Résumés 101: White Space is Your Friend

woman at whiteboard
Photo: Christina Morillo |

First impressions count—even when they are merely on paper. Employers spend an average of 6 seconds skimming an individual’s résumé before deciding if they will read it more thoroughly. How can you improve your chances of capturing their attention? Make sure your résumé is pleasing to the eye.

I often see résumés that are cluttered and not well organized. In an effort to cram a lot of information into a small space, clients adjust the margins of their documents until there are barely any margins remaining, and they use a very small font. This makes the résumé difficult to scan quickly. 

A key thing to remember when writing your résumé is that white space is your friend. Graphic designers use white space in their designs to make their visuals more attractive and draw attention to key elements. White space on a résumé makes it look less cluttered and more appealing. A résumé that is visually appealing and easy to scan invites an employer to read it more closely.

Here are few tips to remember as you format your résumé:

Leave adequate margins around your text. I typically recommend no less than .75 inches for the top, bottom and side margins. I also recommend the text be left aligned. I’ve seen résumés with justified text, and it often creates more problems than it helps. Words end up hyphenated strangely, or the text includes weird, larger-than-normal spaces. Stick with lining everything up on the left. If you prefer your header information (including your name and contact info) to be centered, that often looks nice as well.

Be sure your text is easy to read. Your font size should go no smaller than 11-point type. You should use no more than two different fonts. You want the document to be consistent throughout, so it is also important to treat similar headings or elements (like position titles, employer names) consistently. If you make your position title bold, do so for each position you list.

Use bold headings and bullet points so the résumé will be easy to scan. Bulleted items are easier to read than paragraphs. As you list your accomplishments—and you should be focusing more on accomplishments than job “duties” or responsibilities—you want them to stand out. Keep them to one or two lines if possible.

You also don’t need to include articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) or write them as full sentences. Short phrases are fine.

However, you do want to include specifics like percentages or dollar amounts. Did you supervise employees? List how many reported to you. Did you increase sales? List the amount of increase. When possible, give specific amounts or percentages.

Use your space wisely. Most employers no longer adhere to the idea that résumés should only be one page in length. If you are a new graduate without much experience, a one-page résumé should work for you. If you have many years of experience, two pages are acceptable. The key is to organize them well.

If you aren’t sure of the best way to format your résumé, check out résumé samples online to see what may work best for your career field.

Once you’ve completed your résumé, ask a friend to look at it. Give them only a few seconds—perhaps six to ten—then ask what they noticed right away.

They should be able to give you a good idea what type of first impression your résumé will make on an employer. Would they want to read more? If not, you probably have more work to do before you send it out.

Published by Career Coach Belinda

I’ve helped job seekers of all ages and career levels develop résumés, craft cover letters, and approach job interviews with confidence.

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