Making mistakes in resume design is something that no one wants to do. The good news is that design-related resume mistakes are fairly easy to correct. This post will outline some common resume mistakes, accompanied by tips on how to make your resume stand out.

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Resume mistakes in resume design
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Generally speaking, resume mistakes can be broken down into 2 categories: content and design. Content mistakes are all about what information to include and what to leave out, and this is absolutely your call, the resume writer. Design mistakes, on the other hand, comes in many forms.

Design is indeed a subjective theme, and resume design is a challenge even for skilled graphic designer. There’s no single right way to design a resume, but you can get it right if you remember to avoid these resume mistakes below.

Resume mistake #1: No hierarchy of information

You probably have seen the term hierarchy a lot when researching principles of design. The word may sound intimidating, but hierarchy is just a fancy word for levels of information, or priority.

In resume design, good hierarchy serves 2 major benefits:

  • Show the reader the order of importance of the pieces of information that make up your resume. It subconsciously helps the readers navigate from one piece to the next
  • Provide a comfortable reading experience
  • Make the resume very skimmable

The resume review process on the other end is never linear. People who read our resumes are probably switching back and forth between multiple tasks. They’re not in a focussed reading mode with a hot cup of latte and a comfy chair. Let’s make it easy for them to skim.

Please remember this: A resume has many layers of information. If everything is top priority, then nothing is a priority.

Resume design example of styling the Experiences section
Example of setting up hierarchy in resume. Avaiable at Etsy

In the example above, both the job title and company name are in Georgia bold caps because they are important. The company name is also in italic to differentiate it from the job title.

When I say 5 levels of information, it doesn’t mean that each level has to be completely different. You can see that the parent company, location and date range are of the same style, Franklin Gothic medium italic because I have separated them with vertical bars.

To sum it up, you can separate one piece of information from the next through shifts in style, size, weight, case, slant and color. Just a slight change in any of them will make your resume stand out.

Resume mistake #2: Wrong font choice or pairing

Have you come across resumes which you just don’t want to read, or you try to skim quickly? If it’s not due to lack of hierarchy, then it’s probably bad font choice, or wrong font pairing. That’s a critical resume mistake we want to avoid.

In a nutshell, a resume is your own sell sheet which shows why you’re the best thing since sliced bread a job position. Yet, its design has to meet many criteria: serious, straightforward, professional, but not boring. Who wants your sell sheet too look like a page from a toothbrush manual?

That brings up the question: Which typeface represent those qualities about your professional profile? From what I’ve learned, an ideal font for resume design should:

  • large X-height so that it can be read well at small sizes
  • medium weight
  • clear and simple design
  • not beautiful

The last criterium is important for the following reasons

  1. Beautiful, fancy fonts don’t have a place in a dense document laden with information like resumes.
  2. In many cases, you will have to submit your resume in Word format. If the receiver’s computer doesn’t have your fancy fonts installed, the system will replace them with some ugly fonts. That’s out of your control. This is a resume mistake that we can absolutely prevent.

Resume mistake #3: Not checking resumes for print

It’s important to remember that your resume will most likely be read on screen first, and then it might be printed out for review. That means something that looks cool on screen will probably not translate very well to paper. This is a common resume mistake that many people seem to oblivious to.

In some cases, you apply to a young company where the hiring mangers do everything on their laptops or tablets, and you won’t have to worry about screen-paper mismatch. That being said, we are always pursuing anything, be it a new job, promotion, side gigs, goal etc. we don’t want to leave anything to chance, and we need to nip any resume mistake in the bud.

Below are some common issues in designing resumes for print.

Bad colors

Using colors is a trend in creative resume design, but it’s important to remember that there’s a world of difference between what you see on screen and what you see on paper. The turquoise color that you love on screen may get in the way of reading on paper

At the end of the day, resume design is all about communicating your suitability for the role in seconds flat. We are not creating anything new. Don’t hesitate to get rid of a color if makes your resume hard to read.

Using bleeds

You probably have seen a lot of resume designs which look like this.

Bleed-Resume mistakes
Bleed – potential resume issues

Putting a colored bar at the edge of the page is an easy way to prettifying a resume and put the key information in focus. There’s one potential problem, however.

The idea behinds those colored bars is that you’re printing all the way to the edge of the paper. In practice, most printers have built-in border which prevent you from doing that. To achieve borderless printing, you have to set up bleed.

In laymen’s term, bleed is the part outside of the finished piece. You print your document on larger paper and then trim down at the bleed with an X-acto knife or something similar. That’s how get your document or artwork to run full to the edge of the paper.

Now the problem arises: Who’s going to do the trimming when most job seekers nowadays send their resumes electronically? The hiring manager, the assistant, the receptionist? They probably don’t know what bleed is, and don’t care to do the trimming for you.

To add to the problem, color that bleeds on a letter-sized document, which is incidentally the standard resume size, will not bleed in printing. The result is that you will see white, uneven borders, and whoever receives your profile may be baffled at this resume mistake.

The best thing is to avoid bleeds altogether.

Resume mistake #4: unreasonable spacing

Spacing has always been an important element in design, but it is even more so with regards to resume design. A bit of space between items makes a world of difference in readability.

Always leave generous space below your name and job title (as much as 4 lines) because it is the most important category. Leave about 2 lines between different sections like Skills, Experiences, Education, Affiliations etc.

Resume mistake #5: think that bigger equals more impact

We often think that bigger font size means more contrast, impact and drama. You can see it in a lot of Pinterest graphics, with titles in caps and super big font size from start to end. They always look like screaming to me, and I suppose no one likes to be screamed at.

In face, contrast doesn’t have to be big. All we need is a bit of difference for the eye to hold on to.

Resume mistake - bigger equals more importance
Sometimes, a change in style is enough to differentiate information. Available at Etsy

You can see that in the resume above, the section with parent companies, location and date range is in smaller font size than the job description. However, they still look different enough with since they are in Franklin Gothic medium italic, as opposed to Georgia regular.

Resume mistake #6: Not seeking feedback

Do you have a friend or colleague whose judgement you trust? If yes, please send them your resume for feedback. Sometimes we’re too close to our own story to see through any resume mistakes.

Lastly, after all the hard work we did on our resumes, it’s impossible to please everyone. Design is subjective, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like something about your resume design. What can you do then?

Follow this guideline, trust your gut, trust your design soulmate and channel your effort to other more fruitful means of job hunting, like networking, online branding etc. 


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Resume mistakes in resume design
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