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Resume Design


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Wrote a 2,500+ word report relating to resume design, including information on the resume's history, eyetracking studies on recruiters, new visual elements and advice on how to start writing one. Extra credit was given for formatting this paper in Adobe InDesign CC as a 4 page spread, similar to that used for magazine publishing.

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Resume Design

  1. 1. Sammie Walker, Carnegie Mellon University May 2015 It is widely regarded that the earliest creat- ed resume belonged to Leonardo da Vinci in 1482, in order to convince Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan, that he was the most qualified architect for building castle defenses: “I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellen- cy, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments…” Not so much a resume as a CV (Curric- ulum Vitae, which means “the course of my life”), da Vinci barely mentions his re- nowned painting skill, stating “also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.” Da Vinci’s intent is not to be self-deprecating but to focus on the experiences and skills relevant to making a castle both more de- fensive and offensive. As seen above, the document is handwritten in a formal and fancy ‘typeface,’ and the ease of reading in- creased by the numbers on the left-hand margin indicating the paragraph number- ing. Unfortunately and surprisingly, the topic of the resume really has not been very well documented. Apparently, the resume was considered an optional document until the 1950s when it became a standard for job applications. With the advent of word processors in the 1980s, they became even more commonplace and now more easily shared through the World Wide Web. To- day, there are numerous sites where you can make an online resume, such as Linke- dIn, CollegeFeed,, etc. PURPOSE AND BASIC DESIGN What is the purpose of this document and what goes into it? Some think that the pur- pose of the resume is to get you a job. If thinking long-term, this is correct. How- ever, it’s not your immediate doorway in. A resume is a first impression, and, if any- thing, your doorway into getting an inter- view. A resume is not an exhaustive list of all that you’ve ever accomplished in your life, it is a collection of detailed, imperson- ally phrased experiences that should relate to the new experience you are pursuing. For example, winning valedictorian of your middle school may never pose rele- vant for a job application. But placing in a singing competition can highlight your performance skills for a theatre audition or even allow you to explain how you suc- ceed under pressure. Just because it was years ago doesn’t mean it doesn’t count anymore. You just need to prove that you still have those skills that you used or de- veloped back then. A resume is typically divided into vari- ous sections, all detailing experiences in reverse chronological order (the most re- cent experience in the section, first until the oldest, then repeating this process in each subsequent section). Basic sections usually include but are not limited to Ed- ucation, Work Experience, Leadership, Activities, and Skills. However, the “rules” of resume writing are becoming more lax, allowing job searchers to be more creative with their sections which can include Lan- guages, Certifications, Volunteer Experi- ence and even Hobbies & Interests. One standard which will most likely never be- come lax is the one-page “rule.” Most re- cruiters don’t even expect a second page, which means it could be easily forgotten if printed on the back of the page, or easily lost if attached to the other page. Even in a web based format, more than one page obviously demonstrates the applicant’s in- ability to be concise. Some choices to consider within your re- sume are typeface, column number, white space balance and more. For typefaces, the biggest choice is usually between serif and sans-serif fonts. Serif fonts give off a more professional and traditional effect while sans serif fonts express modernity and a clean cut look. The impression these type- faces give off are important to consider if you’re applying to different industries. For example, a serif font will seem more in line with jobs in academia or in business while sans-serif connects well with the technolo- gy and start-up look. It’s also important to consider the medium to which the resume will be viewed. If printed, a serif font will increase readability due to the ‘end cuts’ that distinguish each letter from each oth- er. If on a screen, the safer bet is a sans-ser- if font so the image looks clearer as screens resolutions do not yet make the added de- tails on serifs fonts look totally clear. Sammie Walker 1 Figure 1: An image of the first recorded CV by Leonardo da Vinci.
  2. 2. In regards to columns, the two most com- mon types of resumes are one-column and two-column resumes. One column means the information is shared evenly across the width of the page. The two-column divides the page into two, making the sec- tions smaller but with a more clear hier- archy. These usually consist of small con- tact, skills and activities sections while still allowing you to write out more info for experience, leadership and other more de- tailed work. To see whether you should do a one or two column resume, you can try the ‘squint test.’ First, hold your resume an arm’s length away and squint at it. You can see text heavy areas turn dark grey while the textless or text light areas turn a lighter shade. There should be a balance of grey so that the page is readable but still looks like it has content on it. One last addition to the traditional re- sume is not traditional at all but has been completely adopted: adding in social me- dia links. You have a LinkedIn? Put in the handle! You have a Twitter, YouTube, Ins- tagram, Pinterest, Facebook or any other site you want to highlight, go for it! These links allow your interests and skills to ex- tend past the page. However this process of self-marketing is not without its critics. Dr. Lester Faigley, a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Teas at Austin, criticizes the modern resume and “how it forces candi- dates in the process of this self-construc- tion to regard themselves as products to be sold, as commodities that they must market to the highest bidder.” For him, the severe limitations of space, the imperson- al phrasing (almost always in third per- son), and the strict pressure to fit oneself into categories like “work experience” and “skills,” limit the candidate’s ability to ex- press themselves as a human individual. Faigley considers the resume a peculiarly written artifact “within the discourse of the institution” (the job market) created “outside of institutions” (within someone’s home). This dissonance between where the document was written, one’s home where they can self-express as they please, and where it is sent “forces employment candidates to locate themselves within the institution” which is inherently out of con- text. Does this mean that the job search is a necessary evil? It’s your choice to decide. EYETRACKING There are many estimates for how long a recruiter or employer reads a resume, due to their practiced experience and due to context as well. Would you be more likely to spend 6 seconds or 30 seconds on a re- sume if it were a job fair versus looking at them on your computer screen? One of the most telling indicators of what recruiters truly look at and how they spend time reading is eye tracking software. Eye tracking is “a technologically advanced assessment of eye movement that records and analyzes where and how long a per- son focuses when digesting information or completing activities,” which is repre- sented by a “heat map.” The heat map goes from clear to blue to yellow to orange to red; the redder the spot, the longer the fo- cus. A 2012 study by William Evans found that recruiters tend to have a visual routine when going over resumes, indicating their preference for having an organized and easy to follow layout. (This study was con- ducted by an online resume building web- site so its content has a conflict of interest.) Additionally, this study was the impetus for the “six second review” idea as “de- spite recruiters’ different self-reports – the study found that recruiters spend only 6 seconds reviewing an individual resume.” Interestingly enough, the average self-re- ported time was 4-5 minutes, a strong dis- parity that has not yet since been disputed nor researched. While looking through a document, whether online or printed, its different as- pects take up different amounts of work- ing memory capacity. Ease of readability and sufficient spacing do not add much to your cognitive load or total mental activity. However, when these documents, which are expected to be clear cut and well-de- signed, are poorly organized and hard to read, this increases the cognitive load on the reviewer, making them feel like they don’t want to read it or just remembering the negative experience associated with it. In short, if you want others to read it and have a postitive take away, it should be easy to read. Additionally, there are different prefer- ences and eye tracked behaviors measured when reviewing a printed resume versus an online resume. Online resumes are cre- ated in a context of distraction. They are hosted on the web, where thousands of other sites and applications are begging for our attention. Within online resume profiles, the reviewers in this study were found to be easily distracted by pictures (relevant or not), advertisements and the like. For example, the heat maps of the LinkedIn profiles indicated that the 30 re- cruiters spent an average of 19% of their total time focusing on the profile picture. (Important to note is that the screenshot of a LinkedIn profile before 2012, which has since changed format many times since, which may make this data inaccu- rate for today). When the important infor- mation is in the written content, these dis- tractions take the already limited amount of time that recruiters were willing to give each candidate. Additionally, online re- sumes usually recommend the applicants to include more personal information, but “irrelevant data such as candidates’ age, gender or race [may bias] reviewers’ judg- ments.” 2 Resume Design Figure 2: Examples of Serif and Sans-Serif typefaces.
  3. 3. One more interesting result was “that re- cruiters spent almost 80% of their resume review time on the following data points: Name, Previous position start and end dates, Current title/company, Current position start and end dates, Previous title/company and education.” Beyond that, their search seemed to be a task of confirmation bias, looking for keywords and target phrases that may have appeared in the job description. Since the “resume’s detail and explanatory copy be- came filler and had little to no impact on the initial decision making,” we can infer that the design has significant to moder- ately significant impact on this first impression. Though it can be objectively researched, the act of reviewing seems to be less of a science and more of a search for art. DESIGNED RESUMES It’s best to stick out from the crowd—or is it? The image to the bottom right shows an example of a ‘designed’ resume (a redun- dancy since all resumes are works of de- sign!). As noted in the eye tracking study, illustrations take attention but it may not be as positive as previously thought. Another issue with designed resumes is that the resume is not for its writer. You may be unintentionally making the read- er work harder to read your material if it is not how they are not as they expect it to be. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) explains that “readers have expectations about how a resume should look”—fea- tures including your name on the top of the document, headers indicating the dif- ferent sections of text, and more. At this moment, there is a lot of discourse concerning how much is too much when it comes to design. Prezumes, resumes hosted on a Prezi slideshow, are used to visually take the reader on a journey through your work experience and ac- complishments. Many new visual ele- ments are being incorporated into these designed and even mostly traditional resumes. Just searching for “cool resumes” pulls up thousands of examples of modern and col- orful looking marketing tools. One pop- ular and common element of these new resumes are filling out a visual proficiency bar. However, they do not clearly portray the level of skill the person says they have in the given programming language, spo- ken language, soft skill, etc. What does 3/5 dots mean in terms of proficiency? Does 3/5 pencils convince me that you know technical writing well enough for me to hire you? Like the proficiency bars, pie charts are often includ- ed to illustrate how the candidate views their skills divided within themselves. Though very visual- ly interesting, these graphs can easily be hard to read or may unintentionally make the candi- date look weaker if a desired skill is ranked very low. Since these charts need to be analyzed, they are inherently more work to read, therefore increasing the cognitive load placed on the reader and po- tentially making the graph one of the only read pieces. As seen before, these resumes are also more likely to include pic- tures or illustrations, whether it be a portrait of the candidate or little clip art images that bring more life into the document. It is usually frowned upon to in- clude a photo of yourself on the resume since it could potentially bias the recruiter based on your gender, age, race and other physical factors. However, for other types Sammie Walker 3 Figure 3: The pattern of eye movements along a 2012 LinkedIn Profile. Figure 4: A traditional resume alongside a designed resume.
  4. 4. of resumes such as ones from other coun- tries or one for a casting call or a theatre major, these are more likely to aid in the job search. As technology has integrat- ed into our daily lives, it has also found a home in the professional sphere and may influence your decision to add a new form of image on the document: the QR Code. The recruiter can take a picture of the code on your resume and use an app to direct them to the online media you encoded on the black and white photo. This allows the candidate to direct the recruiter to your personal website, online resume, profes- sional portfolio or other desired link. This addition could make you as the candidate look tech-savvy, an added bonus in the battle of trying to stand out of the crowd. Some possible disadvantages include the code taking up valuable content space or recruiters not knowing how or wanting to use the code but these challenges should be weighed by the resume writer as to what they find most important. Color is a big deal in a resume. Even some more traditional resumes are beginning to have at least one tone for the headers. Many of these Prezumes and other Pinter- est infographics use color to attract atten- tion to the document as a whole, but for- get to let the page breathe and be readable. Bright colors could either bring or deflect a reader to the page. Light accent colors are usually a safe bet. A CLEAN SLATE How should you even start writing a re- sume? First, don’t write a resume. Write out a comprehensive list of jobs, activities, honors and whatever accomplishments you completed over the past couple of years. Include high school too! Make sure while you’re listing to leave space so you can explain what you’ve done in those ex- periences. If you worked as a waiter/wait- ress, don’t include small tasks such as wip- ing down tables or taking orders. The rule of thumb is to generalize the tasks while specifying the effect, which could either be qualitative or quantitative. For the waiter/ waitress here are two examples, one inef- fective and one effective: NO: Cleaned and Waited tables, took many orders and smiled at customers when they walked in to Dave’s Burgers. YES: Facilitated effective customer service by attending to 40 customers per day, serv- ing them quickly and accurately while pro- moting a friendly environment. Use action verbs that help summarize what you’ve done and make sure to vary them! Using ‘worked’ over and over doesn’t truly represent what positive effect you had on the organization and their operations. After making your comprehensive list with action phrases, connect them with the job you’re applying for. What skills do they want to know you have? Tailor your one page to their needs! Don’t scrap the comprehensive list but make it a docu- ment that you can take pieces off of so you can make different tailored resumes, such as a general resume, a technical resume, a Spanish resume, etc. Now go out there and wow the crowd! Just make sure to read out your work to check for spelling and gram- mar! Works Cited Brizee, Allen. “Résumé Design.” Purdue OWL: Résumé Design. Purdue University, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 May 2015. Cenedella, Marc. “Leonardo Da Vinci’s Resume.” The Ladders, 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 01 May 2015. Evans, Will. “Eye Tracking Online Meta- cognition: Cognitive Complexity and Re- cruiter Decision Making.” TheLadders. 2012. Web. 03 May 2015. “Introduction to and Expectations for Ré- sumés.” Purdue OWL: Résumés 1: Intro- duction to Résumés. Purdue University, n.d. Web. 04 May 2015. Jackson, LC. “The 500+ Year History of the CV – The Life and Death of the Curricu- lum Vitae?” TheEmployable, 13 Dec. 2011. Web. 01 May 2015. Popken, Randall. “Introduction.” The Ped- agogical Dissemination of a Genre: The Resume in American Business Discourse Textbooks, 1914-1939. 1st ed. Vol. 19. N.p.: JAC, 1999. 91-94. JSTOR. Web. 02 May 2015. “QR Codes Power Up Resumes.” PRSA Jobcenter and IAEWS. The Public Rela- tions Society of America, n.d. Web. 04 May 2015. 4 Resume Design Sammie Walker Carnegie Mellon University 70-160 Graphic Media Management Figure 5: A cool resume.