How to Make Your Resume Stand Out (by Breaking a Few Rules)
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Break These Rules When Designing Your Resume

by Christine Jacobson
Photos Joe Kathrina | October 09, 2015

As a recruiter sorts through dozens and dozens of applicants, resumes start to blend together. Make yours stand out from the rest by introducing some unexpected professional flair.

There is certainly no shortage of fantastic advice available online about how to write a resume that tells a compelling story about your professional value and strengths. Some of the best posts I ever read have focused on resume structure and mistakes to avoid.

But when it comes to crafting your resume from a visual perspective, how can you be sure which approach will get you in the door—and which could keep you from getting noticed? Here are five common pieces of resume design advice that you shouldn’t heed. After all, we can all agree that certain professional rules are made to be broken!


If you’ve been working in the professional world for a while, you have probably heard a few career resources say that designing an attractive resume is only for people in “creative” lines of work.

While it is definitely true that professionals in certain fields— like advertising or fashion—have more leeway to be “out of the box” with their resumes, nobody should feel uncomfortable crafting a resume that stands out from the pile, as long as they don’t stray too far from their industry’s conventions.

Here are some tips for enhancing the appeal of your resume in an appropriate way:

  • Experiment with the orientation. Since virtually every resume is vertical (otherwise known as “portrait”), a horizontal or “landscape” layout will really stand out.
  • Place more visual emphasis on your titles than your employer's name and information. While recruiters want to see who you’ve worked for, focusing on your key roles can demonstrate your career focus (and progression) at a glance.
  • Mix up the way you visually separate information. While bold, capitalized headers are the standard, thin (or dotted lines) or individual text boxes can help lend a streamlined, design-like feel to your content.
  • Don’t feel limited to Serif fonts. An overly cutesy font could send the wrong message about your credibility. There are many Sans Serif fonts - Verdana, Helvetica, and Trade Gothic, to name a few - that are professional while appearing contemporary.  
  • Introduce color. It’s best to avoid putting a resume on pink paper or using a rainbow of fonts, but a simply introduced accent color (think blues, reds, and grays) on certain text elements (dividers, bullets, headers) can really break up the monotony.



You’ve definitely heard this one before - if you can’t fit your resume onto a single page, you’re being verbose or “exaggerating” your accomplishments.  

This is one resume rule that’s been discredited by trusted sources like Forbes and U.S. News and World Report thanks to the impact of modern technology. As people have learned how to scroll on computers and phones, the focus has shifted from having “less content” and more towards correctly organizing that information for the modern gaze. {Click to Tweet}

Many resume experts now say it’s worse to cram lots of content on one page. This results in visual clutter and nowhere for the eye to focus. It is better to prioritize, putting the most important takeaways from an experience, key skills, and accomplishments on the first page, then leveraging the second page for additional skills/education, publications, and professional references.

If you are new to your career or want to hyper-focus your resume for a particular role, one page may be suitable. Otherwise, it’s fine to expand to two pages (but no more than that) with clarity and visual hierarchy as your main priorities.


This is an easy one. Microsoft Word is a great tool for resumes, and there are a lot of great hacks for using its built-in design capabilities more effectively.

If you are proficient in a more design-oriented tool, like Adobe Illustrator or Pagemaker, there is no reason you can’t use those systems to create polished, differentiated resumes. Even Keynote can give you the enhanced control over layout elements needed to develop a more stylized output.


Career resources counsel against the use of imagery on resumes because they have seen overly enthusiastic candidates add stock photos or pictures of themselves, which is typically not recommended in the majority of cases.

However, using a more subtle approach, you can use imagery or image-like objects to really make your resume pop and break up large blocks of text.

  • If you have worked at—or for—large, recognizable brands, use their logos instead of company names.
  • How about using quality icons? Consider iconography to represent key skills or expertise areas.
  • If you are in advertising, marketing or a design-related field, include thumbnails of key items in your portfolio, such as a website you helped build or an ad you wrote.
  • Ready to go all the way with it? Infographic-style resumes are an emerging trend, but warning, they do require a certain proficiency with design and layout!

What sort of tricks have you used to make your resume stand out? Did it work? Tell us in the comments

Resume photos: 1. A simple accent color can really break up the monotony via RefineryResumeCo. | 2. The two-page resume via Odd Bits | 3. A resume that visually separates information and subtly integrates icons and infographic elements via SuitedBrandLab