résumésAvoid density with a second page

As a law stu­dent, I went on a few job in­ter­views. At one, the in­ter­viewer’s first com­ment was “It’s so un­usual that I see a ré­sumé with­out any typos.”

“Are you se­ri­ous?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “prob­a­bly 90% of the ré­sumés I get have ty­pos. And that in­cludes the ones we get from the top schools.”

I got the job. There were surely bet­ter-qual­i­fied can­di­dates. But they dam­aged their chances with sloppy ré­sumés. The irony is that those peo­ple, who most needed to hear the in­ter­viewer’s feed­back, weren’t in the room. Be­cause they never got an interview.

Con­sider your­self warned.

This is a book on ty­pog­ra­phy, not ty­pos. But the point is the same—faced with a stack of nearly iden­ti­cal ré­sumés and lim­ited time, read­ers will make judg­ments that aren’t based on sub­stance. Whether you think that’s fair is ir­rel­e­vant. It hap­pens all the time.

The biggest prob­lem I see with ré­sumés is that they’re un­com­fort­ably dense with text. I take this to be the in­flu­ence of the myth that a ré­sumé can only be one page long. Un­less a po­ten­tial em­ployer de­mands one page, feel free to make your ré­sumé longer, if nec­es­sary. This will ease your ty­po­graphic problems.

Three caveats, however:

  1. Never as­sume a reader will get past the first page. Al­ways put the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion on page one.

  2. When I say “longer, if nec­es­sary”, re­mem­ber you’re writ­ing for a po­ten­tial em­ployer, not your mom. My ré­sumé fits on two pages. I’ll bet yours can too.

  3. Stu­dents, this ad­vice doesn’t ap­ply to you. You’ve only got one page of ma­te­r­ial. Really.

  1. Page mar­gins too small; line length too big.

  2. Body text set in a sys­tem font (Calibri).

  3. Head­ings and gray boxes are too large rel­a­tive to body text.

  4. Key in­for­ma­tion—the where and when—is buried.

  5. Ugly bul­leted lists.

  1. Page mar­gins big­ger; line length smaller.

  2. Cal­ibri re­placed with Eq­uity and Con­course.

  3. Head­ings no longer dom­i­nate the page.

  4. Names of schools and em­ploy­ers are eas­ily noticed.

  5. Gen­tler list bullets.

  6. Nonessen­tial in­for­ma­tion moved to sec­ond page.

Keep in mind that one way a ré­sumé il­lus­trates your virtues is by draw­ing con­nec­tions be­tween you—whom the reader knows noth­ing about—and var­i­ous schools and em­ploy­ers, which the reader may have heard of. The im­plied syl­lo­gism goes like this: Boxer Bed­ley & Ball is an elite em­ployer. This per­son worked at Boxer Bed­ley & Ball. There­fore, this per­son is an elite-qual­ity can­di­date. Don’t make your reader strug­gle to dig out the names of those schools and em­ploy­ers—make sure they’re im­me­di­ately visible.

In this re­vi­sion, the vi­sual em­pha­sis has shifted from the head­ings—who cares about ré­sumé head­ings?—to the sub­stance. This also makes the ré­sumé more skim­ma­ble, which is al­ways a good thing.

I treat a ré­sumé as a spe­cial kind of let­ter­head. Re­view those pro­duc­tion tips.

Past that, re­sist the urge to buy pa­per spe­cially mar­keted for ré­sumés—the kinds that come in odd col­ors (e.g., green, pink, gray) or tex­tures (e.g., parch­ment, mar­ble, linen). High-qual­ity busi­ness-let­ter­head pa­per from the sta­tionery store works best. Any­thing more elab­o­rate looks overbaked.

In­creas­ingly, em­ploy­ers and re­cruiters are ask­ing for ré­sumés in PDF for­mat. In PDF, good ty­pog­ra­phy sur­vives; good pa­per is irrelevant.

by the way
  • Ré­sumé is the orig­i­nal spelling and still pre­ferred. Re­sumé is ac­cept­able. Re­sume is com­mon but wrong. How do you type the é char­ac­ter? See com­mon ac­cented char­ac­ters.

  • Noth­ing beats hav­ing an­other per­son—or even bet­ter, more than one—edit your ré­sumé. But in­sist that each re­viewer pro­pose at least three ed­its, so they don’t re­turn with the chip­per-but-use­less “Looks great to me!”

  • If you’re ap­ply­ing for a de­sign job, it’s en­tirely fair that you be judged in part by the ty­pog­ra­phy of your ré­sumé. While this seems self-ev­i­dent, I still see an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of de­sign ré­sumés set in sys­tem fonts. Con­fi­den­tial to all of you: enough already.

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