If you’ve worked through these articles in order, you’ve seen how a CV builds section by section. We’ve thought about the content that should go in every section so that you’re doing the best job possible at selling yourself to potential employers. We’ve also talked a little about layout options for each section.
This article is a little different. But no less important.
Here, we’re talking about formatting.
Why Does Formatting Matter?
It’s a common mistake that people take a long time thinking about what to say and how to word their points on a CV, and then undermine all that effort by presenting it badly.
Too often tiny text ends up squashed together on “busy” looking pages because people think they’re being clever by fitting just a little bit more on the page.
Far from it, they’re actually significantly reducing the impact of their words.
The reason? Because poor formatting means that those words are much less likely to be read.
People reviewing CVs are busy.
And they’re probably having to look at a lot of CVs.
At the end of a long day reviewing CVs, who do you think seems like a more appealing candidate – the one who submitted a 2 page CV that uses every available line and corner of the page to give them even more information, or the candidate who took extra time to distill their information down to only use the most relevant points that speak directly to the needs and wants of the employer?
Now, of course, we’d like to believe that all CV reviews start with the same open mind and curiosity… but why not give your chances an extra boost by presenting your document in the most appealing way?!
CV Formatting Must-Haves
Section headers should be the most prominent and eye catching text on the page – you should be able to hold your CV at arms lengths and still be able to easily make out the headers.
Use line breaks (empty lines) between sections and between entries within sections (like between jobs, for example).
Be consistent with the spacing.
Line breaks are one of the first things people start cutting when they’re looking for “easy” ways to reduce the length of their CV, but it’s a huge mistake. Taking out line breaks immediately makes your CV much more difficult to scan through quickly.
See line breaks before a new section header as important as the header itself.
Use a decent margin (the space around your text at the sides of the page).
Again, it can be tempting to make these smaller to save space but it has an immediate impact on your reader and their ability to scan the document quickly.
Use bullet point lists instead of paragraphs of text.
You might feel like you get more words on the page in your paragraph but at best, people are skim reading – at worst they’re skipping sections of it all together.
Using bullet points forces you to be specific and concise with what you’re saying – and lays it out on the page in an easy scannable way.
So actually use your word processor’s bullet point list function, don’t just set things onto new lines yourself.
It’s also important to check all lists once you’re finished – are the bullet points all in line throughout the document? If you’re changing the indentation for one, do it for them all.
Single Column Layout
Be careful using multiple columns. They can work well in some situations, but they can quickly become confusing for the reader. In general we’d advise against them.
The quickest and easiest way for your reader to understand what you’re telling them is for the information to be readable in one column. Anything other than that and your reader is wasting valuable attention and brain power figuring out what to read next, and what order things go in.
You want ALL their attention and brain power focused on seeing how well suited you are, don’t waste any of it unnecessarily.
When you take the approach of everything on your CV being directly appropriate and highly tailored to that job, very little of it will take up more than a line per point. If you’re using columns but points are taking multiple lines, you’re not using the space efficiently.
Keep text consistent throughout.
Be especially careful if you’re copying in text from another document.
Font style and size should be consistent (with the exception of section headers that should be bigger in size, but still the same font style). In a world where many jobs are highlighting “attention to detail” as a vital skill for employees, this is one to watch.
The easiest way to be sure of this is to wait until you’re finished writing, highlight all the text and change it to a font and size that you want, then go to the headers and increase their size.
Readable Font Size
On the issue of text – don’t make the font size too small.
Again, you might fit more on the page, but if it’s not easily readable you’re hurting your chances.
Specific Text Formatting
Make use of bold and underlining to help specific important text stand out, or to create a standard layout within sections
It’s generally best to stay away from using italic formatting, as text in this format is actually more difficult to read quickly.
It’s also best to avoid any other items, pictures, graphics, images on the page.
You might think that they’ll help an employer remember your document but, again, you’re taking their focus away from the text and making it more difficult to read quickly.
Saving in the Right Format
Once you’ve got the formatting you want, you have to make sure it stays that way.
If you’ve used a lot of formatting (especially tabs, bullet point lists, or additional spacing) then you need to be aware that your beautifully crafted CV might look like a jumbled mess when it’s opened on another system – especially if you’re sending it as a “word” document.
The best thing to do is to save the file as a pdf and send it that way instead. A pdf file will maintain your formatting no matter what computer and what software opens it.
About the Author
Content Marketing and Career Coaching
Claire runs GetReskilled’s Advanced Career Coaching Programme – our specially devised job hunting course that helps our trainees take that final step into employment by leading them through the job hunting process. She is extremely enthusiastic about helping people reach their final goal of employment in their new career path.
Claire has a BSc (Hons) in Medical Biology from Edinburgh University and spent 7 years working in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.
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