1. Your “visually distinctive” résumé may never even be seen by a human being at the employer’s end, because it didn’t get through the automated résumé processing stage. To use the current buzzword, it isn’t ATS-compatible. (This applies to “creative” résumés in general, because what most people mean by “creative” is just unusual visual effects—which are usually unusual for a reason.)

2. If a human being does see it, it may have been so scrambled by the processing technology that they won’t bother to read it

3. The visual options for résumés are severely limited by the technology used to transmit them, print them, or display them.



Quite a few résumé services feature résumés with non-standard fonts, and with colors, images, and other devices that are supposed to make them more attractive. Attractive, maybe, maybe not. Effective, no. Because that’s not how résumés work.

For technical reasons, graphics and non-standard fonts, and also the tables that very many résumé services use to control their layouts, either don’t get through electronic résumé transmission and processing at all, or come out so messy that no-one will bother to read them. Even Word’s automatic bulleted lists are a minor problem. Virtually everyone uses them, but there are safer ways to do this job, that also look a lot better. (There are, after all, a few hundred other résumés in the pile.)

The technical reasons are inescapable—résumés have to be pretty much plain vanilla. Résumés are subject to all sorts of electronic handling by programs other than Word. The many Word features that don’t work with such programs can make a résumé unreadable and unprocessable.

And Word is a pretty clunky tool for visual refinement—especially if you have less-than-profound knowledge of the program, and no knowledge at all of real-world typography. Tarted-up Word documents look tacky compared to a lot of other documents people see. Quality typographic work is done with programs much more powerful and better-designed than Word. (For twenty years, Adobe InDesign has been essentially the only player in this field. Before that, it was Quark and, some said, PageMaker. Before that, it was non-desktop front end systems running DOS 4 or earlier on small mainframes.)

Fonts are another issue. Only a very small number of fonts—three or four, at the most—are both typographically suitable for resumés and present on all computers. Fonts—fontware—is separate from the documents that use the fonts. Fontware doesn’t get transmitted along with Word documents (or most other documents that use them). If computer used by the person receiving your résumé doesn’t have the fonts you used to compose it, another font will be substituted. Lines will rerun, page breaks will change, and the appearance and readability of your resumé will be seriously degraded. (For more about this, see the section on fonts for résumés in our Résumé Encyclopedia.)

However, there are some expert formatting features in Word that allow you to use almost all the visual formatting techniques you could want (except tables and columns), give you finer control than the clunky features usually used, and actually don’t have technical compatibility issues in résumé processing.

And if you have a production professional’s knowledge of typography, fonts, and font technology in the real world, you’ll know the best fonts to use, and how to use them most effectively.

With résumé formatting, the art is to make plain vanilla look good. I can apply years of professional experience with typography, production technology, and editing, for demanding advertising, corporate, and media clients, to make plain-vanilla stand out for appearance and functionality.








“What you keep out is just as important as what you put in.”

— Marcella Hazan, on cooking.
Her recipes were often very simple indeed; one tomato sauce recipe has three ingredients. In other words, knowledge, experience, and technique are as important as ingredients.