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Does your resume need a quick makeover?

Resumes are the proverbial calling card during the job search. Give your resume a quick makeover with these five tips. Bonus: the first four tips only take about five minutes to implement.

We all know how important the resume is during the job search but what if you could improve the readability of your resume with these five quick makeover tips? You don’t have to be a graphic designer to improve the way your resume looks. Bonus: The first four tips should only take about five minutes to implement!

Caroleen’s Cringeworthy Story

I still remember the time I overhauled my resume for my first career transition. I hired an HR consultant and I wanted to show her how prepared I was by bringing a top-notch resume! I cleared my calendar the day before and spent eight solid hours working on it. I’m so embarrassed to even think about it. Let me share a few of the things I did not-so-great:

  • The formatting was SO bad. I was so bent on my resume being one page that I used microscopic font. I crammed as much text on the page as possible like it was a jigsaw puzzle. I used a nonstandard font that to this day, is still difficult to render and *I* created the resume!
  • I had a photo on it. Umm… There’s too much wrong to even discuss here. In the world of LinkedIn, people can look you up. I would have been better off with just a LinkedIn URL.
  • I had infographics all over it. I’m not kidding. I had graphs with circles and dots all over it like I was delivering a mini PowerPoint presentation in my resume. {Cringe.}
  • I wasted valuable real estate putting my references and all of their contact information. If a company needs or wants references, they’ll ask you for them. Plus, you shouldn’t be sharing your references’ personal info on every job application and resume.

A wonky resume like this would never upload into an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which basically kills my chances of getting through to a human. If you’ve got a few cringe-worthy resume versions in your files, don’t worry! The resume is always a work in progress. As long as you keep learning from your mistakes and improving your resume, you’re good. Progress over progression. So give your resume a quick resume with these five tips and keep charging forward!

Tip #1 – Margin – Leave 1″ all around

Our eyes need a break. When we push the font all the way to the edge, it makes everything feel crowded and really full. The standard margins when you open up a new Microsoft Word document are 1″ all the way around which is a good place to start.

Tip #2 – Font size – Use at least 10 point, 12 is better.

Just like we don’t want things to feel crowded, we also don’t want people to struggle to read your resume. Don’t make it an eye chart. Use a decent sized font of at least 10 point and 12 point is even better.

Don’t get hung up if your resume is longer than one page. If you’re mid-career and have been out working for over a decade, chances are, it’s hard to fit all the relevant experience on one page. If you just graduated from college and haven’t worked at all, then one page will do.

For reference, I’ve been out working for 20 years and my resume is four pages. Some people poo-poo this. I’m sure to put all the relevant skills and experience on the front page but then they can follow up on my work history and education if they want to flip the pages for more. I tend to apply and work at good-sized companies that all use the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). For me, I need a longer resume to make sure to have enough keywords and terms to get past the computer filters and to a human.

You’ll find plenty of debate on this so go with what’s right for you. If you run around with a one-page resume and get no responses, it might be worth changing it up. Most companies, even smaller ones, use some type of automated filtering or ATS these days.

Tip #3 – Font – Use a standard font like Calibri or Arial

Resumes should be professional and you don’t want to distract the reader with unusual or unreadable fonts. The resume isn’t the time to get cute and use some obscure font that looks like a kid’s handwriting. You also don’t want to jam up the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with a font that the computer can’t read or digest.

I recommend Calibri as it’s the Microsoft Word standard font now. Anyone using Word will be used to seeing this font. Both Calibri and Arial are widely used and easy to open on most computers and devices.

There’s debates about serif (like in Times New Roman) vs. sans serif (like Calibri/Arial). For me, I already have too much to think about. You can spend the rest of your life researching fonts but for the resume, grab a standard one and call it a day.

Tip # 4 – Headers – Use ’em and bold ’em.

Headers draw the attention of human readers and help show clean section breaks. For section headers like Skills, Experience, Education, etc., I like centering them and using all capital letters.

For job titles, I like to bold to really highlight and draw attention. After all, if a human is skimming your resume, they’re going to be glancing at your previous job titles to make sure you’re a good fit for the job. Make sure the job titles really pop!

Tip #5 – Bullets – Improve readability and create concise statements.

Bullets improve the readability of resumes and make it easier for humans to skim. For the writer (you), it also helps ensure your thoughts are clear and concise. A resume may only get reviewed for a few seconds so you want that time to count. Start each bullet with active and impactful words to grab the reader’s attention.


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