The “look” of your résumé bears alot of weight

When a well-designed and attractive-looking résumé crosses my desk, I notice it right away and tend to read it from start to finish.

Alternatively, when I’m faced with the typical boring and generic résumé that looks like all the other boring and generic résumés, I’m much less inclined to read it. Even if I do read it, my initial impression of the candidate is strongly influenced by how crappy their résumé looks.

It’s all about packaging

Whether you like it or not, you are immediately judged (rightly or wrongly) on the presentation of your résumé. It’s no different than being judged on the kind of attire you wore to the interview. You will be scrutinized on how you package yourself.

Employers don’t want to interview –  much less hire –  a boring, generic employee, so don’t send a boring, generic résumé. If you want to be perceived as a quality candidate and have your document actually read, you need to send a quality résumé.

Now “quality” is rather subjective but in this case it means that the document is well organized with a design that’s pleasing to the eye and grabs immediate and positive attention of the reader. 

So, if you have a plain-Jane résumé, it’s time to pretty it up.

Add some résumé bling…but not too much!

While you want a résumé that has some pizzazz, you can’t go too crazy with that either. Over designing a document will just give the human reader a headache and it might not get through the computer applicant tracking software system (ATS).

The general idea is to keep the design simple, tasteful,  uncluttered, and with plenty of white space to maintain its readability. Any design elements you choose should be used strategically, sparingly and consistently.

The main benefits of adding thoughtful and tasteful design to your résumé 

  • The résumé will stand out against your competitors and get positive attention
  • The résumé will be perceived as a “quality” document worthy of reading
  • YOU will be perceived as a “quality” candidate potentially worthy of interviewing
  • It helps draw the reader’s eye to the most important information
  • It helps to define the different sections of the résumé making it easier to read

Be mindful of how much design is enough

As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, over-designing your résumé can actually hurt it rather than help it. You can read about that here.

There are many design elements that you should NOT use as they might not be read properly by the ATS. These would be different kinds of embedded images, photos, graphs, shapes, and other things.

The kinds of design elements I’m addressing here are generally safe to use (if employed properly) and considered “ATS-friendly”.  This is really important if you are applying to jobs online and are required to upload your document.


#1:  FONTS

Fonts are the typefaces in serif and sans serif.  You can modify fonts by applying certain styles, effects, sizes, and colours.

There are “advanced” design functions like condensing and expanding text, but I’m not going to cover those in this article.

i) Serif vs Sans Serif

Allegedly, serif fonts are easier for the human to read because they have little “embellishments” or “tails” on the letters that help the eye to flow from one letter to the other. 

Sans serif fonts on the other hand, have no embellishments and tend to be “blockier” and have a “clean and modern” look.

If you want to go more “traditional” then pick a serif font. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter provided the font type is easy to read and is an appropriate “look” for your résumé.

Before you go all crazy with the fonts, you should first determine the kind of image you want to portray and then use the most suitable font.

Some recommended sans serif fonts are:

Calibri, Verdana, Gill Sans, Trebuchet MS, Helvetica

Note:  Arial is easy to read but it tends to be over-used so I avoid it.

Some recommended serif fonts are:

Cambria, Garamond, Book Antiqua, Constantina, Georgia

Note:  Times New Roman used to be the default font, so it is also another one that is over-used and dated. Just don’t use it.

Using more than 1 font type:

If you want to get a bit fancy, you could use a second and even third font that complement the main one.

These complementary fonts could be used in your name, the section headings, the employer name, the job titles, or anywhere else that would work.

Fonts to avoid:

Don’t use a font that will detract from the content and your message. These ones tend to have a strong design and can be hard to read and are often cliché and gimmicky. The ones that come to mind are Impact, Comic Sans, Chiller, Freestyle Script, and Courier but there are many others.

ii) Size:

The size you use will depend on the font type.  A 11 point in Calibri will look smaller than a 11 point Trebuchet MS.

The body of the résumé is typically anywhere from 10 to 12 point depending on the font type. This is where you will likely use the smallest font. 

You could go with a larger font for your name, section headings, the employer name, the job titles, the employment dates, or anything that would lend itself to a larger font.

For instance, you might go with 10 to 12 point for the body content, 11 to 12 point for the employer name/job title/employment dates, 12 to 14 point for the section headings, and 18 to 24 point for your name.

If you need to cram a lot of information onto two pages, then pick a font that is more on the narrow side, but make sure that it’s easy to read at the size you choose.

iii) Styles:

The main styles are bolding, Italics, and underlines.  You can also combine the styles and make something bolded, underlined, and italicized.

I tend to stick with bolding and italics. Underlines used to be problematic for the ATS so I just avoid it although the systems are more sophisticated now and it might be okay.

Font styles are best suited for the section headings, employer name, job title, employment dates and your name. If you use them in the body of the résumé keep it to a minimum and there must be good reason for it. 

I’ve seen résumés that have underlined large amount of text in the body copy throughout the document and it’s just plain annoying, unattractive, and hard to read.

iv) Effects

The two effects that are the most commonly used in a résumé are “Small Caps” and “All Caps”. 

See the difference?

These are best used in section headings, your name, and possibly the name of the employer and the job title in the experience section.

Don’t over use all caps because it will look like you’re shouting at the reader. Ditto for small caps although it’s not quite as loud.


Use a universal font that most computers can read. I stick with the basic MS Office fonts that came with my computer.  If you download a specialized font make sure that it is considered “universal” and looks good both on screen and on the printed page.


Colour is a great way to spice up a résumé. Colour can be added to fonts, borders, shading, an entire page, and even underlines. For instance, you can have the font in one colour and the underline in another colour.  

The vast majority of the résumé content should be in black or dark grey type which is easy to read on a screen or on a printed page. 

You could add colour to the areas you want to stand out or where you want to clearly define sections.  The more common areas to add colour are the section headings, your name, the employer name, and/or the job title.  

If you’re using a colour font, make sure that it’s dark enough to be seen easily with the naked eye. Yellow will be too light if it’s on a light background. You can use white font provided it is on a dark background so that it really “pops”.

Also, keep colours to a minimum and use no more than one or two to accent certain things. Too much colour will make the résumé too “busy”. 

If you’re going monochromatic, you might be able to get away with using a few shades of the same colour but again, keep it simple.


You can shade a word, a sentence, or an entire section of content. You can fill a box (that’s created using the outside border) with colour using the same function.  The colour can be translucent or opaque depending on how you are using it and if there’s text on top of it that needs to stand out.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Here’s an example of white text with a dark fill or shading (they use the same function – the paint can icon):

Shading will help you draw attention to something and really make it pop and can help to distinguish between different sections of the resume. 

#4:  Borders

There are all kinds of borders you can use – Top, Bottom, Left, Right, All Borders, Outside Borders, Inside Borders. You can put a border around the entire page. There is a multitude of options.

Borders are often used in the section headings but you could use them in larger blocks of copy. It all depends on the kind of effect you’re going for.

The example below shows how I used borders in the top header of the résumé which is where your name and contact information would go.

Using multiple design elements at the same time

So, as you probably guessed, you can incorporate different design elements together to maximize impact.

For instance, in the example below, the job title is in bolded, black Calibri all caps font. The employer name is in Book Antiqua font in blue bold while the location is not bolded but italicized.  The date is black, bolded Calibri.  The heading is in bolded, red, and underlined Calibri with the impact statements in black.  

Now, I’m not saying that the above example is ideal – I was simply showing how using different yet simple design elements can really spice up the look of a résumé.

Practice makes perfect

What I recommend you do is take some time to try out the different design options that I’ve discussed here and see what you like.

Just remember to not be heavy handed with it as that will be counter productive.  Then add your favourite design combinations to your current résumé and see how much more interesting it looks! I guarantee if you’ve done this properly, it will definitely entice the human to read it.

There’s more help below…

Create a résumé that converts into interviews

The scary fact is, only about 2% to 3% of résumés actually result in interviews. To boost your chances, you need a résumé that has a higher rate of converting into interviews. Click on the button below and get started on creating a higher-converting résumé.

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Hi! I’m Diana.

I draw from over 15 years recruitment, career/job search coaching, and sales/marketing experience to help all kinds of jobseekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired for their dream job.

Need help? That’s what I’m here for!

Are you in the midst of a job search and not getting the results you want? Or, are you employed and not actively looking but want to “get ready” in case your situation changes and you need to launch a job search?

Don’t get caught in the endless cycle of applying to jobs, hearing little to nothing, and becoming more frustrated.

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