30

I have been told repeatedly by career centers various pieces of advice about resumes and one of the things that often shows up with little to no explanation is to have 1" margins and use 12 point Times New Roman font. I get wanting to standardize the format of resumes so that no one is able to cram more information than anyone else, but how critical are proper margins? As I go to update my resume, is there a reason I should hold myself to that especially considering I see a large number or resumes that don't follow this format.

  • In a more technical field, I would use Helvetica or Arial over Times New Roman – A.K. Aug 2 '18 at 1:27
  • OCR as a thought in response while not being sufficiently researched to make a full answer. – Willtech Aug 2 '18 at 9:52
  • @A.K. : I wouldn't - sans serif fonts are harder to read in body text than serifed fonts. – user145 Aug 2 '18 at 12:25
  • @MarkBannister if resumes were written in paragraphs I would agree but Monster recommends sans-serif on resumes for good reasons. – A.K. Aug 2 '18 at 17:11
  • @A.K.: When was the last time you got any kind of job reference through Monster? I think it's been more than a decade for me; their tendency to mangle CVs does not commend them as a source of best practice. – user145 Aug 2 '18 at 21:57
71

Critical? Easy, they aren't. You should make it look good and profressional, not just cookie-cutter. You want to stand out, at least in most fields. Worry about the content more than the formatting.

Don't get too creative, like a triangle piece of paper, but don't try to blend in either. When i'm reviewing resumes on a committee, and I see another word-template resume, I'm not filled with excitement. Then again, I got a bright green one one time and it filled us with dread. Ok, "dread" is a slight exaggeration, but the committee took it less seriously than we might have otherwise.

It's a mix of adopting conventions to show you're reliable and demonstrating that you're not boring. A little bit of graphical flexibility can go a long way towards personalizing your resume. As long as it's clear, concise, and looks "like a resume", you should be fine.

  • 4
    It does depend on the industry though. For most jobs I would say let the information on the resume stand out, not the formatting. See this related question for more on that. – David K Jul 31 '18 at 16:45
  • 15
    @DavidK: i agree, i'm just saying don't worry about HR busting out a ruler and round-binning your resume because the margins were too tight... – dandavis Jul 31 '18 at 16:48
  • 4
    I would incorporate Peter and YElm's suggestions to keep the margins wide enough to maintain compatibility with printers and scanners. It would be a bad idea to make your resume require a bleed-capable printer to print all the content. – Alex Reinking Jul 31 '18 at 21:23
  • 3
    "Don't get too creative" -- well, unless you're applying for a position as graphic designer or such, in which case making your CV an example of your skills isn't unheard of. – ilkkachu Aug 1 '18 at 10:01
  • 6
    @ilkkachu - I'd say not even then. Your CV is not your portfolio. Include a link to a portfolio, but when asked to provide a CV, provide a CV. – Davor Aug 1 '18 at 12:53
28

Part of the rationale for wide margins and standard font selection is the heavy use of resume scanning by HR departments, which is obviously a requirement for a company big enough to have more than one or two hiring managers.

The software that is used to drive these systems is often terrible, and it often tries to OCR (optical character recognition) the resumes as well, to make the content searchable. You want your resume to look nice, but many people will only see a version that has been scanned, compressed three different ways, OCRd, and generally shredded. Make life as easy as possible for them as well.

Do bring fresh copies of your best-looking resume to all interviews, and offer them to anyone taking part in the process, as what you hand them may be much better than whatever they had before you walk in.

  • 3
    Really? I mean, this reads more like an episode of Seinfeld than something that should happen today. – Jasper Aug 1 '18 at 10:50
  • 2
    @Jasper Yes, really. The average corporate job posting for a non-niche job will get about 200-250 applicants. 3 quarters of the resumes will never make it past an automated system that checks for basics and does keyword scans. This is the only option for most companies because if the hiring manager needs to manually check each of those 250 resumes, they'll need at least an hour, even if they only read every resume for 6 seconds like usually happens. – Nzall Aug 1 '18 at 13:43
  • 2
    Heaven forbid we submit a docx or pdf so they don't have to go through this trouble. – Captain Man Aug 1 '18 at 13:56
  • @Nzall My astonishment is related to the recopying of CVs. I've always submitted digital CVs, but even when submitting in paper form, I'd expect a scan once approach, then digital circulation within the company and printing them when a paper version is required. The copying of a copy of a copy of a copy is something that feels like a bygone era (and besides the type of thing Seinfeld would make fun of, it's also from the same era of Seinfeld, which is why I mentioned the show). – Jasper Aug 1 '18 at 14:07
  • 1
    So I exaggerate a little bit regarding print/scan/print, but in the systems I've seen, even digital submissions don't escape unscathed; rendering .docx files (to create web-viewable images, for example) is rather difficult, and it shouldn't be a complete surprise that the software systems don't do it very well. – Peter Aug 1 '18 at 14:28
10

Adhering to these standards may not be critical, but it will imply some things about you as a person:

  • A professional layout implies a professional person. This is your very important first impression to your future employer, you don't want them to think less of you.
  • Not following simple, general rules for resumes may be seen as an indication that you might not follow other rules either.
  • A certain margin looks asthetic. Not having a margin would stick out as a bad example and make you as an applicant unappealing to the company.

Additional advantages are more on the technical side:

  • 12 point font size makes it easy to read quickly, especially if the person has to read many resumes in the same day. If your accomplishements are written in too small to take in at a glance, they will simply be ignored.
  • If the resume is printed, you want a margin to hold the sheet in your hand or file it without covering text.
  • If it's scanned by HR, you don't want them to accidently crop the text (as stated in Peters answer)
  • "Not following simple, general rules for resumes implies that you don't follow other rules either"...Perhaps indicates or may point out "that you may not follow other rules...", but stretching this point to implies is quite subjective IMO... – CPHPython Aug 2 '18 at 8:25
  • 1
    @CPHPython Thanks for the comment. English is not my native language so the finer points often elude me. – Elmy Aug 2 '18 at 8:27
9

They aren't

But what is critical is that the resume contains all of your important information without appearing crammed. I would ask myself why I need to adjust the margins first. If it is because you need to fill in every square inch of white space... Consider removing things or condensing your resume down. Increase the focus on relevant aspects and trim down the things that are irrelevant. It may also be viable to use a second page instead of cramming it all onto the first one, depending on how much experience you have.

Generally if anything is going on the margins on any work I produce, it is some sort of artistic flair, rather than critical info as the edges may be obscured, hole punched, accidentally torn/bent etc...

6

Some application training instructors seem to like to spread the myth that all HR departments belong to a secret cabal which has a very long list of arcane layouting and structuring rules for resumes. According to them, HR examines your application with a ruler and a magnifying glass and marks every violation of that secret code. They are forbidden from hiring anyone who makes more than a certain number of violations. If you make no mistakes at all, they are obligated to give you the job, no matter how unqualified you are.

Why do they spread that myth?

Because people expect to learn easy to follow rules from such training seminars. The truth is that every person who makes hiring decisions has a completely different idea how a resume should look. But if the instructors would tell people "It doesn't matter if you use 12pt Arial or 11pt Helvetica. Just do what you feel is the best way to bring your qualifications across and hope the recipient likes it", people would feel that their training isn't worth the money. They expect to learn the secret tricks which guarantee them a job.

Unfortunately no such tricks exist. Companies want to hire the best people for the job. And unless creating word documents according to rigid specification is a core qualification for the position, any HR department worth their money wouldn't care about such rules, even if they would exist.

Just make sure the resume contains all the information they need and presents that information in an easy to navigate layout:

  • Your personal information
  • Your education history
  • Your employment history
  • What skills and certifications you have which are relevant for the job

You should also read the information the company website provides regarding the application process. If they have any specific requirements for resumes (like using a specific file format, what information to include and what information to not include), make sure you adhere to them. Otherwise your application might get ignored because it doesn't fit their internal processes.

4

Without getting into design principles about negative space and so on, some people print out resumes and bind them together, and a 1" margin allows them to do that.

There are plenty of good-looking resume templates out there. Pick one you like, get someone who has had experience wearing a suit for a living, get their blessing on it and you're good to go.

2

You might as well use the recommended margins. 1" seems fine, honestly - but then again, as others have noted, you have some leeway.

But you don't really mention your industry, and this is where the problems begin. In a graphical industry (art, graphic design) you probably want a more expressive resume - pink, maybe, or with flowers and weird margins. You are, after all, selling your creativity.

In more rigid industries - say, banking - you would want a more normal format. I don't think you need to adhere to 1 inch - but it shouldn't deviate too much out of that. Also, 12 point Times seems fine, although if you want some creativity, bookmans is also good - like Times, but a little different.

Academia might be even more rigid - I recall at uni having guidelines on some assignments on the font size and type to be used - and I can imagine that if you're looking at times all day long, you don't want to see a resume in some other font. It screams "non-conformist", and some industries really don't want that.

Not necessarily because the people are boring there, but because of rigid guidelines or requirements.

So, it could well be your advisor is correct.

Regardless of how you feel, please go through your resume with a fine-tooth comb on spelling. It's the easiest thing to use as an excuse to discard a resume, and unless you're in a very artistic industry and the misspelling is obviously artistic, you're going to be disregarded for most jobs.

0

I feel that the advice you were given is rather outdated, though it may depend on the industry you are targeting, or maybe your country. I would be surprised to learn that most employers even print resumes much any more, much less scan or fax them. The one-inch margin advice is good though, because many printers are configured to do this regardless of document content, if someone does print it out.

Here's how I do it. I imagine the job I want, and then imagine myself as the hiring manager for that job. What do I, as the hiring manager for that job, want to see in a resume? I tailor my resume accordingly. I assume that the hiring manager will skim the resume and decide within a total of 30 seconds whether to do a phone screen interview.

Therefore:

  • Most relevant information up top: contact info, then objective (a description of the job you want), then your relevant skills
  • No "wall of text"; whitespace guides the eye to the most important information
  • Bullet points are more readable than paragraphs
  • Sans serif is more readable than serif, so ditch Times New Roman in favor of Verdana etc.
  • Spacing between lines/paragraphs is more important than font size
  • The font size should be big enough but there is no need to make it "large"
  • List all relevant prior experience, as briefly as possible, most recent first, and make this the last section
  • Use no more than 1/2 page before your prior experience section

The advice to standardize on Times New Roman seems to be aimed at OCR, which I suppose could have a lower error rate with this font than with a sans serif one like Helvetica or Arial. Or perhaps it is meant to be more attractive for "stuffy" industries like accounting, banking, law, government, etc.

I would require convincing to believe that a resume will be printed and re-scanned multiple times as a normal scenario in today's job market - with the exception of government sector. I have been the hiring manager several times (technology, USA) and I never even see paper resumes at this point, at all. Many employers even require direct online applications specifically to avoid this issue.

Designing your resume presentation to maximize readability after multiple print/scan/fax iterations was great advice in the 90s but I think it is off base now, unless you have reason to believe that it is still common in your corner of the job market.

While all this is just my opinion, I am very experienced and have been the hiring manager several times now. A Times New Roman resume with a big font size would not be a deal-killer by any means, but it certainly would not make a resume any more likely to lead to a phone screen for me. Better to optimize for a 30 second skim in a digital format or fresh print from digital.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.