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Make Your Resume Pop Using MS Word’s Formatting Tools

Microsoft Word offers many formatting tools that can help you enhance the visual appeal of your resume while still keeping it “friendly” to computer readers, also known as applicant tracking systems. While visual appeal will not make up for poor content, deliberate formatting choices can help direct the reader’s eyes to where you, the writer, want them to go.

A few words of caution: when it comes to resume formatting, sometimes less is more. You want formatting enhancements to…enhance. You don’t want them to distract the reader. Just because one non-default style of bullet point looks great doesn’t mean that using three bullet styles will improve your resume further.

Similarly, stick to one or two accent colors, one or two fonts, and use bold and italics strategically yet sparingly. Last, consistency is critical. There must be a hierarchical structure to your design—in other words, “a method to your madness.” For example, make sure all headings are formatted the same way, and all bullets are aligned the same.


When it comes to resume formatting, sometimes less is more. You want formatting enhancements to…enhance. You don’t want them to distract the reader.


Simple Ways to Add Visual Interest to Your Resume

Here are several common Word formatting features you can experiment with to optimize your resume’s appearance:

  • Fonts.  Using one font for all text in your resume is the most common approach, but you can consider using a sans serif font for your name at the top of the resume and in section headings throughout, and a serif font for the rest (or vice versa). Just make sure the fonts are common fonts. Not all fonts—especially those that do not come pre-installed on your computer—are recognized by tracking systems.
  • Capitalization. Small caps can be used to stress certain terms (e.g., your name, section headings, or places of employment). All caps is another option. To access these options, highlight the text, right click, select Font, and in the menu that pops up, choose Small Caps or All Caps.
  • Bold. Bold text can be effective for emphasizing particular pieces of information, but remember that if bold typefaces are overused nothing stands out.
  • Italics. Italics can be useful to convey contextual pieces of information, such as a brief description of a company. Or, they can be used to highlight a particular result or accomplishment. However, italics can be harder to read, so italicize text in small doses.
  • Border. Adding a border under section headings can help guide the reader’s eyes. Likewise, including a box around content you want to accentuate can be accomplished through Borders. Borders can be accessed under the “Tables” heading.
  • Shading. As with borders, the Shading option can be found within the Tables function, and its use can give a resume a visual boost.
  • Accent color. An accent color or two can make your resume more interesting to review than simple black text and can direct the eye to key elements or pieces of information.

Takeaway

Back in graduate school, I took a course that required me to read a book about the elements of design. This book instilled basic principles about aesthetics of documents. The look of a document can either increase or decrease readability. While the visual appeal of a resume alone will not land you an interview, a thoughtful approach to resume design will aid your reader—and your ability to communicate your message.

Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD

Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed when the stakes are high. She delights in helping job seekers navigate career change and guiding business owners to present their value proposition persuasively. Heidi earned her PhD in history from Duke University and teaches professional development for various university programs. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching, and sits on the Certification Committee of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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