Your job search toolkit — Part Two: is your resume guilty of horror vacui?

Dr. Belloso was my Art History professor at St. Joseph’s College in New York. I remember loving the course and now, many years later, a deep appreciation and fond memories of her gentle yet enthusiastic way of sharing her passion for art, remain. She segued from era to era tying history to the cultivation of humankind’s perception of the world around it in artistic ways. But the memories have melded over time, the time periods and their characteristics less distinct. One principle, though, has stayed with me and I remember the class as though it were yesterday.

General View of the Island Neveranger,  Adolf Wolfli

General View of the Island Neveranger, Adolf Wolfli

Perhaps, it’s the daily reminders I have as I review resumes. It is the principle of horror vacui – or fear of empty spaces. It’s at times attributed to the Mycenaeans, the Greeks, the Arabs, or the Aztecs, among others. For me though, I attribute it to candidates who see developing their resumes as a chore. “There . . . it’s done . . . time to check!” I have decided that I, as far as resume design is concerned, belong to the school of minimalism, the opposite of horror vacui. As mentioned in the previous post, your resume should be a breathing document. To do that, it needs room to breathe.

To test the influence of visual appeal, I spread about 60 resumes over my dining room table . . . the largest and usually only clear space in the house (maybe I should practice what I preach??) I then started pulling out the ones that caught my eye . . . in a positive way. About 40 were left on the table and if there was a horror vacui wing at the Getty Museum . . . these would be in it. In the age of Applicant Tracking Systems, this may, to some, seem obsolete but I remain firm in my conviction that computerized candidate assessment programs are not all things to all searches. The more specific the niche or role in the influence of broader corporate culture, the more important the personal touch in the hiring process.

So, let’s talk about the 20 resumes that went on to the next round. In this post, content is not as important; today, it’s all about looks. These opinions, by the way, apply equally to those resumes I am viewing onscreen. Actually, if I’m not engaged by what I am seeing on my computer, the resumes don’t get printed. In this post, we’re going to talk about mechanics: fonts, sizing, and space. Sometimes, a candidate’s choices in these areas are influenced by the pre-conceived notion of how long one’s resume should be. If you’ve had a rich career, and there is self-imposed pressure to keep it to two pages, most candidates will try to achieve that by font size and spacing. If I receive a one-page resume, you probably don’t have the depth of experience I’m looking for on behalf of my clients. If you send two pages and I need a magnifying glass, you may be passed over. Some of my favorite resumes have been between three and four pages long. Don’t risk being overlooked because you feel restricted by the number of pages you should use to market yourself.

Fonts: I loathe Times New Roman (TNR) on resumes. ITRHO (in this recruiter’s humble opinion) TNR is old-fashioned and not as easy to read. Numerous studies have been conducted about the choice between serif and sans serif fonts, particularly for online viewing. There’s nothing conclusive about the best choice, but there appears to be a slight leaning toward the use of sans serif (like Arial, Verdana, etc.) Should you find yourself with some time to spare on a soccer field one of these weekends, take a look at this article, It’s quite comprehensive and I’d like to point out that it was posted in a sans serif font, my preference.

Sizing: For resumes, never smaller than 10 pt. – and the readability of this will be affected by font selection, by the way. I think 12 or 14 pt. for headings and 10 pt., but preferably 11 pt. or 12 pt., for the resume’s body works pretty well. You’d be astonished at the number of resumes received that are in 8 pt. or 9 pt. font size. It’s like looking at one of those matchbook covers that purportedly has the whole Bible written inside. Avoid the “how many clowns can you fit in a small car” syndrome.

Spacing: Again, your resume needs room to breathe. In fairness to you and your experience, create an environment where each bullet or sentence provides a pause for reflection . . . allow the reader to digest what they’ve just learned about you. Design the space, don’t force yourself into it. I would recommend top and bottom margins to be no smaller than .5 inches. Right and left margins should be no smaller than .75 inches. To have your experience stand out, I would use .6 pts. between bullets and/or sentences; slightly more between positions.

I’ve provided two screen shots below. Both contain exactly the same information (although the improvement in spacing and margins have moved some of the positions on the second resume excerpt onto another page.)

This shot was done in TNR with 10 pt. headers and 8 pt. body size (again, based on actual resumes I have received.) The margins are .38 inches all the way around. resume-bad-spacing-resized
The page below was done in Arial with 12 pt. and 10 pt. fonts and the margins mentioned above.resume-good-spacing-revised
Which one would you rather read?

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