Beyond the Content: The top 14 tips to make your resume look darn good

Let’s be honest with each other, resume tips are a dime a dozen. In this sentence alone, each word is a link to a different resume tip article. And each and every single article tends to focus on the content of the resume with hardly any practical advice about the visual design of the document. I’m going to assume you already have a fantastic resume. If you don’t, click on literally any word in that sentence to get tips about content for your resume.

We’re going to work on some advanced-level stuff.


The first rule about visual design of documents is also one of the most important rules of User Experience. According to User Experience (UX) designer Jordan Julien:

It’s often easy to think of a user journey like a storybook. If you open most books to any given page and select a word, you’ll be met with an abundance of context on the page. You’ll usually see the title of the book, the chapter, the page number, and the word will appear contextually within a sentence, paragraph, and page. Ensure that users are contextually aware of where they are within their journey.

~Jordan Julien

Why should your resume be any different? Caps in this case serve as your chapters. They should be strong and should take the reader firmly–but gently–by the hand as they walk the reader along your life story. While it doesn’t matter if you use Proper Caps, ALL CAPS, or Sᴍᴀʟʟ Cᴀᴘs, make sure to keep them consistent.

2) Never Underestimate Styling

The history of Italics is actually rather interesting, it’s a tale of friendship, a falling out, and murder by blunt force trauma to the head with a metal club. Back in 1502, Francesco Griffo created italic font for Aldus Manutius. After years of a successful partnership, they had a falling out–and a serious one at that. Griffo did not recieve the credit he deserved from Aldus for creating the fonts in the first place. Then Aldus’ son married Griffo’s daughter.

We know nothing of the circumstances that led up to the fight [between Griffo and his son-in-law], but we do know that it concluded with Griffo apparently beating him to death with a metal bar. Griffo disappears in 1518, some claiming that he was found guilty and hanged for his crime.

Fortunately, Griffo is best remembered for his contribution to type design. Unfortunately for his son-in-law, he married the daughter of a bellicose type designer.

I Love Typography Blog

Click for source

So what does this story show us? When these weights and styles were created, they served the purpose of helping to direct the eye around a page so that the reader could get the message in the right order. Bolds, Italics, and Underlines serve the same purpose in a resume. Using, for example, the job as bold, the city and position in italics, and the dates in regular roman (no styling) type, helps guide the reader and tells this story: “I worked for this company in this position during these dates.”

No need for extra words when the type can do it for you.

Don’t let the death of Aldus’ son in law be for naught. Use styling.

3) Your font speaks volumes about you

A few weeks ago, I had an article as a part of Why Mondays Are Cool’s DESIGNated Drivers series about fonts and their impact on perception and credibility. Basically, certain types of fonts convey the message in different ways–some more credible, some not so much. According to a New York Times study, the most trustworthy font was Baskerville, and the least was Comic Sans. (Side note, STOP USING COMIC SANS).


So what fonts are recommended for a resume?

  • Times New Roman – The classic used by almost literally everyone. It’s a bit on the safer side, but not a bad choice.
  • Garamond – The font I use for my resume. It’s a little bit different, but legible with a classic, trustworthy letter form.
  • Verdana – The font preferred by IKEA, Verdana looks good, and is legible
  • Arial – A good, neutral font on every computer. As a sans serif, it’s a bit hard to read quickly and can take up lots of space due to the larger letter size.
  • Calibri — perfect if you’re a boring individual with no creativity and want your resume to exude ennui from every orifice of it’s two-dimensional and fibrous being. But acceptable.

Just remember, even at 11 points, some fonts take up more space than others. The trick is to pick a good-looking font that hits the Goldilocks spot between space utilization and trustworthiness.

4) Make it a Bullet Point Party

We hate to read long paragraphs. We would rather go solo skydiving as complete novices with a penguin strapped to our backs while being pursued by a movie villain intent on seeing us become a gelatinous splotch on the ground than read long paragraphs. When it comes to a resume, paragraphs are the quickest way to get a first class ticket to trash can city.

Bullet points are awesome. They keep everything concise, and help guide the reader to the next thing in a quick and skimmable manner. But how long should the bullets be? Ideally, try to keep each point to no more than one line long. Anything longer looks amateurish.

That being said, if you worked directly for the President on a project of national importance that you can *legally* brag about on a resume you can afford to be a maverick. Use two lines.

5) Complete sentences are your sworn enemy

As we all know from first grade, a sentence is made up of two basic parts: a subject and a predicate. If, for some reason, you don’t remember, refer to the following handy and highly scientific diagram for a quick reminder:

Click for source

Well that’s fine and dandy. But what does that mean for a resume? Well, in a resume, our orange and blue be-caped friend fell prey to the villain who wanted to see us become a gelatinous puddle I mentioned earlier. He’s gone.

In a resume, you start with a verb–ideally one of these Power Verbs. After that, you finish the sentence. It’s almost like an implied “I” or “We.”

Now sometimes, it’s a little harder in sections that don’t quite have bullet points. In those cases, use any combination of the following design elements:

  • Colons: :
  • Semicolons: ;
  • Em and En Dashes: – —
  • Commas: ,
  • Parentheses: ()
  • Pipes: |
  • Dots: •

6) Should I have horizontal lines to separate sections?

The short answer: No, not really, no.

The long answer: Let’s talk design for a second. The main point of document and readability design is to help guide the eye–if you haven’t gotten tired of hearing it yet you will soon. Horizontal lines do help visually separate the sections of a resume and help draw concrete boundaries around material. There’s only really a problem if your resume is cluttered.

If that’s the case, then you don’t want to have lines. Remember, the goal here is to make a resume look good. Cluttered is not good. Lines are like Coke products; they’re nice to have but aren’t needed. Plus, if you want something minimalist you’ll be overdoing it.  It’s better to have a solid, minimalist resume than a mediocre one that’s over-designed.

Here, I’ll leave it to your judgement.

7) Color is irrelevant

Every time I’m reviewing resumes, someone asks me about having their name or a line or some design element in color. Each and every time, I sigh and give them pretty much the same response:

I mean…it’s ok…but it won’t do much of anything to really help you. In many cases the recruiters will be printing your resume in black and white; and even if you take it to a career fair, that little splash of color won’t help you much unless you’ve got the substance to keep their attention after you gain it from them.

~Me, almost every semester to a mentee

Yes, a splash of color might make a recruiter pause a little longer. But more often than not, given the deluge of paper being shoved in their poor faces by those desperately looking for a job, it won’t do jack diddly to help your case. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t if you really want to. Just be aware of a few basic rules

  1. Keep it conventional: deep reds, brilliant yellows and golds, and calming blues and greens work quite nicely as a refreshing color pop. If you’re at a university career fair, then your school colors will also do nicely. But unless you’re at East Carolina University (Royal Purple and Old Gold), keep that purple the heck off your resume!
  2. Keep it minimal: remember, you’re gunning for a splash of color. Not a stream nor a trickle–and certainly not a deluge–a splash. Use it as an accent color for your name, or for lines. There aren’t many places where color works, use it sparingly and smartly lest it backfire on you.
  3. Be sure that your resume looks good without color

8) Make your margins narrow

A standard margin size for a Word document is 1 inch. That’s half an inch of space you’re losing. If you’re still using 1 inch margins:

  1. Open Word
  2. Go to the Page Layout tab
  3. Click on the margins button
  4. Click on narrow
  5. Celebrate with a quesadilla party
Click for source

9) Let’s talk about your email address

Webcomic “The Oatmeal” explains the perceptions of email domains the best. The best domain to have is either your own ( or gmail ( If you’re a university student, your .edu email address is perfect!

Now, if you have an or worse: an or We need to talk.

Click here and fill out the form, it’s time to take you into the 21st century with a Gmail account. Gmail is faster, and substantially more respectable than any other email domain. Luckily, most of you have seen the light and already have an account.

10) The right side of your resume is an untamed wild of unused space

After the secession of the Southern States, President Lincoln passed the Homestead Act of 1862–which resulted in 270 million acres ended up being settled on, with the last homestead being in the State of Alaska in 1988. All anyone needed was to be over the age of 21, live on the land for 5 years, build a home, and make improvements to the land, and pay $18. Whoever did that received 160 acres.

Take a moment and picture in your mind’s eye the rolling fields, the bison grazing on the land, a crackling fire with “Home on the Range” playing softly in the background. As a thunderstorm gently rumbles in the distance, the cattle begin to stir. The smell of petrichor permeates the crisp autumnal air. Around you is nothing by empty space, free for the taking.

Click for source

Now take a look at the right side of your resume. See all that empty space?

If your resume is the United States, you are President Lincoln–pass your own homestead act and start thinking about how you can take advantage of all that white space!

11) First build out, then build down

Now that you’ve started taking the space on the left and right of the resume into account, it’s time to get acquainted with one of the most useful keys on your keyboard for creating a resume:

Click for source

The tab key. Too often in an education section I’ll see this:


That is two lines too long. By using a combination of the tab key and spacing, you can show more information than that block of text–and have it fit in two lines. Don’t believe me? Just watch:

Old vs. New
Old vs. New

Below is one way to take better advantage of the space on the resume. I was able to pare it down from four lines to two–and add the Major GPA. What’s more, this presentation tells a story that the eyes naturally follow by starting with the degree and going to the graduation date, then down to the GPAs and ending at the school.

In general, it’s a good idea to first try to go horizontal before trying for the vertical. Every line is precious.

12) Keep it looking balanced

Imagine an invisible line running down the middle of your resume. While it’s impossible to get a perfectly symmetrical resume, it’s a good idea to try your best to get it to look balanced. A resume that’s lopsided to one side will simply look bad. There’s not much more to this one, it’s that simple.

13) If you have a blank second page, for the love of all that is good and loving in this universe, get rid of it.

14) Keep white space in mind

Clutter is stressful.

We don’t like it.

The TV show “Extreme Hoarders” shows what happens when trying to hold on to as much as possible gets out of hand. And the results aren’t pretty:

Click for source

If you try to cram too much on there–or if you don’t use your space wisely, you too can have a resume that resembles that picture.

To compare with the wise use of space:

Click for source

Let’s be honest, the second picture looks so much better. It’s free of the useless and makes it simple to hone in on the important details.

I can’t speak for you and say what’s important or not on your resume. But what I can say is that it’s up to you, to read those job descriptions and filter out the needed information.

A resume isn’t a monolithic, unchanging landmark. It’s a piece of paper, as flexible and ephemeral as your experiences and life. With just a little bit of design sense, you can take your resume from well-written to well-written, good-looking, and not needed anymore.

Now go out there and get a job!

_ _

Feature image by Bec Brown

Do you like what I write? Check out my 140 character rants on Twitter


One Comment Add yours

  1. nathanaeldehn says:

    Great advice!

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