There’s some debate about how many seconds a recruiter spends looking over a resume, but we can all agree that it’s not a lot. With such limited time to get important information across, anything you can do to make your resume easier to skim could mean the difference between the forward or toss piles.
So, after you’ve spent some time perfecting the content of those sections and bullet points, it’s time to make sure they’re as easy (and appealing!) to read as possible. Here are 12 little resume formatting tricks you can use to help recruiters and hiring managers get the most from your resume template during their six to 18 second scan.
1. Don’t Center Any of Your Text
Even your section headings should be aligned to the left. This improves readability because the eye naturally returns to the left margin once it’s ready to move on to the next line of text.
2. Align Your Dates and Locations to the Right
You can only fit so much different information (company name, job title, location, dates of employment) on one line of text before it gets unwieldy. To help separate out your information, make a separate column for dates and locations that is right adjusted. On most word processors, you should be able to just create a right-tab.
3. Don’t Justify Your Resume
Overall, using a justified setting for your bullets may make your resume look tidier, but it does nothing for readability. This setting leaves uneven gaps between words that ultimately make text harder to read, so for your bullets and resume overall, stick with regular ol’ left alignment.
4. Keep Everything the Same Size Font
Aside from your name, which should be a little bigger, the font size throughout your resume should be the same size to ensure readability. Rather than using font size for emphasis throughout your resume, use bolding, italics, and all-caps—sparingly, of course.
5. Pick Either Your Roles or Your Companies to Bold
Bolding of select words and phrases helps with scanning, but you don’t want to go overboard. So choose what to bold wisely, depending on the message you want to send. If your job titles effectively illustrate your path to management-level roles, bolding those might make the most sense. On the other hand, if you’re a new grad and most of your experiences are internships, you might benefit more from emphasizing the companies on your resume.
6. Use ALL-CAPS Very Sparingly
While it is an option for creating emphasis, all-caps is a lot harder to read and therefore harder to skim than text that isn’t capitalized. Save your all-caps option for section headings or your name.
7. Maximize the First 5 Words of Your Bullets
When skimming a resume, a recruiter is very likely going to be reading the first few words of a bullet, then moving on to the next line unless his or her interest is piqued. This means those first few words of your bullets are much more important than the rest. Make sure the first five words of each line make the reader want to keep reading. (Need help? These power verbs will make your resume awesome.)
8. Keep Bullets Under 2 Lines
Even if your first few words are the most interesting thing your recruiter has ever read, going over two lines per bullet is pushing it a bit. Try to keep your bullets short and sweet. (And yes, you should always use bullets, not paragraphs, to describe your experiences.)
9. Use Digits When Writing About Numbers
Using numbers in your bullet points quantifies results and helps recruiters better understand the scope of your work. (Here’s how to do it well.) Make these numbers easy to read by using digits (i.e., 30% versus thirty percent). It improves readability and—bonus—saves space.
10. Have a Separate “Skills” Section
Just to really drive the point home, piling up all your relevant skills into one section helps ensure that the recruiter sees them. You should still highlight your skills in the context of your work, but pulling them out into their own section doesn’t hurt.
11. Keep Your Resume Formatting Consistent
People can get pretty creative when they’re trying to fit all their relevant work experience into one page. That’s fine, but make sure that however you decide to do it, you keep your formatting the same throughout the document. Consistency helps with skimming, and if the recruiter wants to refer back to something, he or she will know where to look.
12. Try to Have Some White Space Left Over
Lastly, having some breathing room on your resume also helps with skimming. Different amounts of white space can signal to the reader that this is a different section or help emphasize the importance of something, such as your name or skills. And overall, it just makes the whole document less overwhelming.
Having your resume skimmed is a fact of life as you apply for jobs. So, make sure you maximize the experience and make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to find the right information—and send you along to the next step of the process.
TopicsCandidate Experience: Application Under Review , Resumes , Job Search , Syndication , Resumes & Cover Letters , reviewed
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Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author