Clever Resume Design Solutions For Resume Writers
When we finish writing resumes, we aren't finished yet. Our attention turns to adding even more "wow."
That's why clients hire us.
We know how to string and perfect the words we write. Yet, beyond the content, we take it one step further and add visual flair to our resumes.
In this post, I've shifted the focus to resume designs. One of my favorite topics!
Boring black and white resumes had ruled the roost for far too long.
The switchover from bland to beautiful has occurred because most hiring managers and recruiters now view resumes as "soft copies" (on a device screen).
We can't necessarily go ballistic with our resume designs across most career fields. However, there's a lot we can do to add visual appeal to our resumes, while remaining professional, and at times, conservative. And, keeping our resumes ATS compliant!
Possible Skills Gap
Most of us however may have limited (or zero) graphic design skills. Therefore, introducing more designs into the resumes we produce may not come easy, even with today's design tools available at our fingertips.
Before I continue talking about how great graphic design is in a resume, let me first slow down and tell you this:
The biggest caution for any resume writer is to know how to leverage design without causing ATS compatibility issues. If you read the last resume writing tip I wrote on ATS compliance, you know that we need to produce resumes that "behave" well with applicant software.
This sounds much scarier than it needs to be. Yet, I want you to be aware of the pitfalls so you don't hinder the job-search success of your clients.
Sound good? Okay, let's keep going...
EDITORIAL NOTE: If you missed the previous two posts you can check those out here:
Beginner Bits You Need to Know About Graphics & ATS
In general, most ATS ignore:
- Text Boxes
This is the loophole that we exploit as resume writers. So, the resume header example you see at the top of this article would go bye-bye once the client's resume gets parsed by the employer's ATS.
On the flip side, the resume would remain intact - design and all - for those employers who view the original resume as a .docx or .pdf copy. This is good news!
It's the parsing that's the problem. ATS can't "read" graphics. That's why any important content you tuck into a graphic needs to also get placed somewhere else in the resume. Not the header or footer areas though! ATS is oblivious to those areas too.
You may have noticed that I placed the client's contact info in the above graphic. Since I did, I would also need to have the email, phone, and LinkedIn URL as plain text somewhere else in the resume too. Remember, we need the ATS to "see" and parse it.
Here's a ninja trick you won't want to miss...
One of the neatest tricks I learned about how to handle this is through layering. If you have any experience with graphic design, you know that pictures, illustrations, icons, and so on, can get layers on top of each other.
This is possible with resume graphics too. We as resume writers simply layer and position graphics OVER other things we don't want to be seen by the naked eye, such as bits of plain text.
If you've ever looked at award-winning resumes and wondered how those are ATS compliant, this is their secret! These resume writers have found workarounds to ATS limitations.
Before I continue telling you more about design, I want to first explain what you need to know about applicant software.
ATS is simple and can be explained and understood very easily.
When a resume is parsed by an ATS, what the software does and doesn't read comes down to ASCII (pronounced as-kee).
Yeah, there may be some of you asking, what the heck is that? ASCII is a plain text version of any document, including a resume.
Do this to see how it works...
You can see this in action by opening any resume, clicking save as, and selecting PLAIN TEXT as the "save as type" before saving the new document.
Close the document. This is an important step.
When you search for the newly saved document, you're looking for a .txt file. Upon opening, you'll immediately notice the visual plainness of the content. The document gets stripped of all formatting, such as bold and italics, and other design elements, such as text boxes and graphics are gone too.
The content you see in that TXT file is essentially what ATS sees.
I once called these "ugly duckling resumes" because years ago, job seekers needed ASCII/text versions of their resumes to accommodate old online application restrictions. Thankfully, those are no longer needed.
Intro to Design
Okay, let's say you're new to design. Or, you have some skills and you're looking to up those to a more advanced level.
Where's the best place to start?
Start by checking out what MASTER RESUME WRITERS are doing with design.
Head over to Google images and input “award-winning resumes" into the search bar.
By reviewing those examples, you can learn what's possible. Your goal is to use those for inspiration and get your creative juices flowing, while not "borrowing" their complete design.
Remember, you want to showcase your design work, not someone else's.
You can also search for "resume templates." Those can be plainer and gaudy at times, though will give you some guidance on color choices, monogram examples, and so on.
Keep in mind, however, that ATS compliance was likely not taken into consideration when those templates were designed. So although they may look great initially, they might be a nightmare for job seekers using them in the real world.
While searching images, look at business letterhead too. I find those examples to be inspiring when creating a monogram for a client's resume.
Tools For Resume Design
My first couple of recommendations might seem unusual. However, most people have tons of experience with them, so rather than searching for new tools to learn, my first two recommendations may already be at your fingertips.
Let's start with the most well-known: MS Word. Surprisingly, the word processing software offers some solid design features.
For example, I can create a beautiful monogram for a resume in just a few minutes using a basic text box and non-traditional font.
If I don't want the monogram to get altered by my client or their device, I can take a screenshot and crop it around the borders. I'll then hover, right-click, and save it as an image that I can then reintroduce and position in the resume.
Essentially, I made the monogram text box into an uneditable graphic.
MS Word also enables creators to introduce text boxes with shadowing, and position those wherever we want them.
Word also allows shading and borders to be applied to select text (you'll that this under Design -> Page Borders -> Borders). This has been a go-to strategy for many of us for years.
For an advanced strategy, however, shapes (not shading) can be used many different ways. For example, you can use a shape with shape effects (e.g., shadowing, glow, or bevel) to showcase a snippet from a recommendation letter your client received.
You can add gradient fill and adjust the transparency of the shape for visual options too.
YouTube offers many videos on how to introduce visual design into your MS Word documents if you want to check those out:
The most common design features that resume writers use in MS Word include:
- Page Borders
- Text Borders Around Paragraphs
- Text Boxes
- Icons/Illustrations (Office 365)
If you're a beginner, start with...
Textboxes/shapes that contain text and color are a great first step into design. These are easy to create IMHO. But, you'll find positioning them so they "look just right" will be your biggest pain point.
Once you master those, you could expand by adding shape shadowing and other effects (e.g., soft and beveled edges) as well.
I'm going to surprise you with my next software recommendation...
Another software I use extensively for creating all kinds of graphics is PowerPoint.
I didn't realize PowerPoint's potential for design until I started using it often. The more I used it, the more I loved it.
Layering and cropping are super easy!
To save time, I use illustrations and icons from paid sources and layer those to add more oomph to my finished resume headers.
PowerPoint enables me to change the color, artistic effect, and transparency of just about anything; e.g., text, pictures, icons, charts, etc.
If you're an Office 365 user, you may have noticed the additional royalty-free icons and 3D model templates in PowerPoint too. Super useful when you're wanting to add design to your resumes!
Okay. For my next software recommendation, you can't throw a rock without hitting someone using this online gem: Canva. The software has free and paid versions.
A benefit of Canva is that you can use it to create beautiful resume headers AND produce marketing materials such as postcards, presentations, and social media collateral for your business.
Canva is very easy to use with its many templates and drop-and-drag features. Once you create 5-10 go-to resume headers, you can use those for the next several resume projects before having to expand your portfolio.
For those wanting a more robust solution, check out Adobe InDesign. If you're someone who already has an eye for developing creatives, a SaaS software could be the answer for you.
Is Google Docs Good For Design?
I'm often asked this question because Google's free document software has seen a jump in use in recent years.
Although Google Docs provides some serious functionality comparable to Office products, their document design features are still somewhat limited.
I'm sure someone with the time and patience could find decent workarounds using the software.
However, the limitations of the free service are difficult to accept once you've grown accustomed to the features of other, more robust services.
The more you can impress clients with your writing and design skills the more repeat and referral business you'll get. It's that simple.
Do yourself a favor and learn EVERYTHING you can about resumes, from strategic content development to impressive design techniques.
Your clients (and you too!) will be glad you did.