Resume Appearance: Rules for Effective Resume Formatting

by Marie Plett

Resume Appearance

When formatting your resume, it is important to highlight the most relevant information and design a visually pleasing document. Follow these rules to ensure a powerful impact.

1) Keep the Most Important Information First, and the Least Important Information Last

The importance and relevancy of your information should be listed in descending order with the least relevant information at the bottom of the resume. Focus on the top third of the page, as this is the first, and often only, section hiring managers look at. Your most important and compelling information needs to be highlighted here. After an introductory statement or paragraph, you need to provide the credentials that employers will be most interested in. Are you planning a career change? List your transferable skills in this section. Did you just earn your degree? Place your relevant education information in this section. Maybe you have a list of exceptional achievements you would like to highlight in this area, or maybe your current job is so important that you should just begin into your work history. Whatever the situation, prioritize your credentials and DO NOT save the best for last.

2) Choose the Best Way to Format Your Work History

The three most common resume formats are Chronological, Functional and Hybrid.

Chronological resumes list your professional experience in chronological order, starting with the most recent job. In this case, your professional background would begin immediately after the introductory objective or summary because your best achievements and skills were demonstrated through a solid work history. This is the best format to use if you have enjoyed relevant and consistent employment with no significant gaps in between jobs. This is also a great format for demonstrating career growth if you have moved up through the ranks with each new job.

Functional resumes focus more on your skills by providing special categories in which to showcase them. A good strategy is to list different job functions of the position you are applying to (ex: Team Leadership, Office Management, Organizational Development, etc.), and write paragraphs or list accomplishments that support your expertise in those areas. By sectioning off and creating more content regarding your best strengths, you can shorten your work history significantly. This is a helpful technique for those who are seeking a career change, or for those who have gaps or inconsistencies in their work history.

Hybrid resumes combine chronological and functional formats. On some level (no matter how subtle), most resumes end up being a hybrid format. After the header, there will usually be an introductory objective or qualifications summary, followed by a section that advertises specific skills or achievements, which is then followed by a chronological work history.

3) Break Up the Monotony

No one likes to read giant paragraph blocks or long bullet point lists. It's overwhelming to look at and boring to read. Therefore, be sure that your paragraphs and bullet lists don't exceed six lines. When your entire resume looks like a bullet list with a couple of titles, add some paragraphs. If your resume is nothing but paragraphs, be sure to add some bold titles and consider adding some bullet lists where appropriate. Mix it up to create visual interest.

One effective technique is to break up your job descriptions into two parts: day-to-day duties and achievements. Write out your duties in paragraph form, and highlight your achievements with bullets or bold face for maximum impact.

4) Make Sure the Text Fills the Page Appropriately

Many people make the mistake of using left title formats or generic Microsoft templates for their resumes. The left title format, where you use almost a third of the left hand page to list titles or dates, is a good way to fill up page length when you don't have enough content. Therefore, this format is best suited for entry level candidates. If you have significant experience, you should use the entire width of the page to describe your background rather than adding pages unnecessarily.

On the other hand, be careful not to overload the page with text. Your resume should have enough white space to keep your text readable. To keep your document printable, frame all of your text (including the header and footer) appropriately by keeping all indents at least .5" wide.

Just remember that resumes are like snowflakes - no two are ever exactly alike. Make sure that you present your unique credentials in the most flattering way possible.

Marie Plett is a certified professional resume writer through the Professional Association of Resume Writers (PARW). She founded Aspirations Resume in 2003 and her advice has been published in the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald.

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