Resume 101: Layout and Look & Feel

I view this topic in two pieces – one is the overall layout and appearance at arm’s length. The second is the sequence of your content sections and how to arrange them. I’ll cover both in this post.

Let’s start with the general concept of a resume layout first. There are a ton of resume templates out there that allow you to configure or arrange your content in different ways, and there is no one right way to to do it. That said, there are plenty of wrong ways to do it too, so I’ll start with some tips on what to look for in a template or how to craft a layout for yourself:

  1. Keep it simple. A good layout enhances your content and doesn’t distract from it.
  2. Ensure a template allows for hierarchies. For example, you’ll want the name of your college and graduation date to stand out more than your major. You can create your own hierarchies by leveraging various font sizes and styles. You don’t want your resume to look like an essay.
  3. Use only one or two fonts.
  4. Don’t use color or include a photo of yourself.
  5. If you include a bulleted list (which is perfect for technical skills), use an invisible table or columns to put multiple bullet points on the same line. A single-column bulleted list creates an ugly white space.
  6. Speaking of white space, you want a Goldilocks amount, and you want it to be distributed evenly throughout the page. Make sure your margins are narrow, and be mindful of spacing between sections. Spacing is a great way to create hierarchies too.

Now let’s talk about my recommendations on the sequence of your content sections, based on the way the eye naturally travels and what you want readers to see first, and what is less of a priority. I’ll loosely go in order from top to bottom of the page, though depending on the template or specific layout you use, you may have room to include a sidebar section.

The top

This is easy. Your name and contact information go at the top. These should be the first things that a reader notices, so the top is the best place to put them.

Near the top

The content right below your name is the next thing a reader will see, so you want this to be the most important content, second to your name and contact info. There are a few options for this depending on your industry and experience level. Here are what I think are the best choices:

  • A brief executive summary of who you are, your best talents, and where you thrive. (This is kind of the modern version of an objective.)
  • Your work experience content section, starting with your most recent role and continuing in reverse chronological order
  • If you’re looking for jobs that require a specific skillset, like programming, you could consider using this space for the programming languages or tech stacks you know best.
  • If you don’t have any work history, your employment is heavily dependent on your education, or you recently went back to school to pursue a different career path, use this space for your educational background.

Once you have that next content section identified, the rest of your sections generally fall into place. You may have a lot of work experience that fill the page, you may want to list your technical skills somewhere else, or you may have a mix of work experience and education. At this point, you’ll want to ensure you have a healthy balance of priority and chronology so the right things stand out and the resume tells your story in a way that makes sense.

At the bottom

This is where your least-important information belongs. Again, as you continue adding content sections in priority and chronological order, you’ll naturally end up with your least-important and/or oldest components at the bottom. Just make sure that, even if it is the least important content on your resume, it still warrants being on there.

Optional sidebar

If your chosen layout allows for sidebar content, this is a great space for short bulleted lists, such as skills. You could also add your contact information to the top of a sidebar or include your education in this space too if you have a lot of ground to cover with your work experience. A sidebar is also a nice way to visually break up the page and will draw the reader’s eye.

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