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The Biggest Resume Format Mistakes to Avoid

resume format

Your resume has two obstacles to hurdle if you want to get the interview – the applicant tracking system, then the reader.

But if your resume has formatting issues, you will be lucky to make it through the first.

Your resume might show a stellar career history, track record of success, crushed sales targets, and beyond. But if it is hard to read, well, nobody will want to read it – robot ATSs included.

When it comes to resume format, here is what you should and shouldn’t do:

  • Let’s just get this out of the way. Don’t use silly fonts

Just don’t. You shouldn’t even use colored text, or bold certain sections to draw attention to them. This just looks unprofessional. Stick to Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri.

  • Make the dates easy to understand

For starters, dates belong all lined up on the right-hand side of the page—this is where recruiters’ eyes automatically veer in search of your chronology. If you were promoted through multiple positions or took some lateral shifts at one company, don’t put 2000-2010 next to the company name, followed by 2000-2003, 2003-2007, and 2007-2010 next to each of the positions. This will confuse the tracking systems, and sometimes the reader.

Keep your own and your company’s name in a font size 2 points larger than the rest of your text, and use smaller fonts for each position title accompanied by their own individual set of date ranges.

While we are at it, you don’t need to include the logos of the companies you’ve worked for next to each date range. Why, you ask? Because it’s valuable resume real estate that those images are eating up, and they are also going to just confuse the applicant tracking systems that are trying to scan your resume.

  • Use tables as if they were gold

It’s okay to use tables for small sections like skills and core competencies. But most definitely don’t turn your resume into one big table! Use a Word document to create the resume and make sure that, outside of the sections we mentioned above, your resume is formatted just straight down the page.

  • The stuff in-between

If you are using paragraphs to describe your achievements, you are doing it wrong. When you write in paragraphs, your turn those achievements into a narrative that the reader will have to spend extra time scanning through so as not to confuse the details. You might be saying to yourself: “But if they have to spend extra time, doesn’t that mean they can’t give my resume the ol’ 10 second glance?” Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that the reader is more likely to discard a resume that forces them to work for the information they need.

And how should this in between stuff be written? In bullet points! A bullet should include the process and deliverable on each achievement and should be between 1-3 lines. If you find a bullet morphing into a paragraph, it’s time to create sub bullets.

  • Resume Length

It is an age-old question. One page or two? “Even if you’ve been working for 30 years, your work experience should comprise no more than two pages” says Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, Ivy Exec’s Manager of Resume and Coaching Services. But for more senior job seekers who have too much experience to include in such a small amount of space, it is recommended that you encapsulate the most recent 15 years of your work experience, and sum up the rest with a “previous experience” section that includes the company, title, and years of employment.

The only exceptions are A: if you are a finance professional, you will need to keep your resume to one page, and B: if you have had fewer than 10 years of work experience, you should also stick to one page. If you fall into either of these camps, you may not need an executive summary, which will make the single-page rule easier to follow.

A couple tricks for keeping it short: Feel free to reduce the font size in the white spaces to as small as 5 points. And you can keep the text itself as small as 10.5, although it’s a good idea to keep it as close to 12 as possible.

  • From A to Z

For working folks, the sections, or as many of these as apply to your resume, should go in this order: executive summary, core competencies (no more than 10), work experience, education, skills, and languages. Note that not everyone needs every single one of these sections, and it’s best to stick to the ones you need rather than trying to fancy up the résumé by adding information that’s less than crucial.

For students, the sections should appear this way: Education (this includes college only—no high school, and related leadership activities), work experience, skills, languages.

  • Bonus tip

The last thing you probably think of when you save your resume and send it: the file name. You don’t want to send a file that is named “JohnSmithFirstDraft.” Or even worse, “JaneDoeApplicationFor(the previous company you sent your resume to).” Alternatively, just naming the file “resume” can ensure that it gets lumped in and lost with 1,000 other people who have the same file name.

Instead, simply put your name and the word ‘resume’. “JaneDoeResume.doc”


If you would like to set up a consultation to discuss your resume, click here to pick a time on my calendar.

About the Author

Lilly-Marie Lamar is a career advisor for Ivy Exec. She provided career advice to college students and professionals in the U.S. and abroad, and was a Fulbright scholar. Lilly-Marie has a degree in education from Columbia University.