Does Font Really Make a Difference on a Resume?

by Leslie Toth, MBA, CPRW, PHR, SHRM-CP

Fonts

People ask me this question all the time. Does the font really make a difference? Isn’t it the content that matters most?

Your resume is designed to reflect your best self; it is one of the places where people still tend to use fonts to express themselves. A good first step is to type in a legible, professional-looking font. You may be the perfect candidate, but employers will never know if they cannot even make out the text on your resume.

Since a prospective employer is looking at the resume for 15-20 seconds, you want a font that is aesthetically pleasing and grabs the reader’s attention. Your resume should be sophisticated in design with clear headings that stand out but don’t distract from the content.

There are hundreds of different fonts available, so selecting one for your resume can be a difficult process. Most job seekers stick with the serif fonts – these are a stylized font with tails and other decorative markings, such as Times New Roman, or a sans-serif font, which is a simpler no-frills font such as Arial.

The psychology of fonts says that serif fonts are associated with being reliable, impressive, respectable, authoritative, and traditional; while sans-serif fonts are viewed as universal, clean, modern, objective, and safe.

When you submit your resume to a job posting, your document will either be read directly by a person, or it will be scanned first into an electronic applicant tracking system. In either case, it’s critical that the fonts used make your words easy to interpret.

Simple, clean fonts guarantee the readability of your text. More ornate fonts may give your documents personality, and will certainly stand out from the crowd. But they may also cause the reader to strain their eyes or the letters may not be correctly interpreted by scanners. This can drop your resume to the bottom of the pile.

Here are the best font choices for job seekers, and the kind of message each one sends to potential employers.

Helvetica

This is a safe, no-fuss font. It doesn’t really lean in one direction or another. It feels professional, light hearted, and honest. Many like Helvetica because it does not have the tiny “feet” that adorn the “T” in Times New Roman. Unless you are applying for a design job, human resources professional appreciate Helvetica.

Proxima

If you want to stand out from the crowd and purchase a font, Proxima Nova is a good choice. It’s very similar to Helvetica with less of an edge. It has a softer feel and feels slightly rounder. This font is well liked among high level hiring managers.

Garamond

If you are very experienced, use Garamond to get your long resume to fit on 1 or 2 pages. Garamond is legible and easy for the eye to follow.

Didot

If you are looking for something intentionally upscale, try Didot. It is very tall, a little fancy, and a little feminine. It’s a good option for a fashion or design job, but not much else.

Comic Sans

I probably don’t even need to discuss this, but you should NEVER use Comic Sans on a resume. Don’t even look at it as an option. There is never a resume to use this font, even in creative fields. Although it gives off a whimsical feel, it is immature. Don’t look for a Comic Sans-like font. Stay away from anything like it for a resume.

Don’t make the mistake of picking a crisp, clean font that you then shrink down in size, just so you can cram as many words as possible onto your resume. Better to edit the content thoroughly to eliminate excess wording. The more you reduce the size of your font, the less legible it becomes. Further, scanning systems are more likely to misread small print.

For a font family such as Arial, using a font size of 10.5 – 12 points gives the best results. When in doubt, go with 11. It gives you excellent readability and allows you to fit a good amount of content into your resume.

After you decide on which font to go with, you’ll need to consider which style elements to add. This could include the use of bolding, italics, color, etc. For simplicity sake, opt for standard characters. Minimize the use of bolding except for section headers. Resist the urge to italicize words or phrases for effect: scanning systems might have problems reading such characters. Capital letters are OK in headers, but don’t write entire sentences in capitals or IT WILL LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THE READER.

The default color for your fonts should be black. Unless you’re a graphics professional or in the visual arts field, you are more likely to make a mess by using color than to produce an attractive end product.

Ultimately you want your resume to be read easily by people and electronic scanners alike. So give them something they can digest effortlessly. Count on your fonts to make your words visually crisp and count on your words for content that puts you at the top of the list of interview prospects.

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