I’ve been reading resumes, interviewing and hiring people for various positions for 5 years or so. Support technicians, Designers, Engineers, Marketers, Office Admins, you name it.

While I am often depressed at how bad some of them are, I’m more depressed when I see great candidates who let themselves down by making silly mistakes. I’m not talking about spell-checking. I’m saying you should be mindful of the position you’re applying for and make sure your resume positively reflects your skills that are relevant to that position.

The layout of the document, the font you use, the colours you use (if any), your choice of words, all of these matter. They are subtle yet powerful signals to the reader. They’re also the kinds of things that many a well-meaning proof reader will miss.

Here are some examples. Imagine you’re a UX/UI/Interaction designer applying for a job.

  • You have URLs in your document that are underlined and look like links, but they’re not clickable. I click on them and nothing happens. Not very user friendly.
  • Your resume is grey text on black. Looks different, stands out from the crowd. But many people print resumes to read them, and that’d be a huge waste of ink.
  • Or maybe you’ve used grey text on white for that subtle, stylish look. But my LCD screen isn’t as good as your Apple Cinema Display and my colour settings are whacky. So I can’t read it.
  • You used a non standard structure for your resume so my desire to skim read it is stymied. Did you think about your audience here?
  • You made it so pretty and artful that I can’t quickly and easily consume the information therein. Ditto above.

These mistakes aren’t necessarily because the applicant is bad at what they do, although that’s possible. They probably didn’t consider that the document itself, beyond the words on the page, speak to how thoughtful/detail oriented/user-centric the creator actually is.

Consider these positions and some desired attributes of a person holding that position:

  • Visual Designer. Creative. Maker of beautiful things.
  • Engineer. Structured thinker. Problem Solver.
  • Support technician. Customer focused. Problem solver.
  • Marketer. Analytical. Creative.
  • Sales. Persuasive. Friendly.

Expanding my line of thinking above:

  • If you’re a visual designer, your resume should be attractive (without getting in the way of its function).
  • If you’re an engineer, your resume should be logical and cleanly structured.
  • If you’re in sales, your resume should make a good case as to why I should hire you.

Ideally, all resumes should be attractive, cleanly structured and make a good case as to why I should hire you. But some mistakes, such as the aforementioned not-links that trick me into clicking them, are cardinal sins for a UX Designer. Not so much for a marketer. An ugly resume is a big fat fail for a Visual Designer, but not for an engineer.

The next time you write a Resume, consider the signals you’re sending through your presentation and content choices. Think about the attributes your potential employer is looking for. Then pay attention to the details that will subtly convince her that you’re the right choice for the job… or at least avoid your resume languishing at the bottom of the pile.