3.6 Résumé Formatting and Submission

Jordan Smith

When all your content is in place, ensure that your résumé is impeccably organized, revised, and proofread. According to one study surveying hiring managers, the top three deal-breaker reasons for rejecting a résumé are the following:

  1. Spelling or grammar errors
  2. Lack of targeting
  3. Disorganization (Vandegriend, 2017)

Since even one typo can ruin your chances of being selected for an interview (LedgerLink, 2009), no documents you have ever written in your life should be as thoroughly revised and proofread as your résumé and cover letter. 

Résumé Formatting and Submission Topics

  • One Page or Two?
  • Format for Ease of Readability
  • Electronic, Scannable, and Hard-copy Submissions

One Page or Two?

A common employer expectation requires you to fit all of your details on one page. If this means cutting details that might convince an employer to invite you to an interview, then only do this if you are sure that an employer will discard your résumé if it goes over a page. If you see “Send your one-page résumé now!” on the posting, that is your cue for the required length. Even if an employer is not so strict, any details that spill onto the second page will, according to the Law of Diminishing Returns, work against you if they do not effectively convince the employer to invite you to an interview. The busy hiring manager speed-reading through dozens or hundreds of applications will be annoyed by any time-wasting padding in a résumé, and the slightest annoyance is enough to prompt them to dump your application in the shredder.

Format for Ease of Readability

Ensure that your résumé is easy to read in every way. Trying to fit everything on a single page by reducing the font size to 8-point and the margins to 1cm, as well as using multiple columns to fill every square centimeter of available white space, will just annoy the reader by making the document difficult to read. They will suspect that you will be similarly disrespectful to your readers on the job, so they may simply shred your résumé after a mere glance at its formatting. Follow the guidelines for effective document design. Ensure especially that your:

  • Text is a standard 11- or 12-pt. font type with sparing use of color, all-caps, and bold typeface (just for headings and subheadings); avoid italics and underlining
  • Margins 1 inch all around and empty on the sides
  • Text and whitespace are balanced without leaving large gaps
  • Pages are numbered (paginated) if you have more than one; ensure that the page number font is consistent with that of the rest of the document since MS Word will resort to the default font for page numbers

Electronic, Scannable, and Hard-copy Submissions

If the employer requires an electronic submission, follow their directions exactly. If they ask for a PDF or MS Word file named a certain way (e.g., Resume_Yourlastname_Yourfirstname.docx or .pdf), doing it any other way will disqualify you immediately. (The reason is obviously that if you cannot follow simple instructions for submitting your résumé, you will have problems taking direction in the workplace—problems that can potentially be expensive to the employer.) If you have a choice between MS Word or PDF, go with PDF because it embeds fonts and formats, so you can be reasonably sure that you will avoid issues with font conversion or format scrambling when your document is opened on another computer.

If the employer uses a job search site such as Indeed, beware that your résumé formatting will be stripped out by their scannable résumé converter. Avoiding the nightmare scenario of the employer seeing your résumé massacred by the converter and thinking it is your fault (TERRIBLE Resume Converter, n.d.) by doing the following:

  1. Produce a version of your résumé that uses no formatting whatsoever—no bullet points, no tabbing, no columns, no bold typeface, no color, no changes in font size, etc. If the converter can not do this properly for you, doing it manually yourself will ensure that the employer sees a readable (albeit homely) version.
  2. Use Indeed (or other search engines) to find job postings but send your well-formatted application directly to the company either via email or traditional mail.

Try these approaches in combination to ensure the employer gets your application.

If the employer uses an online application form, having the simplified version recommended in #1 above ready to copy and paste into the given fields will make your work much easier. This is especially necessary if the form will time out to prevent applicants writing from scratch as they go. Do not forget: when employers use these electronic filtering methods, it is for no other reason than to have the program scan the résumés and filter out the generic spam applications that fail to meet a given quota of the job posting’s keyterms. The program sends along only the targeted résumés to the hiring manager, so ensure that your résumé content features those keyterms and does not crowd them out with much else.

If the employer requires a hard-copy submission, it may be worth going to an office supply store to invest in some high-quality paper and printing. When the employer sees stacks of applications printed on standard paper stock, one printed on quality paper really stands out. High-quality printing also shows respect, suggesting that the employer was worth the extra expense. Also, put an 8.5″ x 11″ cardboard backing in with your application when you mail it in a 9″ x 11.5″ envelope to ensure that it will not be creased in transit. High-quality writing and convincing content printed on pristine, high-quality paper is a winning combination in the eyes of any hiring manager exhausted by the disappointing quality of the majority of applications.

For more on résumés, see the following resources:


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3.6 Résumé Formatting and Submission Copyright © 2022 by Jordan Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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