Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

Resume Layout Matters

resume layout

Easy to look at with a good balance of black and white space.

Resume Layout Matters!

I have a running train of thought/cynicism when I read over a resume, and I thought that posting this mentality might help candidates write a better resume. With prior posts, at seminars and panels, I have talked about what I like and don’t like to see, but I thought that a running stream of consciousness might help.

For this exercise, I am looking at a resume that has about 7 years of experience and the education is at the end.

Reading: As it comes into focus on the screen, the resume layout looks good.  I see it looks balanced from top to bottom and left to right. Without actually reading the doc, it is easy to look at, a good balance of white and black space. Efficiently used up the full page without being crowded or empty. Time lapsed: .25 seconds

I look at the top 1/3 to ½ of the page first. Name, where do they live, and who is this candidate.

Thought Process: This needs to be easy to read. Candidate with the easiest to read doc wins the first round and this is single elimination. Not only do you not get a second chance, you won’t even know what knocked you out of the fight. The first thing I am asked to read shouldn’t be an overstuffed opening paragraph with a bunch of generic adjectives that everyone else uses. This is the appetizer before a nice meal, foreplay before great sex. Get me excited!  Set the tone for the rest of the doc.  I personally like 3, maybe 4 – short sentence descriptions, bullet points that are easy to read. I also like to see some descriptive words that tell who this person is in columns or centered after the initial description. These words stand out from the rest of the document, centered between the first line of experience and the 3 short sentences.

Within a few seconds, I have determined if what I am looking for “might” be in the rest of the document. Do they live close to the office I am recruiting for, and specifically the “presentation layer” of the doc? I haven’t met the person yet, but literally based on the clothing a person wears, you get an idea of who they are about. If the document is balanced, clean, and easy to read, it gives me the indication that this person has their stuff together. Time lapsed another 1/2 second.

Reading: My eyes quickly go to the end of the document skipping over the experience. But wait, there are a lot of numbers, percentages, a few strategically bolded words/phrases. I haven’t read them, but my greedy mind has been triggered to come back and look.

Thought Process: Something here was important enough to bold. The numbers and percentages show that someone did something for the BOTTOM LINE OF THE COMPANY. Someone did something measurable, and this is something I know I can sell to a hiring manager.  I can not sell adjectives like “hardworking”, “dedicated” or “great communicator”.  I literally have not looked at the experience section of the document.

Reading: My eyes go straight to the end of the document where I am looking for the education section.

Thought Process: I am not sure why we go to the end. Maybe it is human nature in the same way some people skip to the end of a book and read the ending. I can sometimes triangulate an amount of experience/age if the graduation date is listed. Unless it is a specific role in a specific company, education isn’t that big a deal for me. I have hired enough positions that initially required a degree with great candidates because their experience made up for the degree. I know for myself, at the end of the day, if they are the right person, I can set the candidate up for success with the hiring loop, set the proper expectations with the hiring manager, and give a candidate a fair shot. Time lapsed, 1 seconds.

Reading: There are some recent certifications. This person has been keeping up with improving themselves. Probably keeping current with the technologies. There are also some professional groups that this person belongs to. I don’t know what they are, but they look good here. Hmm, likes outdoors and mountain biking/yoga / swimming / your sport here. OK, this person well balanced and is worth a look.

Thought Process: With the right experience, the lack of a degree isn’t a show stopper for me. I know I can set the right expectations for the hiring manager. A degree just makes it a little easier. A degree from a solid well-known school is even better. It doesn’t have to be a great school, but even a school that is known because of its sports program is something everyone can relate to.  As a recruiter going to a hiring manager, an MBA will hurt me, help me, or be neutral. We have all met MBA’s who were really smart and MBA’s who just knew how to take tests. Depending on the position this could help me, but unless it is a requirement, it doesn’t mean that much to me. It will make things easier to sell if they are really sharp, but unless they are exponentially smarter than our smarter folks without MBA’s, it doesn’t mean that much to me personally, and it won’t mean much to them. (I will be the first to admit, I don’t have an MBA)

Thought Process: I like to see something personal at the end of the resume. I am TRYING to build a picture in my mind about this person. It is like reading a book with NO pictures. I don’t need a lot of pictures but it gives me another hint, more insight. Hobbies that are physical or outdoors are always good. You don’ t have to be a 6 foot 2 and 220 pounds. But taking care of yourself is always a good thing. Time Lapsed: 1-2 seconds

Reading: Now I look to the experience. I don’t go to the most recent job, I go to the last job listed, the position listed just above the education.

Thought Process: Maybe it is because I am lazy, or it is right there, but I don’t go to the most recent experience. I see a position that is related to the position that is being applied for. Solid! I am looking for a Sr. person and this prior position is pretty jr. Another good thing.  I want to see career progression so your oldest experience should be your most junior position and each successive position should build on the last.  Time lapsed: 2-3 seconds

Reading: I look through the most recent experience, just looking at the company names and the titles. Good companies/brands listed as prior employers. Solid. I can sell this. Time Lapsed: 3-5 seconds

Thought Process: If you worked for a company that most people don’t know or haven’t heard about, put a description of what that company did, how big it was, and any other useful information to put things into perspective. The bigger companies usually have the resources to go after the better candidates. There are a LOT of amazing folks working for little-known companies. If you tell me you worked for Acme, I don’t know what they did, or who they were. Acme may have been a world leader in your industry, but that doesn’t mean I know about it. I also have an idea of the culture of the larger companies, so it is an “indication” of whether you will be successful at our company.

I look for the bolded phrases, numbers and percentages, skipping over all the other text. I am looking for these specifics I noticed earlier. Time Lapsed: 15-30 seconds

Reading: I start looking for the things I saw earlier between looking at the first and last part of the resume. I saw some bolded phrases, a couple of italic words, a lot of numbers and percentages. I hunt these up, anxiously. Consciously looking! These are hidden nuggets for me.

Thought Process: “effectively managed team of 7” is your opinion and I am NOT going to the hiring manager with this. I won’t lead with it anyway. I CAN SELL THIS to the hiring manager. “managed / member of / etc. team of 7 that increased sales by 22% quarter over quarter for 2 years”. This is what our company is looking for. In my mind, these are FACTS that I can verify via a reference check if I need to. Love this stuff!

Reading: Now I look through all of the experience, trying to make sure that it makes sense. The timelines make sense, the titles and accomplishments have some progression. Looks good. Like the timeline. No misspellings, no typos. Looks pretty good. I look for the bullet point format vs. the paragraph format. Bullets are usually briefer, easier to read and easier on the eyes. Time Lapsed: 5-10 seconds

Thought Process: I am hiring any candidate for a position and based on their experience in the last few years. I am not worried too much about their entry level position right out of school. I want to see the most significant bullets on the most recent experience. I also want to see a balanced number of bullets. This means in most cases, more bullets for the most recent experience and the fewest bullets for the oldest experience. Again, I don’t really care for what you did right out of school, so make the most of your most recent experience. List as much as you can from your most recent positions.

Thought Process: I am putting my name on any candidate that I send to a hiring manager. If I miss a typo or a grammatical error, I look bad. So I am now going over this resume for just those. I don’t take long because most typos and mistakes would have jumped out at me by now, but I don’t want them asking me “What is up with this typo?”  The tone of that question is usually asked in such a way that it makes it sound like this is MY resume and I wrote it. That sucks.

Hopefully this gives you an indication of my personal mindset as I look through these documents. It is a product of the job. A lot of candidates, the ressure to get the position filled, and a lot of resumes that don’t communicate effectively. As much as I am hoping for relevant bullet points I am also looking for reasons to throw the resume out. My goal is to get to just a few candidates that I can call. I don’t want to answer accusatory questions from a hiring manager or interview loop asking me to justify why I would bring this particular resume. This entire process will probably take me 3-5 minutes max.


PS, yes, let’s call this candidate

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable please subscribe here. I promise no spam,

“like” us on Facebook, I read all comments below. Thank you!