Designing the Perfect Resume
By Pat Criscito, CPRW

Face it . . . no matter how well your resume is written, if its design is less than neat and easy to read or isn't a good match for your industry, the chances are good that it won't get read. Busy executives have little time to read the hundreds of resumes they receive every month. In fact, the average time a recruiter or hiring manager spends with a resume is less than one minute. Something in that first minute must entice him or her to continue reading. Here's how to make your resume one of them.

First, the overall design of your resume must reflect the expectations of your industry or occupation. For instance, if you are an accountant, banker, financial analyst, or senior manager, then your resume should be conservative, like the sample in Figure 1. Avoid decorative fonts and the use of creative layouts. Your industry expects you to be more traditional and conservative, more organized and analytical. This is reflected in a crisp, clean resume appearance with few "bells and whistles".

On the other hand, if you are an artist or graphic designer, you want your resume to reflect your creativity. Why not scan one of your paintings and make it a watermark in the background of your resume, like the one in Figure 2. A cartoonist could scan a drawing and make it a part of the design of the resume. Get creative. It is this ingenuity that is your strongest selling point. You have the license to use fun paper colors and designs and to lay out your resume in unusual ways.

Most occupations fall somewhere in between these two extremes. You have some license to be creative, but only some. For instance, you can use graphic lines in unusual ways to make different sections of your resume stand out, like the sample in Figure 3. This resume reflects a more dynamic personality and would be good for sales and marketing jobs. You can choose a font that is more contemporary, but continue to keep readability in mind. No matter how creative you choose to be with the design of your resume, you still want the reader to be able to read your words.

Now that you have your reader's attention, force him or her to read all the way to the bottom. One of the tricks of the advertising trade--and your resume really is an ad--is to use white space and balance to force the reader's eyes to begin in the upper left-hand corner and continue until they hit the bottom right-hand corner.

To accomplish this, use smaller amounts of white space to divide items within sections and more white space (or graphic lines) between sections. Just make sure you use exactly the same amount of white space between each major section or within sections. This consistency makes the page easy on the eye and therefore easier to read.

Use graphic lines or sufficient white space after your name and address in order to draw your reader's eyes directly to your qualifications. Using a larger, bolder typeface for your name is another way to set it apart from the text of your resume. Think about it . . . your name is really the brand name of the "product" you are selling, and all good ads are designed in such a way that the name of the product is more prominent than the description of the product.

The first section the reader should see is a brief description of who you are. A qualifications or profile section gives your reader a "quick and dirty" look at your background and abilities (see Figure 3). Keep it short. It should be an appetizer that makes the reader hungry to read the rest.

Which goes next, your education or your experience? Well, it depends. How long have you been out of school? What kind of experience do you have? Is your experience your strongest qualification for the job? Then put it first. Are you a recent graduate with little experience? Then put your education first. Eventually, your education will drift toward the bottom of your resume as you gain more and more relevant experience.

Which goes first, your degree or your college? Well, it depends--everything in the resume business "depends"! Look at the difference in emphasis between these two examples:

HARVARD, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Master of Business Administration

Little Known College, Backwoods, Colorado

If you attended a well-known college that will enhance your primary job qualifications, then list it on the first line. If your degree is more important than the college, put the degree first. Whatever you do, be consistent. If you choose to put the college first, then do it every time. This helps your reader find information more quickly.

The same goes for your experience. If you were an Assistant Export Coordinator for IBM Corporation, then put the company first. You also put the company name first if your job titles are not relevant to your current job search, no matter where you were employed. As a general rule, however, it is better to put your job title on the first line and the company name on the second, especially when you can show a good progression in experience.

Avoid a section at the bottom of your resume for personal information. Most employers would rather not know your marital status, sex, health, etc., since they could be accused of discrimination. That little line that states "references available upon request" is a waste of valuable white space. It is assumed that you will provide references if asked.

What about designing your resume for scannability? That's a subject for an entire article, but suffice it to say that you don't want to get creative with a scannable resume. It must have traditional fonts, few italics, no underlines, and light-colored paper with no designs in the background. My Barron's book, e-Resumes, has three chapters devoted to scannable resumes in case you want a more thorough description of the subject.

Since 1980, I have written and designed more than 10,000 resumes, and in that experience, I have discovered that the design of your resume is just as important as the words you use. If the design of your resume doesn't grab the recruiter's attention long enough to get read, then your words have little meaning. However, once you have your reader's attention, the words need to keep it. Don't neglect your content. Make the sentences of your resume clear and powerful. Potential employers want to know what you can do for them, which means they want to know what you have achieved before.

Quantify! Use numbers when you can. If you are in sales, then it is easy to say you exceeded your sales quota by 150% every month. Other careers are not as easy to quantify, but you have surely accomplished something that went beyond the call of duty. List accomplishments, skills, qualifications and not just job duties.

Now you have a resume that will grab the reader's attention and keep it, increasing your chances of getting an interview, which is the purpose of a good resume. Happy job hunting!
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