Oh, the resume! A supposedly simple document upon which rests, you know, your entire future. No matter your age or experience level, there are few tasks in life as dreaded as creating or refreshing a resume.
So, don’t worry if you’re feeling intimidated or stuck wondering, “What makes a good resume?”—this guide has the answers.
What Does a Good Resume Look Like?
There’s no one answer to this question, as there are countless ways to design a resume that looks good (and we’ll show ‘em all later in this article!). At the same time, though, the best resume designs do share one simple characteristic.
They are easy to look at.
Notice the choice of words here—easy to look at, rather than easy to read. Someone will probably read your resume . . . eventually. But long before you get to that point, your resume will be looked at extremely quickly. (Eye-tracking studies have shown that recruiters spend just about seven seconds per resume.)
“Easy to look at” may sound vague, but it actually comes down to simple principles:
- Including the right content in the right sections
- Designing for simplicity and scannability
Let’s dive into each of these aspects.
Resume Formatting: 8 Key Sections to Include
1. Personal Info
Always include your full name and key contact information: phone number, email address, website URL, LinkedIn profile, etc.
Pro tip: Physical address used to be required (back in the days of snail mail), but there are now many reasons to leave your home address off. Think about it and decide what you’re most comfortable with.
Recruiters hate one-size-fits-all resumes, and a short summary that’s tailored to the job posting immediately says, “Hey, look, this resume was made just for you!”
Think of your summary statement not as a basic “about me,” but rather an argument for what you bring to the table.
In the United States, it’s most common to list your highest level of education, whether that’s high school or university/postgraduate studies. However, some other countries require all education to be listed, regardless of recency or age.
Pro tip: If you earned any particularly impressive awards or scholarships, list them here.
All professional experience should be directly related to the position at hand. Instead of naming previous roles and expecting the recruiter to connect the dots, explicitly match your previous work experience with the desired qualifications for this job.
Make the case for your value as an employee by:
- Using strong action verbs to describe your responsibilities
- Being specific about accomplishments, number of people managed, promotions, etc.
- Including statistics of measurable results where possible
- Ruthlessly cutting anything that’s unclear or unrelated to the position
Hiring managers often like to see both hard skills and soft skills listed on a resume. Hard skills are things like software/hardware expertise, project management methodologies, or languages spoken. Soft skills are things like communication, teamwork, or leadership.
Pro tip: Use words and phrases directly from the job posting to help your resume pass automated reviews by applicant tracking systems (ATS).
If you have certifications, share them! Good certifications for a resume might include:
- Industry-specific certifications (project management, scrum, etc.)
- Postgraduate certificates
- State or federal licensing
- Association memberships
- Vocational/trade licensing
If you’re a new job seeker with relatively little experience, references can provide social proof that you’re a good hire. If you’re short on space though, consider leaving these off. You’ll likely have to provide them elsewhere in the application anyway.
8. Other Requirements
Your current country of residence may have different expectations for your resume, too. In the United States, it’s inappropriate to include certain personally identifying details on a resume, but other countries may require a professional headshot or information about gender, race, or marital status.
Be sure to check what’s local to you.
Resume Design: 7 Pro Tips + Inspiring Examples
With the essential content mapped out, use the design guidelines below to create a resume that’s both attractive and easy to scan.
The most practical answer to “What does a good resume look like?” is any one of the examples below!
1. Strong Alignment
The best resume layouts rely on a grid to keep everything in clean alignment. The most versatile grids typically have two or three columns, which keeps lines of text short and easy to read while still creating visual interest.
Pro tip: No one said columns have to be equal! Vary the width of columns for a dynamic look.
2. Visual Hierarchy
Visual hierarchy means designing in a way that reflects importance. In other words, it’s about using visual cues to naturally call attention to the content that matters most.
For a resume, you can achieve a strong visual hierarchy in a number of ways:
- Putting headers in larger, bolder, or different-colored text
- Placing details or background info in a lighter, smaller font or less prominent position
- Organizing your resume sections in order of importance down the page
- Using dividing lines to signify breaks or to subtly call attention to key sections
3. Simple Colors
The best color for resume backgrounds is almost always white (or near white). The best color for the body text is typically black (or near black).
For everything else? Feel free to choose any color combinations you like, but keep them consistent and restrained enough that they don’t draw too much attention.
Two or three colors max is a good rule of thumb.
4. White Space
One common beginner mistake with document design is leaving too little white space. Resist the temptation to fill every last section of the page, instead leaving wide margins and plenty of room between sections.
5. Easy-to-Read Fonts
Resumes are not the place to get font fancy. Stick with one or two fonts that are easy to read:
- For body text, use a standard font like Roboto, Georgia, or Open Sans with around 12 point font size or more.
- For headers, use the same font as the body text or one that pairs well. When in doubt, the same font is perfectly okay.
6. Personal Branding
Have a personal letterhead or logo? A resume is the ideal place to use ‘em! Putting your personal brand in the header or footer is a fantastic way to drive home your professionalism and make your resume feel thoughtfully designed.
7. Intentional Details
Scannability is the most important answer to the question of what makes a good resume, but you can still inject some personality.
For more visual appeal, consider simple details like these:
- Background shapes
- Footer details
- Dividing lines
- A document border
- Icons and illustrations
- Patterns or textures
Simple vs. Creative Resume Design
Even when you keep all of the above tips in mind, there’s plenty of room for out-of-the-box interpretations—but do these kinds of unconventional resumes work?
- You’re applying for a job in a highly creative field.
- You have solid graphic design skills, particularly in document layout.
- The creative elements are intentional and substantive—not gimmicky or distracting.
- The file type fits the job application requirements. (Sending a massive MP4 when they ask for a PDF won’t be appreciated.)
If you’re on the fence about whether or not a creative resume design is a good idea, it probably isn’t. You could always do something fancy outside of the resume, like a short video or a link to an interactive portfolio.
Some Final Tips for Your Resume Design
If you aren’t comfortable creating a resume from scratch—or if you’d rather focus your mental energy on the job hunt itself—then consider starting with a template.
And, one final tip regarding digital vs. print file formats.
In both cases, it’s best to save your resume as a PDF to prevent the possibility of weird formatting or accidental edits. If you’re submitting your resume digitally, PDFs are also readable by software (unlike JPEGs or PNGs), which can help you pass initial automated screenings.
See? Creating or updating your resume doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. Refer back to the resume tips and tricks above and you’ll be ready to land your dream job.
Cover image via KatePilko.