5 ways your resume design is failing you miserably - Pop Your Career

5 Ways Your Resume Design is Failing You Miserably

Your resume’s design is arguably just as important as the content it contains. Don’t believe me? Think about first impressions when you meet someone. Unironed clothes or a scruffy appearance, a bitchy resting face and body language, all help you form an initial feeling about whether you like someone. Whether you like it or not.


Now think about a book cover. Of course the saying goes, that you should never judge a book by its cover, but it is only natural for us to gravitate towards books which appeal to us at first glance and it is so easy to overlook a potentially entertaining read, based on the picture, title or the fonts the author has selected.

The same goes for your resume. Whether it is a conscious or unconscious bias, recruiters are generally drawn to resumes that are visually appealing. A resume might be considered visually appealing because it is easy to read or just because it looks like you have infused your personality into the design.

So, can your resume design negatively impact your chances of winning the job? In this post I am providing you with 5 solid ways that your resume design is actively killing your success rate in getting to interview and securing your dream role.

1. It is not optimised for print

Your resume looks awesome on screen and you are really proud of the way it has turned out. But how does it look when it is printed? Too many candidates, just like you, forget to test their resume’s print optimisation. Recruiters will often print resumes to make it easier to review them, especially if there are a large number of applications. I recently had 200 applications to review for a bulk recruitment round and I printed every single one, so that I could take them home and assess them. This is very common.

Optimising your resume for print and ensuring it will look great on paper is easy. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Always PDF your resume before you send it. This is the only way that you can ensure that your design elements will stay where they are meant to be. Document files can look very different on different computers, because of the use of non-standard fonts or different operating systems (think Apple vs PC). One of my favourite tools for this is SmallPDF.
  • Print your resume and see how it looks. Don’t rely on print preview! Is anything being cut off by the print margins? Is the size of the text readable, without being too large? How do the other design elements translate now that they are off your screen?

2. It looks the same as everyone else’s

This might not seem like a big deal. You used one of the resume templates from Microsoft Word because it is tried and tested, right? Whilst this is technically correct, I can assure you that it is incredibly boring to have to review 200 applications, only to find that 197 of them look almost identical. You have the opportunity to use your resume design to help you stand out in the crowd and ensure that you catch the eye of a busy (or sometimes tired!) recruiter.

Just remember that design doesn’t have to be complicated and nor does it have to be completely original (They say nothing is ever truly original after all!). Now, I am not suggesting that you rip off someone else’s design completely, but googling "resume design" or checking out my resume design board on Pinterest and using it for inspiration certainly can’t hurt! See what elements appeal to you and seem to fit the industry you are working in, then go for it!

Read this post to learn about 5 ways your resume design is failing you miserably!

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3. You have selected the wrong fonts

I wrote a post about this over at Think Bespoke. Sometimes people pick the wrong fonts for their resume and although off the bat it might not seem like a career-killer, if your resume is extremely difficult to read, it won’t get read. Remember that using resume design, you have the chance to be a little different to the rest of the candidates applying for the job – fonts are a great way to stand out in a pile of boring resumes. So whilst I suggest that you can get a little creative with your headers (and steer clear of epically dull fonts like Times New Roman), make sure that the primary text in your resume is super easy to read.

One suggestion is to use sans serif fonts. These are the fonts, like the one you are reading, that don’t have the little “flicks” at the ends of the letters. Generally I prefer sans serif fonts because they are more modern and are much easier to scan when I am in a hurry. In saying that, I wouldn’t completely rule out serif fonts (the ones that have the “flicks”). If your resume is otherwise fairly light in design, a serif font can create some interest. Just revert to point one, print your resume before you send it and check whether the font is easily readable, or whether perhaps you need to increase the size slightly, to make it a little more scannable.

4. Your design is too busy

You might be familiar with a quote from Coco Chanel – “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”. The same goes for your resume. I know, I know, I have just been telling you to up the ante when it comes to resume design, but there is such a thing as “too much”. Remember that you are still trying to create a clean, professional document that sells your skills and experience. You don’t want to make your design so overwhelming that it takes over.

This is why you will often hear me talk about “pops” of colour or “sprinklings” of design elements” Think of it like an ice cream sundae. For it to be an “ice cream” sundae, the main ingredient needs to be ice cream. You can then add your sprinkles and chocolate sauce, but it is still predominantly a bowl of ice cream. Your resume is the same – your content is the ice-cream and your design is the chocolate sauce and sprinkles. Just don’t get too heavy handed with the chocolate sauce or you’ll end up with a sugar hangover (and your recruiter will have a design hangover!)

5. You have too much text

My final point about your resume design is to ensure you include plenty of negative space. Negative space is the white space on the page that is not taken up by text or other elements. You can do this by adding bullet points, numbered lists, sectioned columns, headings, line breaks or paragraphs.

I still see quite a few resumes that are written like an essay or a story. Long-winded stories about previous jobs that carry on for pages. This is not the way to write a resume. Remember what I said about ensuring your resume is easy to read and scan? An essay type resume is definitely not as easy to scan as one that is well-designed and includes descriptive bullet points and lots of white space.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you head down the path of turning your resume into a shopping list of one word bullets, but I do want you to give some thought to how your information is presented on the page. Could you make it easier for your reader to consume? If so, do it!

So, there you have it!

That's 5 ways that your resume design is killing your chances at winning your dream job as well as some super easy tips to avoid that scenario from occurring. If you would like to know more or need a little help snapping up that perfect role, please check out my e-course, Detox Your Resume, which provides an actionable, step-by-step guide to creating a professional resume that will help you stand out in a crowd.


About the Author


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.

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