Avoid These 5 Common Resume Formatting Trends


If you’ve ever applied to an opportunity where your skills appear to be ideal and you never get a response - not even a “No thanks,” — there’s a 50/50 shot you’ve inadvertently taken yourself out of contention before someone even had a chance to review your résumé. How? Your amazing résumé in which you creatively maximized available space or ensured perfectly aligned lists by using advanced formatting, can confuse an applicant tracking system. While most companies of any notable size use them, not all Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are robust enough to recognize even the most common trends in résumé formatting. While it is a great idea to catch a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention through a visually appealing résumé, there are specific formatting errors you want to avoid.

  1. Text Boxes

It’s a common misnomer that a résumé should only be one page in length. One common approach to making the most of an 8.5”x11” space to showcase your capability is to strategically position one or more text boxes in open real estate or along the right or left margin. Unfortunately, most ATS “see” a text box as an object and disregard it. So, if you’ve put contact information, skills, or any other content critical to your candidacy in a text box, it may not get included in your candidate record or even be evaluated by the algorithm that’s determining your worthiness to be reviewed by a human being.

  1. Tables

A technique frequently used to catch a recruiter’s attention is creating a prominently placed list of skills that closely mirror the requirements of the role. In truth, this tactic is often highly effective. In an effort to present those skills in a neatly organized format, it is tempting to use Word’s table feature and simply hide the gridlines. Although a few ATS have the capability to read and parse data included within a table, many treat it the same as a text box. If key terms related to the role (such as an analysis software or testing methodology) are only mentioned in that location, then your match ranking could drop — or you could be eliminated altogether.

  1. Columns

Using columns to create symmetrical lists on a résumé is a more frequent mistake than inserting tables. While only certain ATS read columns as objects like tables and text boxes, most others ignore the formatting and read the data as plain text. Unfortunately, this eliminates spaces between words and turns your perfectly presented skills to rows of gibberish. ATS are designed to disregard strings of unreadable characters, so anything placed in a columnar format runs the risk of being ignored.

  1. Creative Fonts

As tempting as it may seem to use a fancier font for your name or résumé section headers such as “Experience,” that dash of pizazz has the potential to immediately remove you from any and all consideration. ATS are programmed to recognize résumé section headers and parse the data below them into the appropriate location on a candidate’s ATS record. If the ATS doesn’t “see” a header there’s a good chance it will attempt to store a section of the résumé in the wrong spot within the database. For instance, if the role requires a degree and your education credentials were read as part of your “Experience”, the algorithm calculating your match level will see an empty education field and potentially disqualify you.

  1. Headers and Footers

Whether spurred by creativity or limited space, it can be tempting to put personal data, especially contact information, in the header or footer of your résumé. ATS are not yet being developed with any level of artificial intelligence (AI) so they cannot spot and properly store common data fields that are not within standard parameters. While it is possible a few ATS may recognize personal data in a document header range, they are typically designed to ignore footers. Using headers and, more importantly footers, can spur the same anonymity or erroneous assumption as integrating creative fonts.

Although the other common formatting mistakes can be disastrous, the ability to read the name on your résumé can be THE most important factor when applying through an ATS. While you might think a recruiter could just open your attached résumé to get your name and manually enter it since your otherwise perfectly ATS translated résumé got you ranked as a top candidate, it’s not that simple. Many ATS automatically sort or file database records with empty name fields into a holding /review file or send them hurtling to the bottom of the rank. Busy recruiters may not have the time or resources to immediately sort or review candidates who get removed from the ranking or dropped to the bottom of a ranked 50-100 candidate list. The truth is, most recruiters don’t review every résumé submitted for a position; they rely on the ATS to weed out the least qualified individuals and trust the odds of finding a suitable match in the top 50% (as determined by an extremely fragile and error-prone system).


At the end of the day, don’t let these simple formatting errors reduce or eliminate your opportunity to land your next dream job. Utilize standard fonts and avoid putting critical content in any confined format. And, most importantly, ensure your name and contact information are always recognizable and placed no less than .5” and no more than 1.75” from the top edge of your résumé.

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