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Keywords. Skills. Proper resume fonts. Measurable results. There are many components that a resume absolutely must have in this age of applicant tracking systems (ATS). With so much energy spent on content, it’s easy to forget about the importance of presenting that content through a solid resume layout.

When asked by Huff Post Business to identify terrible resume mistakes, an HR associate at the securities firm EquiLend offered, “It does not matter where you are in terms of your experience level, but to me poor formatting just suggests that you did not pay attention to what you were doing and shows me your lack of interest.” This advice sounds good on the surface, but what exactly does “poor formatting” mean?

Here are 3 keys to a good layout—and how you can use them to unlock a professional, effective resume.

1. Keep it clean. Because the average recruiter only takes about seven seconds to review a resume, it’s tempting to include as many eye-catching features as possible in order to keep their attention. Charts! Graphs! A veritable rainbow of font colors!

However, this presumes that those of the human persuasion will be the only ones reviewing your resume—which is unfortunately untrue. The applicant tracking systems mentioned above save employers time, but present some hurdles for job seekers.

One issue is that only some ATS can recognize tables, columns, or various other graphic elements. To be on the safe side, your resume instead “should include clean lines and a different (non-neon) font color to highlight job titles,” opines Maele Hargett, an executive recruiter with Ascendo Resources.

2. Keep it uniform. If you’ve been copying and pasting into a resume from your career management document, there may be some small inconsistencies that have escaped your notice. Combat this in one of two ways: either a) paste text into Windows Notepad/TextEdit for a Mac to get rid of any formatting, or b) use the “Clear All Formatting” button in Microsoft Word.

Bullet points should all be the same size and the paragraph style needs to be consistent across the board. Remember that once your resume does get past the ATS, it will be seen by a human recruiter—and if the resume sections are cramped or look starkly different from one another, you’re making it hard for that recruiter to notice your talents. If your resume looks sloppy, potential employers will think you are, too.

resume layout
Microsoft Word’s “Clear All Formatting” button is a good tool to use in keeping your resume layout clean.

3. Keep your options open. If you’d rather let someone else do the layout work, use a resume template! Templates make it easy to properly showcase your skills, experience, and accomplishments. Be cautious though, and don’t use just any old template. Many available options come pre-loaded with graphics and charts, which we’ve already established can throw off applicant tracking systems.

So where can one find an uncluttered, yet eye-catching template? Jobscan has compiled 20 high quality, ATS-friendly templates that we encourage you to explore here. Best of all, they’re free—a far cry from the $99 price tag on some resume templates!

Jobscan gives you the best of both worlds: resume analysis and free templates!
Jobscan gives you the best of both worlds: resume analysis and free templates!

Resume layout is a subtle but important part of creating the document that tells your career story. Keep these 3 keys in mind to impress humans and ATS alike!

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