Résumé Formats: What is Acceptable “Attire”?

Ensuring that your résumé format works in every situation is a bit tricky. Do you create it using MS Word or is an alternate word-processing program acceptable? Is it okay to include tables, graphs, shaded text boxes, and/or borders? How about color and graphics?

Yes, I do have a dating analogy to answer those questions!

Suppose you accept a date with an outdoorsman who wants to take you hiking? Obviously the proper attire would be hiking boots, comfortable clothing, a hat and sunglasses (and please, do not forget the insect repellant!) Then, the next caller wants to take you to the symphony – image how well you would be received if you showed up at the symphony in hiking attire!?!

The point here is that when it comes to résumé formats, as with dating attire, you need to know what is acceptable to and compatible with the recipient and adjust as needed.

I recently returned from The National Résumé Writers’ Association 14th Annual Career Conference, where I and other presenters shared samples of our work with attendees. Some of the résumé samples were amazing in terms of design elements. Tables, graphs, shaded text boxes, borders, color, graphics – I saw them all. Each of these creative designs would distinguish the résumé from the hundreds of others in the stack and inspire the recipient to take action. Or would they?

A former client emailed me last evening and informed me that the text boxes I included in his résumé were not visible to some of his recipients. My attempt to call out significant accomplishments in his career were lost somewhere in the transmission.

On another occasion, a client informed me that the graphic symbol I used instead of the standard “bullet” at the beginning of each of his accomplishments printed out as a dollar sign on his end. Although I could have argued that this was a subliminal message to the employer that he should offer my client a high salary, I quickly fixed this error.

Then there was the client who informed me that the recruiter did not like the tables I included along with his achievement bullets and he wanted them removed. In doing so, we would have eliminated vital information that spoke to his year-over-year revenue gains that reflected his outstanding sales abilities. I reformatted the resume to give the recruiter what he needed and wanted to see.

I know it is easier and more time efficient to stick with one résumé format, but as with dating attire, different situations and different audiences require different approaches. Create a résumé that reflects your style and brand, learn what you can about the recipient, and adapt accordingly to ensure the best match.

As for online applications, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), and Plain Text documents… I’ll save blogging about that subject for another time.

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