The 5 Ways You’re Making Your Resume Hard to Read
Is your resume difficult to read?
Maybe – if you built it by dashing off a list of responsibilities and job titles, with no apparent design or navigation.
Your resume has ONE JOB: to clearly convey your ROI to employers (and ATS systems). This is easier to accomplish when it’s straightforward to interpret.
Here are 5 ways you could be making your resume hard to read – along with suggestions for improvement:
1 – Writing long, dense paragraphs or endless lists of bullets.
If you want your carefully crafted resume to get noticed, it must be designed for skimming. Lengthy blocks of text can be difficult to interpret at a glance.
With today’s short attention spans, many people easily miss important data if it’s embedded in a paragraph of 5 or more lines.
In fact, many readers only “see” proper nouns, dollar figures, or words along the edges of each paragraph.
Therefore, it’s best to break your resume into brief chunks of information. Distill past jobs into key details, such as the size of teams you’ve managed, your scope of authority, and other facts.
Cut achievement bullets to a handful of wins under each job, using short sentences and metrics that illustrate your results.
See Resume Headlines That Can Get You Noticed and Sample Resumes for 2021 for more examples of brief, power-packed content.
2 – Using fancy templates or creative fonts.
A compelling resume should deliver a clear message of value almost immediately. It’s MUCH easier to do this when you select a common font available in most versions of Word.
Unusual fonts might garner attention, but they won’t translate well in different operating systems. Rare fonts might also become garbled when viewed on a mobile device. Spare yourself the headache by choosing a common font such as Calibri, which is easy to read and available on most platforms.
You might also be tempted to download a fancy resume template with multiple colors and a unique design.
However, employers (especially those in conservative fields such as banking) often prefer a toned-down presentation. In addition, ATS may not be able to accurately “read” text in every part of a graphics-laden template, according to this Harvard study and executive recruiter Jack Kelly.
Professional resume writers are trained to place content where it can be parsed by ATS and humans (this is why you’ll see innovative, ATS-friendly designs in their resume sample portfolios).
Avoid advanced formats and templates to be on the safe side. Instead, use a classic resume format, accentuated with a hint of color in section headings. Skip text boxes for important data (ATS can’t parse these graphics) and refrain from adding a headshot (unless you’re applying to positions in Europe).
3 – Over-emphasizing tasks vs. achievements.
A compelling resume should focus on your personal brand and success stories, while briefly mentioning your everyday tasks – NOT the other way around. However, too many people simply add a job description (that could apply to anyone) for each entry in their work history.
For example, it’s common for a CFO to model complex financial decisions and Chief Revenue Officers to set sales strategy. These details should be stated briefly in a few lines – followed by achievements showing cost savings, revenue growth, M&A results, or other success stories.
Employers like to see where you’ve differentiated yourself against other applicants. Even ATS will look for keywords used in context throughout your resume (this is why you can’t just paste the job posting into your document). You must explain and qualify your experience to have a shot at the position.
If you’re unsure whether your executive resume is too heavily focused on tasks, compare it to a job description. Your document should match many of the skills, but also include career wins unique to YOU.
4 – Skipping the qualifications summary.
If your resume launches immediately into your work history, you’ve just missed a HUGE personal branding opportunity.
A Qualifications Summary or Profile is a fantastic place to incorporate keywords, feature achievements, and help frame your value proposition for the human reader.
Even ATS systems will expect a Qualifications Summary that briefly outlines your desired career level and background.
Not sure how to write a Summary? You’re not alone. Is Your Resume Summary Boring Employers? outlines simple ways to craft a robust opening paragraph.
This example (which shows at least 14 keywords, 2 job titles, and 5+ accomplishments) also shows how you can combine your career level, credentials, soft skills, and achievements into a memorable resume summary:
Senior operations and financial officer credited with 14 regional turnarounds and M&A transactions at #1 real estate financing corporation nationwide. Achieves new efficiencies using Lean Six Sigma and builds top-notch teams well-versed in cost controls. Increased profit margins and IRR up to 35% through long-range strategic planning, investor relations, and change management.
5 – Over-using bold text.
When you read a document, your eyes naturally fall on items that stand out, such as words that are in bold or all caps. This is perfect for information you want to prioritize!
However, if you apply bold to nearly every line, EVERYTHING will stand out at the same time, making it difficult for human readers to interpret your meaning. Take a look at this eye-opening bold-text resume survey conducted by LinkedIn Top Voice and career coach Bob McIntosh.
Instead, selectively highlight words that reflect your biggest wins, or the size and scope of your projects. Refrain from putting words in bold that you’d rather not emphasize, and concentrate on your BEST career-defining successes instead.
It’s important to treat your resume as a marketing document, using the same principles as a successful ad campaign: brief descriptions, powerful metrics, and easy navigation.
It’s even MORE important to ensure employers and ATS understand your qualifications.
You’ll get the BEST results by simplifying your resume format, focusing on relevant skills, and featuring achievements that show leadership and drive.