. If you have 5 or more years of work experience, or if you’re actually writing a curriculum vitae, aka CV, then sure, multiple pages is fine. But if you’re a college student in the US, 1 page is it.
Trim your descriptions carefully. I don’t even use bullets actually. I just have a short sentence or two underneath the description.
Omit Omit Omit
Don’t put your address. Nobody needs to know your address. Don’t put your phone number. They’ll ask you if they need your phone number.
Unless your high school is particularly famous, don’t put it.
Don’t put a statement of purpose or a summary or an intro. They’re always awkward and unnecessary.
Make sure your copy, i.e. your writing, is immaculate. Check your spelling, your grammar, your phrasing. Read it out loud if you must. If your English abilities are not particularly strong, get someone who does have strong English abilities to edit your résumé.
Try to tighten up any sentence. It’s okay to use some fragments here and there.
Make sure your tenses are in check. I’m not a huge fan of the weird present-imperative that some people use like “Develop iOS app for business loans”, but if you must, make it consistent. I prefer a consistent past indicative, but that’s just me.
Try to keep a neutral tone in your writing. Don’t attempt to self-aggrandize in your descriptions. Your project is not “impressive” or “fascinating”. You did not work with an “excellent” team. All that this does is make you seem desperate or egotistical.
But Not Boring
That isn’t to say your résumé should be completely devoid of life. If you have the room, feel free to add a sport or hobby if it represents a significant portion of your life. There’s always the chance this small addition amuses the person who reads your résumé.
It Just Needs To Be Readable
A résumé is ultimately a very utilitarian document. It’s a record of your accomplishments for someone to read and use to assess you. All that you need to do is write a résumé that is legible and that highlights the important, impressive info. That’s not rocket science.
And yet so many people fail at this goal. I see an absurd quantity of résumés sans sensible margins, sans legible text size and sans serif2.
Imagine your résumé as a speech that introduces yourself as a job candidate. Would you speak faster and without pause, just to cram more information into your speech? No, because you’d end up confusing the listener. Then why cram so much onto the poor one page?
The unfortunate truth is that you can’t control how impressive you appear. You can’t control if the reader thinks your projects are nonsense. All that you can do is make the résumé readable and hope for the best.