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Tandem Powered offers a full suite of Professional Resume Writing, Career Development, and HR / Business Consulting services.

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Tandem Powered's blog is dedicated to empowering readers by highlighting best practices in the arena of resume writing, career development, and organizational effectiveness, as well as by providing readers with an insider's view of the corporate hiring process.

The Best Format for a Resume

Kent Nolen

Several weeks ago, I published a post about “Marissa Mayer’s resume” that got a lot of attention and spurred a lot of readers to send off questions about formatting. All of those questions can be essentially summarized as follows: “If this is an example of a badly formatted resume, then what is the best format for a resume?” 

Long term readers of this blog will immediately recognize the following statement as something I say a lot: there is no best format for a resume. However, there some things to consider that will help to ensure your resume is effective. And, really, effective is the ideal when developing a resume, isn’t it?

When it comes to formatting, we have to consider 3 things: automated screeners, human readers, and strategic use of space.

Automated Screening Systems: If your resume is not formatted to perform well with automated screening systems, then the other two points are irrelevant because your resume will never actually be seen. When it comes to automated screening systems, anything beyond basic formatting can spell trouble. These systems scan for keywords, which can be hindered by things like columns, icons, and other design elements.

Human Readers: If your resume flows through the automated screening process and into the hands of an actual person, it will likely be free of formatting. Generally speaking, screening systems strip away formatting to present human readers with a plain-text version of the resume. It is best to format your resume with the idea that the formatting may be removed altogether.

Strategic Use of Space: For a resume to be effective with either screeners or humans, the content has to be strong. If your format is placing more emphasis on the design and less on the quality and amount of actual content, you could be in trouble. Not only will that hinder your ability to make it through the automated screening process (remember: keywords), but human readers will not be seeing quality content that compels them to get in touch with you.

Let me be perfectly clear, your resume needs to be aesthetically pleasing. I am not advocating for formatting free resumes written in Times New Roman. But I would take a plain resume full of compelling content – strong achievements, clearly targeted branding elements, etc. – over a pretty resume with weak content any day.