University of South Carolina :: Darla Moore School of Business   the Competitive Edge

with Wendy Enelow & Louise Kursmark

Why is design so important? The physical appearance of your resume dramatically effects how your readers perceive you. First impressions are powerful and studies have shown, they are indelible.

If your resume looks outdated, is hard to read and lacks visual appeal, the first impression will be negative and will discourage people from actually reading the document.

Benefits of Good, Distinctive Design:

  1. Create a favorable first impression.

  2. Draw attention to items of greatest value.

  3. Distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Of course, you want your resume to exude professionalism. We're not advocating over the top designs that will make you stand out in the wrong way, but given our increasingly colorful, fast-moving and visual environment, how your resume looks can either harm or help your chances in the job market.


What's the first thing do people notice when they power browse your resume? The way that you design your resume places a huge role in drawing your readers to the things that you want them to see.

Visual design elements are attention-getting. Colorful chart showing sales growth, a custom monogram for your name, an infographic showing notable projects. All of these and many more can do a lot to take your resume from ho-hum to exciting and engaging.

As you think about what design elements to include, keep these points in mind:
  1. Resume design should enhance resume content. It cannot make up for lack of substance or qualifications.

  2. Design should be distinctive but relatively conservative—for most professionals.

  3. Design serves a purpose -- focuses attention where you want it.

  1. Focal Point - Where does attention go when looking at the page? As you're designing, make sure that the focus is on the content that's most important.

  2. Proportion - Are the most important things the most prominent? An example is the dates on the page. Generally, you don't want the dates to jump off the page. They're important to include but they don't do much to promote your value. So you want them to be easy to find but not too large or bold or distinctive.

  3. White Space - Is there enough to create "breathing room" for readers? White space is essentially emptiness. There's nothing there. No content, no graphics, it's just white space on the page. But interestingly, the lack of content of what's not there makes it easier to read and absorb what is there. When you surround your page with white space you're creating a breathing room for your readers.

  4. Consistency - Is similar information presented the same way? Consistency is an important design principle because it promotes understanding. When readers see the same kind of information such as headings, job titles, company names or college degrees, presented in the same way, the design gives them clues about the content. Consistent design also exudes professionalism.


Be distinctive and embrace color and graphics.

Design Tips:
- Use color and graphics to compete in our very visual environment.
- Push the boundaries -- just a bit.
- To open your eyes to what's possible, we recommend that you look through a variety of up-to-date resume books, go online and Google award-winning resumes or designer resumes and see what comes up. The more creative your career, and the less conservative your industry, the more you can go to town with the right resume design.
- Match your design with your personality and your profession. If something feels uncomfortable, don't attempt to use that resume as your design model.

Designing a visually distinctive resume can be fun and can certainly help you stand out. As you create your modern masterpiece, give some thought to design elements that will contribute to the message you're sending while making you a memorable candidate. It can help you get that first look, that first review that will lead to an interview and a job offer.

Expert BIO
with Wendy Enelow & Louise Kursmark

Best-selling authors Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark have written over 30 books on resumes, cover letters, hiring and career management – including the recently released Modernize Your Resume — during decades-long careers in resume writing and coaching for job seekers worldwide. Both Wendy and Louise are Master Resume Writers (MRW), Job & Career Transition Coaches (JCTC) and Certified Professional Resume Writers (CPRW).