Soozy Miller is an author and resume writer. In this article, she discusses the benefits of simplicity in design and phrasing for your resume.
During my time as a resume writer, many clients have sent me resumes that looked overdesigned, wordy, and a mess to read. Yet when sent along the revised final draft, many expressed strong dissatisfaction with the way it looked. Specifically, they complained about how simple the end product looked, both in design and wording.
Good. This is totally understandable. In reality you have to keep your resume simple to land interviews. A hard-to-read resume will get you nowhere with employers.
Here's how to tweak your fancy resume to land more interviews and get a better response from hiring managers.
Design gets in the way
When it comes to visual design, I fumbled at first, too. I tried to stand out from the crowd with my first resume out of college by printing on a type of pink-tinted paper that was supposed to look like you could see the paper grains. Back then, I, like many others, thought that the prettier the resume, the more attention it would attract. But I didn’t get a single job with that resume. Later, when I got some resume writing training and rewrote it to make it less physically attractive and more substantive, I started landing interviews.
Substance is now the key to successful resumes, but design obscures that substance. Companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to electronically filter out hundreds—sometimes thousands—of applicants. Your formatting can only screw up the way the ATS reads your resume. Even if you pass the ATS, a pretty resume is usually really hard to read for hiring managers.
So, while your resume with the beautiful fonts and specially formatted indents and nice graphics on the border might look attractive to you, it does not look good to the hiring manager. In fact, all that creative work you thought would make the resume stand out visually might actually block it from ever reaching human eyes
Avoiding that means using a simple design. One font. No fancy borders. Even font sizes for titles and bullet points. Most application submissions are electronic now anyway, so the hiring company will be printing the resume on its own plain white paper. Interviewers want the resume to be calming, easy to read, and uniform with what they see in the rest of the pile. So they can, you know, read it.
After the ATS has narrowed the applicant pool, the hirer still might be reading hundreds of these things, so they’re looking for any reason to discard an applicant. Having to spend extra effort deciphering your fancy script font and flair-filled formatting might therefore be a deterrent, not an asset. Can you read it?
That simplicity also applies when it comes to the resume’s content. The hiring manager doesn’t want to spend time re-reading your bullet points to understand what you’re saying. And densely packed text makes it really hard for them to pay attention to what you’re saying in your bullet points.
If you’re not sure about the value of shorter sentences in resumes, read a few yourself. There are plenty of examples you can find online. You’ll likely find that the more complicated the resume, the harder it is to keep paying attention to it.
In your resume, go for the short and readable bullet points that characterize the resumes you found most readable. Keep your sentence structure simple to maintain readability. Start each statement with a verb, if possible.
Use action words to describe your duties and accomplishments to better frame yourself as an achiever. The ATS works much like Google search these days. Every element of the resume gives you the chance to add important words or accomplishments that help your resume score better with the system.
Let your experience do the talking
If all this seems contrary to what you’ve been told about resumes, know that this resume design is not about what you think works or about guessing an employer’s tactics. Research into the latest recruiting practices and the current job market shows simplicity trumps flair. Resumes are a first line of defense for hiring managers to decide if you’re worth interviewing.
Use your resume to pass the ATS and get in front of the interviewer. It’s there that you can go into detail about how you will help the company. It’s there that you can bring out the full stories behind those fantastic and impressive achievements you’re so proud of. Don’t let what you think looks good on a resume stand in the way of what works for the hiring system. Instead, work with the hiring system.
Companies don’t want glitz and glamour, they want help. They want growth. Your accomplishments matter, not the font. So stop worrying about whether to use script or italic and start figuring out how to make it as clear to the reader of your resume that you’re ready to excel on the job.