Five Typography Mistakes That Prevent Your Resume From Being Read

Monthly Typography Tidbits help to feed your typographic hunger and nourish your design output.

This month’s morsel is about typography of resumes.

No matter how busy or slow we are with work at our studio, I’m always looking at resumes. We get a lot of them. But I do not respond to all of them. In fact, I only take the time to respond to possibly one out every 30 that we receive.

Why? Well, what catches my attention is the design of a resume – we are a graphic design firm, after all. If resumes come across looking like they were sparsely typeset in Word, or overly decorated in Photoshop, we do not respond. Not even a thank you. I know it sounds mean but some of the resumes we get are not great.

The goal of a resume is to get the interview so if it’s not read, it’s not getting you in the door.
After discussing candidates’ submissions with other studio owners, hiring managers and creative directors in the design industry, I’ve learned this: Your prospects care about what you can do for their company. If your skills are not demonstrated on the first document you send to an agency, you’re asking them to do too much work in just reading it.

The typography on your resume can work for you but you have to consider the recipient and their reading experience. Remember, you’re beginning a relationship with someone, and that only works if you respect their time. Readability is first, and style is last.

Here are five of the top mistakes that prevent us from reading resumes.

1. Lacking a grid.

Resumes typically lack a balance between white space and content. White space invites the reader in, hints to what the information is and where to find it. Too often, the page is overwhelming. You might want to fill up the page, but don’t. White space is your friend.

To create white space, use a grid and stick to it. If the line lengths are too long, the grid will reveal where to break the content into two or three columns. What’s left is a beautifully structured document with organized information.

Resume Grid Example
The example on the left from might be written well but it’s hard to read due to the large content block and unclear grid. The middle example demonstrates a baseline and column grid with type and elements aligned, and the right image shows the finished resume. Notice how much more white space is apparent after using a grid.

2. Your name is difficult to find.

Although it looks like a resume, it might not initially communicate as one. Many times a candidate’s name is buried in a similar type style as other headers. Use good typography to highlight your name. First and foremost, the document is about you.

3. The copy is unreadable.

I’m not talking about using correct grammar, although that is very important. So many people choose default typefaces: Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica. Give this more thought. Choose a typeface that has a large x-height, character width and little stroke contrast for the best reading experience.

Avoid your system default fonts or you’ll look like the rest of the resumes in the stack. But don’t go overboard either. Ditch the display or decorative fonts for body copy; that just hurts the eyes and prevents reading altogether.

The default font Arial or decorative font Bauhaus? Neither are optimal choices, but at least the characters in Arial are easier to identify.

4. No rhyme or reason.

A resume is not usually read from beginning to end, so hierarchy is used as navigation to help find what they’re looking for. Use different styles and weights in your chosen typeface to create emphasis.

Create a typographic system. If headers are all in bold, stay with it. If date ranges are in italic, don’t deviate. You are creating a visual code to help someone read the page. This demonstrates reason for the content formatting.

Without a clear hierarchy system, it takes longer to determine which are employers and dates.

5. Style: too much or too little.

Most of the resumes that come in look like they were designed with the designer in mind, instead of the reader. Try this: after you’ve built in the structure, set it so it’s easy to scan, and use a readable typeface, then you add in a little bit of style. Style, like hierarchy, is best implemented as a system.

Let your design elements work with each other. For example, if you use dashed lines or rules to separate content blocks, use them sparingly and consistently. Then use squares for bullet points. And other right angled elements to add a little more detail. You can separate your resume from the generic-looking documents with these consistent touches.

How your resume is presented is just as important as the content. Design considerations can actually make or break your chance to move towards an interview but don’t let the aspiration to get super creative get in the way in your career path. Keep in mind: balance.

Overall, respect your prospect’s time by helping them read your resume and they’ll return the favor by respecting your time and responding, as I have with many candidates on their nice resumes!

Have you mended these missteps in your resume? Please share your refreshed resumes on Twitter, don’t forget to tag @TypeEd. I’d love to know how you’ve best avoided these mistakes!

Rachel Elnar is a co-founder and producer at TypeEd, where she helps designers implement better typography and do so efficiently. Get more type in your inbox and sign up for more about TypeEd.