résumésAvoid density with a second page

Dur­ing law school, I in­ter­viewed for a job at a small firm. One of the hir­ing part­ner’s first com­ments 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. 

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.

Two caveats, how­ever. Don’t as­sume a reader will get past the first page—put the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion up front. And 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.

  1. Page mar­gins too small; line length too long.
    All text set in Cal­ibri (a sys­tem font).

  2. Head­ings and gray boxes are too large rel­a­tive to body text.
    Key in­for­ma­tion—the where and when—is buried.
    Ugly bul­leted lists.

  3. Too much in­for­ma­tion on one page.

  1. Page mar­gins big­ger; line length smaller.
    Eq­uity and Con­course in­stead of Calibri.

  2. Head­ings are smaller and lighter.
    Names of schools and em­ploy­ers are larger.
    Gen­tler list bullets.

  3. 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 firm. This per­son worked at Boxer Bed­ley & Ball. There­fore, this per­son is an elite law­yer. 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 laser-printed 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.

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