Formatting Your Resume - The Arnold Group
How to Format Your Resume Correctly

Formatting Your Resume

How much do things like the grammar, fonts, word choices, and margins you use on your resume really matter? After all, hiring managers are likely going to spend less than twenty seconds looking at it during their preliminary scan.

The short answer is: it matters a lot!

Of the many reasons a recruiter or hiring manager will condemn a resume to the NO pile, grammar, word choice, and spelling are all at the top of the list. The font you choose, the margins you set and even the file name you use are all factors that contribute to whether your resume will receive further scrutiny and potentially land you an interview, or land in the NO pile, never to be seen again.

Resume Resources


A good rule of thumb is to remember a recruiter or hiring manager will generally do a preliminary scan of your resume within eight to fifteen seconds before deciding whether it goes in the YES, NO, or MAYBE pile. Simple mistakes such as grammar, word choice, or spelling errors will jump right off a page and ensure your resume goes straight into the NO pile; those mistakes not only show a lack of attention to detail, but also that you don't take enough pride in your work to proofread for mistakes. Don't miss out on a chance at landing your next job position due to an easily avoidable mistake.

Formatting Your Resume

File Name
The name of your resume file matters. It's the very first thing a recruiter or hiring manager sees when you send out your resume, so make sure the file name includes your name and the word "resume." Always double check if there is a specified file format, such as .pdf or .doc and save accordingly. Missing this step shows you cannot read instructions or follow directions. 

Margins
Standard margins are between 0.5 and 1.0 inches wide, and you should keep equal proportions on opposite sides of the page. Going any smaller than a 0.5 inch margin on any side runs the risk of having a portion of your resume get cut off if it is printed out - the last thing you want is for an important detail to be missed.

Line Spacing
The last thing you want is for your resume to look squished, so if you're running short on room, try to find ways to make your wording more concise. One way to do this is to eliminate any unnecessary words or details. Standard spacing is at the 1.0 mark, and you only want to run onto a second page if you have enough relevant experience to make it necessary.

Font Choice
Choose a font that looks professional and is easy for the eye to scan. You can never go wrong with a traditional serif font sized between 10pt and 12pt. Time New Roman is timeless, while a modern choice might be Cambria or Garamond.
Studies has shown that sans serif fonts are easier to read on screens. If you're uploading your resume online (as is standard these days) a good font choice might be Arial or Verdana. Always use standard fonts that will likely come with any computer so it appears exactly as you anticipate.

Color
In general, it is a good idea to forego color altogether and stick to the standard of black type on white paper. If you choose to incorporate color, stick to simple choices like accenting your headers. Never print on colored paper, stick to white, cream/ivory, or light grey. Overwhelming a recruiter or hiring manager with too much color shows a lack of taste.

Correct Grammar Matters

Inconsistent Tense
When referring to your current job position, use present tense - you are still working in that position. When referring to a previous positions you are no longer in, use past tense. Be sure to stick with the correct tense throughout your entire resume; switching tenses randomly looks unprofessional and signals that you didn't proofread very carefully. 

Possessives and Contractions
A common mistake many make is confusing words of possession with contractions of two other words. Confusing these two different kinds of words gives the impression you might not be qualified for the position. For example: "your" is possessive, it signifies ownership. The word "you're" is a contraction of the words "you" and "are" and implies action. 

Homophones
Homophones are two words that have different spellings and meanings, but sound the same. These words will be overlooked by spellcheck, because spelling isn't the problem. The problem is misusing the word, which will only be caught by an informed proofreader. Misusing words such as "two," "too," and "to" tells a recruiter or hiring manager you lack attention to detail.

Pronouns
Save space and skip using first-person pronouns such as "I." Your name should already be at the top of your resume, which tells the recruiter it's about you. Avoid third-person pronouns such as "he/she" when referring to yourself as well. Instead, start sentences or bullet points with an action verb.

Abbreviations
Abbreviations are not universal, even when they're career specific. They're also informal, which is not something you want to portray in a formal resume. The exception to this is the use of industry jargon. Using industry jargon appropriately adds to your credibility and demonstrates your industry-specific knowledge.

Complex Sentences
Recruiters and hiring managers are not going to take the time to decipher a long, complicated complex sentence. Instead, divide the points into separate sentences of their own and eliminate extra unnecessary details.