How to Update Your Alt-Ac Resume Using a Template

Snazz up your resume’s appearance to increase your chances of getting seen by potential employers.
A view of the peaks of four skyscrapers seen from below.

Admit it, you bought that iPhone because it looks cool, not because of its features. We have all been lured in by smart graphics, so if you want an edge in your job hunt you need to snazz up your resume’s appearance STAT. Free and low-cost predesigned resume templates are readily accessible and, in fact, can increase your chances of getting seen by potential employers.

“But the substance of my resume speaks for itself,” you say? Um, you watch Super Bowl commercials, right? Don’t underestimate the power of visual narrative. Remember the statistic that most hiring managers spend 7 seconds looking at a resume. You can increase that time with an aesthetically compelling resume, according to studies that show consumers spend more time on a graphically compelling website even if its functionality is terrible! Your resume obviously isn’t terrible, but simply getting more eyeball seconds on it will confer a massive advantage.

Not convinced?

An elegant blue-and-yellow resume design, a free template from Canva.

A graphically smart resume can also convey traits that you likely have in spades but can’t impart convincingly with words. Professionalism, strong communication, organizational excellence, innovative problem solving. These skills are listed on resumes so frequently they ring hollow. Companies want them in a candidate, yes! But listing them doesn’t set you apart. 

A stylish resume, on the other hand, can demonstrate those skills in a single glance. Some people argue that graphic resumes are gimmicky or not necessary. But we’re not talking about adding wacky fonts, but rather clean, crisp, professional-quality design, which studies suggest have a powerful impact on readers’ perception. (Don’t hate us for loving data.) One study showed that 75% of website credibility (how legit people think your business/site is) directly correlates to compelling design. Better design translates to perceptions of higher quality across the board. You may think focusing on appearance is too shallow when you have impeccable credentials, but the science says otherwise. (Lucky for you, we surveyed a bunch of studies so you don’t have to!) 

So let’s stack the deck in your favor and make your resume pop.

It’s easier than you think

Canva is one way to go, though there are many options. To start, get a free Canva account and choose a resume design, thinking about the field you’re applying in and the characteristics you’d like to convey (maybe clean and precise, stylish and savvy, or minimalist with a creative bent).  After you’ve chosen one, enter your own information directly on the Canva site, moving some things around to suit your focus areas. Your changes autosave. Then when you’re finished, you download it (as a high quality PDF). Their resumes are mostly one page, but you can add a second page by clicking the “add page” icon and formatting it to remove the name and header of the first page. (To merge the two pages after downloading, use a free online PDF merger.)

Discard the old advice that a one-page resume is best, along with that faded Morrissey T-shirt you still have. Two-page resumes win over hiring managers every time, according to—you guessed it—data, regardless of career stage.

Graphics 101: Make your reader not want to look away

A dramatic, dark resume design, free from Canva.

Consider the use of color in your resume. Almost no one prints out resumes anymore, so feel free to utilize a black background or pops of color. 

Leave empty space. “White space” as it’s called, is a powerful graphic tool. We know your credentials could fill every inch, but please DON’T. Some empty space conveys many of the traits you want to get across like your keen organizational skills, your appreciation of quality over quantity, and your professional savvy.

Asymmetry goes against the standard resume format of stacked and centered text, but it is a central principal in graphic design and will support your goal of keeping the attention of the reader. Asymmetrical elements (either subtle or significant) influence eye movement and convey complexity and distinction. 

Final word: Discomfort yields results

Tooling with any resume template does have a bit of a learning curve as you paste your current resume’s text into the predesigned one. You’ll need to shift section sizes to suit your content and may need to eliminate or add elements. Some of it will get out of wack in the process and need adjusting. It’s harder than using Word, but easier than using Photoshop. Be patient. A few F-bombs of frustration may escape, but you’ll get the hang of it and when you see your slick final product, you’ll spontaneously be able to dance the floss. Finally.


About the author

Carolee has wrestled with many different citation styles in her work as a scholar and history instructor. A nineteenth-century cultural historian, she earned her PhD in American studies at Yale. She has tried to remain agnostic on style guides but often attempted to force her students at Ramapo College and the University of Texas at Dallas to use CMoS, with mixed results. As a footnote, she currently works as a freelance writer.


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