• Megan Johanson

How I Made My Resume More Visually Appealing

I’ve really come to value visual simplicity and even learn a little bit about design principles in the last few years, but my resume does not reflect it. Given that recruiters spend approximately 7.4 seconds reviewing an individual resume, it makes sense to make it as streamlined and functional as possible.


So, I’ve decided to reformat my resume to look more modern, clean, and visually appealing. Where possible, I’d like to integrate data visualizations to convey the existing content.


Gathering Inspiration

A search online for “modern resume designs” shows me a lot of examples of resumes multiple sections (usually two columns) divided by lines or white space, icons related to contact information, modest use of color, and even pictures of the applicants.


Screenshot of a Pinterest search showing several modern resume templates, with good use of white space, color, and visuals.


Some resumes included actual charts and graphs, but with filler text in the all-important Experience section. I think it is unlikely that most people have so little to put in the Experience and Education sections that they have room for a chart. Moreover, having enough relevant data to populate a bar or line chart seems unrealistic. I could maybe see appropriate uses of this if you, say, raised an increasing amount of money for your organization every year for at least 3 years, but most people’s achievements are harder to quantify.


A few design principles I see consistently are:

1. The use of a text hierarchy, where the most important information is the largest font on the page, the second most important information is the second largest font, and so on. Headers and sub-headers clearly stand out from the rest of the text.

2. The use of white space in many of the examples. White space can be used to define the boundaries of different sections, but without providing visual clutter that draws the eye away from the real content. Related to this is the use of 2 columns in most resumes.

3. The use of icons for their contact information sections, which stand out nicely from the rest of the text.


Before


The before version of my resume with a gray bar going down the left side of the two pages.


Here is my resume. I don’t think it’s the worst resume, but there is room for improvement. When I last updated it, I added the gray bar on the left to contain the timeline of my work experience, but now I think it looks dull. Also, despite the gray bar, it feels like just 1 column of data with no white space. There isn’t much “breathing room” here.


I also hesitate to use my picture, despite what the samples showed, because it would take up valuable space where I’d rather share actual content and I don’t think what someone looks like should factor into a resume review. In fact, implicit bias has been found in resume review studies so it’s best to skip this non-essential feature that could bias people against you. Instead, I think I’ll focus on simplicity in my new design, with a few attention-grabbing features.


*Microsoft Office Tip*

My resume was created in PowerPoint rather than Word, because I prefer the freedom of moving around text boxes and images that PowerPoint provides. To make your resume in PowerPoint, just go to the Design tab in the toolbar. At the far right you should have a Customize section with a Slide Size button. If you click on that and select Custom Slide Size, you can resize the PowerPoint slide to be any size you want.


I make mine be the standard paper size for my resume (8.5 x 11 inches). Then you can insert your text and play around with different layouts much more easily than you could in Word. Save it as a PDF before you share it and no one will ever know!


Reformatting Plan

In reformatting my resume, I’m going to focus on these 5 features:

1. Using a clear text hierarchy

2. Using white space efficiently

3. Restructuring the sections to be more modern and streamlined

4. Using data visualization tools where possible

5. Adding a Profile/About Me section


I didn’t really want to spend much time on the actual content, but after looking at some examples I think I have too many bullet points under each job I’ve had. I’m going to remove bullets that seem less relevant to what I want to do in the future, knowing that when I actually apply for jobs I’ll review and customize the information in those bullets to align with the potential job.



After

My revised resume with a dark blue font for the section headers, more white space between sections, and it is reduced to one page.

In addition to the 5 features I identified above, I decided to use a bit of color to emphasize the section headers. I also debated putting my name in a unique script font that I thought added a bit of character. I went so far as to search for fonts here. The site has a really nice feature where you can type in a phrase to preview in each font so you don’t have to download a bunch to test out individually.


However, I ultimately decided to keep it simple and use Arial, after reading more about accessibility in documents. Unusual letter shapes (like fancy fonts) can be tough to make sense of if someone has a visual or cognitive impairment. Arial might be basic, but I don’t want anything to be a barrier to a potential employer hiring me.


I also added a data visualization component to my “Tools” section, which was originally just a “Software” list within my “Skills” section. I decided to separate it out as its own section and use dots to indicate my level of expertise with each. This is a bit tricky because it’s natural to want to say you are an expert at everything, but then there would be no point of using the visualizations, and it also wouldn’t be true. I think a bit of honest self-assessment would be appreciated.


So, I created a simple dot system where 5 dots (the max) means expert and fewer dots mean I have less experience, although I didn’t put anything on my resume I don’t have at least a basic understanding of. In addition, if given the chance in an interview I would point out that although my experience with some tools is minimal, I am a fast learner and taught myself Camtasia last year while creating an online Excel course, and I am currently teaching myself Power BI. I feel confident that if a different tool was necessary for a job, I could learn it within a reasonable timeframe.


I’d love feedback

1. Should I include Dr. in front of my name at the top of the resume?

2. Do I need to find a way to fit back in my organizational memberships?

3. Does the About Me section add enough value for the space it takes up?