Here are tips on formatting a modern and visually appealing resume.

Are you putting together your resume? To begin, you'll want to gather the following information: 

  • Employer names

  • Educational history

  • Volunteerism

  • Professional engagement

  • Transferable skills

Unsure of how to proceed with formatting from there? No worries. We've got you covered. 

Read on to learn the ins and outs of how to format a resume with tips to support you as you take the first steps towards creating your resume with a modern and visually appealing look. 

How to format a resume: the 3 common resume formats

With the many online resume templates available today, there are several resume formats to choose from. However, just because you see them and they're available online doesn't mean you should use them. Aside from very rare circumstances, there are really only three resume formats you should be considering:

  • Reverse-chronological

  • Functional/Skills-based

  • Hybrid/Combination

Chronological resume format

A chronological resume, also referred to as a reverse-chronological resume, places your most recent work history first and works backward from there. Employers are most interested in your career's current achievements, so this format allows them to easily locate the information they're seeking.

The reverse-chronological format is the most widely used format, making it the preferred choice among recruiters and hiring managers. It's also the format that an employer's applicant tracking system, or ATS, can properly parse information from. Due to these factors, it's often recommended that you use a chronological format whenever possible during your job search. 

Functional resume format

Also referred to as a skills-based resume, a functional resume focuses more on the qualifications or skills a person has rather than their work history. This format is commonly used by career changers who might not have a lot of experience in their new field of choice or by individuals who have extended gaps in their employment history. 

Many employers view the functional resume with suspicion since it gives a sense that the candidate might be trying to cover up or hide something. However, it's still a viable option for some job seekers, but in very limited settings.

Hybrid resume format

A hybrid resume, also referred to as a combination resume, incorporates elements from both the chronological and functional resume formats. The goal is to equally highlight work history and skills. 

This resume format can be a good option for career changers who want to emphasize their transferable skills before diving into their work history. It can also work well for those who have an unusual career path that might be difficult to outline or explain in a chronological format. With equal emphasis on both skills and work history, it can be easier to focus on and highlight what is relevant to the job you're applying to. 

Pro tip: When considering how to format a resume, you should avoid using any type of creative resume format, as those tend to be confusing to both human readers and applicant tracking system software. Unless the prospective employer specifically asks for certain elements in your resume, go with one of the three format options listed above. A simple resume format is best! 

How to format a resume: style guide

Once you've chosen the format you plan to use for your resume, it's time to start creating it. Let's dive into how to format a resume in terms of style related to items like white space, font, resume length, and section headings. 

Create white-space

Too much text is overwhelming to the reader and may even stop a potential employer from reviewing your information. Each page of the resume should have sufficient white space around all four sides of the document. So, be sure not to push the margins to the edge. If and when a person prints the document, you want to make sure there are no technical challenges.

  • Margins should be set at one inch all around as the maximum, with a half-inch as the minimum. 

You also want to have enough white space throughout your resume between lines of text and resume sections. 

  • Choose line spacing that is between 1.15 and 1.5-point between text. After headings, use double-line spacing. 

Use common fonts and font sizing

While a script font may be a beautiful choice for handwriting, and Comic Sans may be appropriate for your child's birthday invitation, they aren't appropriate for a resume. 

In fact, the ATS can have difficulty reading these fonts. In addition, a human being may not find these fonts as easy to read. 

  • Stick with common fonts such as Cambria, Calibri, Arial, Lato, Helvetica, or Times New Roman. 

  • In terms of sizing, use 10.5 to 12-point font for text within each section of your resume. Use 14 to 16-point font for titles and headers. 

Use clear section headings

Most resumes have similar components: 

  • A title or headline

  • A professional summary

  • Areas of expertise

  • Professional work experience

  • Education

  • You might also include optional sections, like volunteerism, special projects, and technical skills. 

When deciding how to format a resume, remember these headings must be definitive and have to stand out amidst the other text in the document. Avoid using alternative names for these sections, and don't be afraid to use a shaded box, bold text, and white space around each heading, as long as it falls within the text formatting options that an ATS can read. 

Stick with one to two pages

Your resume should be no more than one to two pages in length unless you fall under a few unique categories. 

  • A one-page resume is ideal for entry-level candidates with little to no relevant experience or career changers where a one-page resume is sufficient to cover transferable skills and experience. 

  • A two-page resume is ideal for experienced professionals or entry-level candidates and college students with relevant work histories through experiences like internships, assistantships, work-study, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities. 

  • In rare instances, you might be able to use a three-page resume if you're applying for a senior-level or executive position and you have a bunch of career extras like publications, patents, public speaking engagements, or research to highlight. 

Those applying for jobs in academia and the U.S. federal government tend to have longer resumes due to application requirements, so a three-page or much longer resume is expected in these fields. 

Use bullet points

Bullet points are an excellent way to break up content, making it easier for the reader to scan and comprehend the information quickly. Bullets also help your resume look neat and clean. 

  • Use bullet points for your job accomplishments and any lists you might include, like certifications, skills, or core competencies. 

Be consistent with the format of your resume

As you craft your resume, use consistent formatting throughout. In other words, whatever type of bullet you choose, stick with it and use it consistently. The same goes for font type and size for section headings and the same font type and size for the text between section headings. 

You should also format dates consistently. For example, whatever date format you used in your Work Experience section, be sure to use the same format in your Education section.

How to format a resume: text content

One of the most critical elements of your resume is the text content. The text you choose to include within each resume section is what tells the story of your work history and needs to speak to employers. Below, we dive into some tips to help you craft the text for your resume in a way that stands out.

Add a professional summary

When creating a resume, this three to five-line section should be placed immediately following the header and contact information. This short professional summary is how you introduce yourself as an ideal candidate while focusing on the benefit you'll bring the employer. A professional summary paragraph allows you to immediately showcase what talents and abilities you bring to the table.

Include a core competencies list

A core competencies list sits just below your resume summary and above your work experience. It should include 9-12 skills or competencies (15 max) that you possess, and they should align with the job. 

This type of list allows employers to quickly hone in on whether you have the minimum skills needed for the job and is a way to incorporate keywords to get past the employer's ATS.

Be concise

Believe it or not, adults have short attention spans. In fact, if they see large, bulky, and never-ending paragraphs, they are less likely to read the information — and that information is important! 

When deciding how to format the information on your resume, put each phrase into bullet points, as mentioned above, and use very brief and concise statements. Only include what's necessary to tell the story. 

Highlight the important information

When considering how to format a resume, you want to ensure the information included stands out. Even if your information is in bullet format, it may still be difficult to quickly identify the pertinent skills and accomplishments that are important to the potential employer. 

If a bullet contains an impressive award or measurable accomplishment that illustrates your qualifications, then draw attention to this detail by bolding the text.

This type of strategic highlighting is illustrated below. While both phrases contain the same information, someone quickly scanning your resume will go to the bold information and note that you were exceptional at sales in this position.

Big block of text:

  • Boosted sales by 83% within six months through effective target marketing, in-person sales meetings, consistent follow-up strategies, and team collaborations.

Big block of text with bolding that helps achievement stand out:

  • Boosted sales by 83% within six months through effective target marketing, in-person sales meetings, consistent follow-up strategies, and team collaborations.

Utilize quantitative information whenever possible

Our minds automatically respond to numbers, percentages, and dollar signs. Rather than using words to describe these achievements, use numbers and symbols to highlight your results. 

Whatever you can do as an applicant to keep your reader's eyes on your document means you have a better chance of being noticed and landing an interview.

Include additional sections of value

It's common for individuals to include optional sections in their resumes. Some of the reasons for this include helping to fill in employment gaps, address skill gaps, and add value from significant achievements and associations. 

Outside of the standard Resume Summary, Core Competencies, Work Experience, and Education sections, you might also include any of the following sections based on your unique circumstances:

Related reading: Words and Phrases to Remove From Your Resume Right Away

Formatting your resume the right way ensures career success

Now that you know how to format a resume for success. Remember, creating an eye-catching resume in today's marketplace is vital to your job search success. After you create your document, send it to a trusted colleague or business partner for advice or work with a professional resume writer

Ensuring that your resume is visually appealing and emphasizes the right elements will bring you one step closer to your future career success! 

Not sure if your resume is grabbing the right attention? Utilize our free resume review to see if your resume is visually appealing enough!

This article was originally written by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish and has been updated by Ronda Suder.

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