Resume Formatting: Keep it Simple

by Brian Skory

Some candidates have hired professional services to prepare their resume. Others have called on friends to polish up their resume. The potential problem here is that professional resume services and helpful friends often possess an expert knowledge of Microsoft Word. They can use section breaks to make the first paragraph standard orientation and the following paragraph landscape. And then a section break to make the next paragraph use columns with bullet points.

The issue is that when you submit your resume to a company, that fancy formatting can become problematic.

For example, when uploading your resume to a company’s Web site, the software will often strip out the formatting it doesn’t recognize. If the resume was formatted simply, it won’t change much. In other cases, it can become a jumbled mess.

Also, a Human Resources department or recruiter may strip out sensitive data such as your contact info and copy-and-paste your resume into an internal template before distributing your resume to hiring managers. Many tech recruiting firms do this—it allows them to standardize the look and feel of resumes and provide some consistency. Generally, it’s a simple process with a minimum of tweaking to get things to fit the template properly. Occasionally, depending on how complex the candidate made the resume, it can be a frustrating 45-minute ordeal combating sprawling tables or dealing with those mystical section breaks.

Our recommendation is to stick with the basic formatting tools: numbering, bullets, bold, italic, underline, and a table for your skills matrix. Not only will this help prevent the problems above, but it will likely result in a resume that flows better and is easier to read. That being said, for someone who wants a complex format (something that might be appropriate for a graphic designer, for instance) the resume should only be submitted in PDF format. A less complex resume version should be on hand to share in .DOC or .TXT format in case it is requested.

An overworked HR person may look for an excuse to reject a resume in attempt to whittle down an overwhelming pile to a manageable short-list. Don’t give them this particular excuse.
As always, we at Stout Systems are interested in hearing how your job search is going. Feel free to drop us an email at
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