A week and some change ago I wrote an article about resume-writing and why most people suck at it. You can find the original article here.
I promised to talk about resume formatting in a subsequent article, and haven't done so because I was itching to write about a few other things. Alas, now we're going to discuss formatting, and why you shouldn't fail at it.
Why is formatting important? For a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I would argue that formatting is the most important part of the resume. If you're extremely verbose and write way too much, someone might give you the benefit of the doubt after reading through what you have to say. On the other hand, if you have an ugly vertical line going through the left-side of your resume because you think it's cool to put your positions on the left side and what you did on the right side, people will NOT read your resume. If it's poorly-formatted, flashy, confusing, or subjectively odd-looking, you are going straight to the recycling bin.
Although I am only 2 weeks deep into my SA stint, I'm at a boutique, so we receive a lot of resumes via cold e-mails...and I've been given license to look through some of them.
First of all, if you are reading this now and haven't read my original post about resumes, do so now (you can find the link above if you missed it). Every single resume I've looked at so far (~a dozen) has had a "Mission Statement", "Objective", "Statement of Purpose", etc. I can now confirm that no one likes reading these, that they are cumbersome, take up FAR too much space, and should always be left off in favor of things that are more pertinent or sell your case more saliently. And these resumes are coming from people who go to good schools - top public universities and second-tier private schools.
Secondly, I've always been told to not assume that everyone else is "doing it right" -- with respect to resumes, this is absolutely true. As I stated previously, even people with fantastic interview skills and credentials suffer when it comes to writing resumes, and if you can make yours suck less, you're well on your way to being a stronger applicant than anyone else.
Now on to formatting...
Someone brought up a really good point in my last article with respect to margins. Margins are deceptively important, and when you're running out of room, the first thing you cut is the margins to allow a little bit more content. This, as a rule of thumb, is generally acceptable, until you reach roughly 0.7 on all sides, at which point you should stop shrinking those suckers. Why is this important? Reading lines that run from one end of the page to the other end with limited margins is difficult, and people who don't have a lot of time to dedicate to recruitment generally don't want to bother. More importantly, keeping your resume compact not only makes it look muuuuuch prettier, but it also allows the reader to scan the resume vertically. "Okay, s/he has done X, Y, and Z, has these activities, this leadership experience, and these skills; looks good". This is what's running through the reader's mind, and catering to the reader by making your resume's main point easy to access is where you want to be.
Secondly, avoid flashy bullet points, weird font, and anything that isn't strictly conservative. I have received so many resumes from people who use bizarre font that it's staggering, and truth be told, as soon as I see that you aren't in Times New Roman, I want to stop reading. This doesn't imply that I actually do stop, but wanting to stop is already bad for you. Same with weird bullet points. Micro$oft has to release a new copy of Word every 2-3 years, and it ain't getting much better than it already is, so instead they add a bunch of ugly bullet points and other artsy things to the suite and slap Microsoft Office 20XX on it with a nice price tag. Simple bullet points that do not distract the reader are key.
Thirdly, bold and italicize things that matter (not things that you think matter), and leave everything else normal. Things that matter are: Firm/school and position(s) held. I bold the firm name and italicize the position, but there isn't a hard and fast rule to this. Don't bold stuff like dates...I see this often and it always makes me wonder.
Finally, a general rule of thumb when it comes to formatting: if you feel that you're doing something questionable, don't do it. Play it safe, don't get creative. Resumes are effective when they're simple, and trying to make it look pretty will generally illicit the opposite response. I've gotten many "wow, this is so pretty" responses when showing my resume to people, and there's nothing "pretty" about it: it's short, sweet, and to the point, but when it comes to resumes, that's where beauty resides.