Attention to Detail Is Important
Even in Something as Mundane as Resume Formatting
By Brian Sullivan
As we have discussed at many different points throughout the R&W Group Blog, a resume is a critical tool in any candidate’s job search. Not every job requires applicants to submit one, but most that would be considered “career” positions will almost certainly want to see every prospect’s resume. As we have mentioned in several past blogposts such as this one, resumes are a crucial part of making a first impression on a potential employer, encapsulating work, education, and volunteer experience with considerable detail while simultaneously limiting the length of the overall document to concisely contain its impact.
Resumes for different candidates, in different industries, and reflecting different phases of one’s career will look… different from one another. However, and we feel this doesn’t get enough attention in the world of staffing and career coaching, the importance of how a resume is formatted cannot be overstated. This post is not getting into specific fonts, margin sizes, or any of those elements. How someone crafts their resume, in both content and aesthetics, is a personal and subjective process. However, if you find something that works for you, be sure to consistently use that formula so your resume looks like a cohesive singular document as opposed to a text-based patchwork quilt. We hope these pointers will help narrow down specific areas that we’ve frequently seen candidates overlook in their resumes.
Introductory Information About Each Position
First, in your Professional Experience section, it is important to capture similar information in similar ways. Let’s first look at an example of what not to do. The following is an example from one resume. Please use your imagination that there would be corresponding bullet points for tasks, responsibilities, and accomplishments for both of these positions. For sake of space though, we’re just looking at the headings of two roles.
With these two entries, we get some great information about a candidate’s two most recent jobs, including one they are currently holding. However, the formatting leaves plenty to be desired. There isn’t anything “incorrect” about this, and the way both Ford and Coca Cola are listed is fine in isolation, but when these two positions are back-to-back, there are some glaring discrepancies.
The fonts are not the same
The use of font enhancers like bolding, italicizing, underlining, etc. varies
In the current position’s entry, the employer (Ford Motor Company) is listed first. In the previous entry, the position title (Accounts Payable Assistant) is first
In the current position’s entry, the range of dates has a hyphen. In the previous entry, the word “to” is spelled out.
In the current position’s entry, the location is listed (Dearborn, MI). In the previous entry, it is not included
Again, neither of these approaches are “right” or “wrong” on their own, but it is a problem seeing that care and attention to detail were likely not prioritized. Below is a combination of the two, illustrating how much nicer it looks when both entries are formatted the same and present consistent information.
Right away, we can see a major improvement just from a formatting perspective. Whether you choose to use Times New Roman, Arial, or any of the professional looking typefaces; whether you make company names bold or underline role titles; and whether you put all the text most closely together or create space between (for example) the company name and where they’re located, all of that is up for individual interpretation. What is important is that each position entry conveys the same information in the same order with the same sort of formatting considerations.
We prefer when the information is presented similar to this: the company name first, several tabs over is the city; the line below is the position title, and aligned with the location information are the days this position was held. Not only does it look professional but, if you held several positions at the same company, it does benefit you to have the company listed once, and then the appropriate dates alongside the corresponding position titles makes navigating the resume and understanding your career path intuitive. All that to be said, that’s merely personal preference; just as long as each position entry looks the same as every other, feel free to experiment with different layouts.
Duties and Responsibilities for a Position
As aforementioned, your job titles and dates aren’t going to be posted all by themselves. They are likely going to be followed by a handful of bullet points outlining your different tasks, projects, and achievements related to that role. There will be future posts from the R&W Group blog discussing verb tense, grammar, and other aspects of resume writing. But the formatting of the bullets is important. Take a look at this actual bad example below:
Just as with the previous section, the substantive description for this position entry is informative and not “wrong”. However, from a formatting perspective, there is room for improvement. Right away, we can spot the following:
Some text is different fonts, different sizes, or both
Some bullet points are not aligned with others
o To clarify (which this is coincidentally a great example), sub-bullets are fine if they directly relate to the main point preceding them. In this example though, confirming guest reservations and stocking merchandise is not related to working closely with other park services employees on service orders. These bullets are not providing more specific details; they’re just misaligned with the ones before and after them.
The spacing between lines is not always consistent
Sometimes, completely different bullets are introduced
o Again, for a sub-bullet (coincidentally, another great example), different bullets might be used to signify that they yield a different level of emphasis. In this example, while it’s debatable whether database maintenance is related to documenting issues, from an alignment and formatting perspective, this isn’t even a sub-bullet.
When we take those points into account, and make necessary formatting changes, we get this instead:
Consistency from One Position to the Next
We now see how making minor formatting changes can lead to a far more attractive-looking resume. Ultimately, that’s the goal: attract hiring managers to your resume so they spend more time learning about you and ideally give you the chance to interview for their opening. As we’ve mentioned in other blogposts, resume reviewers generously spend 30 seconds on average looking over a resume, and other estimates say the amount of time is likely much shorter before they discard it forever. Because of that, making it alluring is critical. Consistent and aesthetically pleasing formatting is a key factor.
We have talked about making the headings for each position entry consistent. We’ve also looked at making bullet point formatting uniform. The next necessary step is to ensure those decisions made to format one job are carried over to all the others included on your resume. Below, we’ve included a quick checklist that will hopefully help. It’s not all-encompassing, so feel free to add your own formatting items, but it should do the trick of getting you started.
Position Entry Headings
o Decide which content to include
Dates of Position
o How to make them consistent
Layout and order of selected details
Using two-letter abbreviations for states (e.g., “WI”) or full names (e.g., “Wisconsin”)
Indicating employment dates with numbers (e.g., “04/2016”) or words (e.g., “April 2016”)
Using a hyphen or the word “to” for the employment duration (e.g., “April 2016 – January 2019” vs. “April 2016 to January 2019”)
o Font considerations
What font to use
What font size to use
Font enhancers like bold, italics, and underlining
o Alignment consideration
How the information is presented
The ruler hashmarks on the top of the page and how they align to each respective bit of information
o Considerations between title information and bullet points
The type of bullets selected (e.g., dashes, arrows, solid dots, etc.)
Whether the bullets start immediately after the title information, or if there is an extra space
If there is a space, what font size is that space
Was it produced by pressing Enter twice, or pressing Enter once with the Add Space After Paragraph format setting enabled
o The text of the bullet points
Is the font and size the same throughout
Is alignment uniform
Are the bullet shapes the same
Are bulleted statements ended with a period or without
- Consistency Between Position Entries
o The space between entries
Is the space between positions 1 and 2 the same as between 2 and 3, etc.
o Giving each the same formatting features
Are position entry titles presented with the same information in the same order?
Are the same fonts, sizes, and font enhancers used in the same respective places
Are bullets from position 1 aligned with position 2, etc.
Is the bulleted text from one position to the next in the same font, size, color, spacing, etc.
The majority of this information is most applicable to the “Work Experience” section of a resume, but similar considerations should be made in other sections like Education, Skills, Accomplishments, and any other sections you might have on your resume. If you hold an Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree, for example, decide to showcase both the same way. Maybe you bold the names of the schools, below it including the sort of degree and your major in a nonbolded font, and below that include the completion dates in the same font but one size smaller. Whatever approach it is, just make sure to do it for both educational entries.
There will likely be future posts with more guidance on specific formatting tips for these other sections but, if you’re already thinking about the format of your “Professional Experience” section with this level of scrutiny, it will likely carry over to the others as well. At R&W Group, we are experts in helping to improve your resume so, if you get stuck, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’d be happy to help get your resume in order, discuss your background with you, and see if some of the employers we partner with might have a perfect-fit opportunity for you. We look forward to hearing from you!