Résumé Design

An essential component of creating a résumé is ensuring that it is easily scannable. That means that in the brief time that a potential employer reviews your document, the essential information that person needs to have stands out. An appropriately designed résumé should conform to the conventions of a résumé in the field, organize relevant information in a logical way, and utilize design elements in order to highlight the essential information for a potential reader.


How can I tell if my document is designed appropriately?

There are several components of document design that you should consider as you craft your résumé. The first is keeping in mind the way that people read documents–from left to right, beginning at the top. Therefore, you should think of your document in four quadrants:

Document quadrants

Brizee, A. (Contributor). (2013). résumé split into quadrants. Retrieved 7 September 2014 from Purdue OWL.

The first quadrants that will be read, and where the reader will pay most attention, are quadrants 1 and 2. The essential information that you’re trying to convey should be readily available in these quadrants. Typically, this information includes your name, your education, and your most recent job history.

Another consideration is using clear visual hierarchies. Confusing organization typically provides the same information inconsistently, uses white space differently, or has inconsistent formatting. Clear organization places similar information in similar places on the document, with consistent headers, spacing, and indentation.  Also, there should be information on both sides of the page so that the reader’s eye is drawn across the page instead of localized only in the first and third quadrants. 

Finally, you should consider the text design of the document. The choices that you make regarding these issues (e.g., which font to use, how to place emphasis) can provide additional emphasis to the essential information that an employer needs to gain at a quick glance over your document.

How can I revise the design of my résumé?

Keeping in mind the quadrants and your reader will help you with overall organization of your résumé. You should think of the essential information that you need to convey in order to grab attention from your reader. If you’re applying for a tutoring position at USF and you had previous tutoring experience, that should likely be placed in the first and second quadrant, even if chronological order would have your serving job at Chili’s in this location.

In order to avoid issues with organization, you should use headers that are consistently formatted using the same font and that categorize similar information. For example, sample categories might include education, work experience, extracurricular activities, or relevant coursework, depending on the function of the résumé. When formatting headers, you should include more white space above the header than below it, to demonstrate that the information that comes after the header is relevant to that category.

Underneath these headers, you can organize your résumé into columns using the tables function or Styles in Microsoft Word. Using this function will allow you to maintain a clear and consistent organization that draws the reader’s attention across the page.

Finally, font choices can bolster the likelihood that your résumé will be effective. You should always choose a font that is not only legible, but also easy to read. If a font is cramped or has particular associations can cause you to lose credibility as a serious professional.  Because American audiences are used to reading serif fonts, you should use them for the main text of the résumé. On the other hand, sans serif fonts are unexpected and thus cause the reader to pause. Using these fonts for the information that you want a reader to pause on (such as your name and the headings) can guide the reader to review the résumé in the way that you want them to.

Additionally, providing consistent emphasis with text bolding, italicizing, capitalization, or underlining can draw a reader’s attention to specific elements. However, USING ALL FOUR IS DISTRACTING AND MAY BE OFF-PUTTING FOR YOUR READER. If you will be using one of these text elements to emphasize certain material, do so sparingly and choose one consistent style. Similarly, depending on the situation for the résumé, you may want to make sparing use of color (e.g. for headings). As always, you should make this decision rhetorically–do research on the employer to determine whether creativity is appropriate, or whether a standard black and white document is your best bet.