Friday, February 19, 2010

What Font Type And Size Should I Use For My Resume? Job search question of the week

On Fridays, I'm posting a job search question from one of our readers. This was a question posted in response to my posting on Linkedin Answers “Candidates - What's your most difficult job search question?”

F.P. shared a question he had about his own job search, and asked:

“What font type and size should I use for my resume?”

Interestingly enough, people worry about fonts more than most issues on a resume, yet more get it wrong than just about anything else I see.

Read more ...

In a perfect world, fonts shouldn’t matter on your resume – content should be the only thing that matters.

Since we aren’t in a perfect world, fonts do matter, but not in the way most people think.

You should see some of the resumes I get as a coach, and what I used to see as a recruiter. Many contain typos, others have clear formatting errors, more still are unclear, or don’t sell the candidate, but one of the most common resume issues I see is the poor use of fonts.

Unfortunately, these are some of the more common ways I see fonts being used on resumes sent to me:
  • Candidate name in a huge font – if there was a font with colored flashing lights, candidates would use it
  • 5 -10 different fonts on a page
  • Fancy fonts
  • 12 point fonts - or greater
  • Fonts that make vertical formatting difficult

All of the above are poor choices when it comes to writing a resume.

Fonts should do a few basic things:
  1. Make effective use of resume real estate – Fonts should be small enough to allow the candidate to get as much information as possible into the top half of your first page – your most valuable resume real estate (see:

    I recommend using a 9 font for the text of your bullet points, 11 font for the header and for section titles. A 9 font is large enough for most human eyes to see, because readers adjust their own default screen magnification to their own comfort. People who are blind have set defaults on their screen so Mr. Magoo could read it.

    The header should be two or three lines max. The only purpose for using a huge font for your name is narcissism. It’s a huge waste of your most valuable space.
  2. Look professional – For most candidates, getting fancy with fonts gets you nowhere (exception: If you are a graphic designer, fancy can pay off in some very specific circumstances). Using more than one font can get confusing for the reader.

    I recommend using either Arial or Times New Roman. If you’re a banker, lawyer, accountant, government worker, or C-level of a Fortune company, use Times New Roman – it’s simple, yet formal. For any other type of position that doesn’t need to be so formal, use Arial. Arial is clean, light, simple, easy to read, and a little less formal.
  3. Direct the reader’s eye – creative use of bold, underline, and italics draws your reader’s eye to the most important points of your resume. I often see these effects misused, which can confuse the reader, and cause the reader to miss what you really want them to see. I typically see bold wasted on company names or titles. Are those really what you think are your best selling points to your reader? I’ll also see so much bold used - on every second or third line - that it completely loses its impact.
Bold should be used to scream to the reader, and grab their eyes to – Look at this!!! Use bold sparingly for maximum impact. Underline gives a little less emphasis than bold, and italics even less. Also use underline and italics sparingly. The fewer times you use, each individual use will have a greater effect.

Look at your own resume, and see how many of these issues are present on yours:
  • Name larger than 11 font bold?
  • Bullet point text larger than 10 font?
  • Company names or position titles larger than 10 font?
  • Multiple fonts throughout resume?
  • Over use of bold? Underlines? Italics?
  • Use of bold for company name or position?
  • Non-basic fonts?

How can you use fonts to create a clean, clear, professional way to guide your reader’s eyes to the most important things you want to convey?

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krvince said...

A resume writer I respect says Times New Roman 11 or 12pt for the cover letter and 10 or 11 pt. Arial Narrow for the resume. I've compared Arial and Arial Narrow-- the difference is subtle, but I think she's right. 9 point bullets sound pretty tiny unless you're forced into producing a one page resume for a lengthy career.

Phil Rosenberg said...


Thanks for your comments. Your friend's thoughts are ok if you want a resume that doesn't stand out - because it's the same standard advice that doesn't work well in today's environment, yet has been given out for the past 20 years. I call it the Mac & Cheese of Job search - it's comfortable, even though you know it isn't very good for you.

You'll find that I disagree on all counts with your friend. I'm blind as a bat, and I can easily read 9 point (Ariel, not narrow) font on screen.

I've written extensively about research that points to cover letters being a waste of time, but potentially harmful to your candidacy (see

One page resumes can be effective if you are just graduating from school, but not if you are going for more than an entry level job.

I got the job! said...

I am a professional resume writer and I actually DID get a "before" resume from someone who had their name flashing in multicolor! My client was quite proud of it actually. She worked as an HR professional no less. As I recall, Word versions older than 2003 had this font-formatting feature. Truly horrible!

As a former corporate recruiter, I must disagree with some of your font advice. The majority of hiring managers are over 40 and many of them still print out the top resumes for review; font that is too tiny (size 9 and below) is just too hard for most people to read. Why make it harder on the audience you are trying to impress?

Perhaps this issue is addressed in another of your articles, but the issue of scannability must be considered. Many small to mid-size (700 employees or less), non-techy companies are still using image scanners as the first step in the keyword count process. These scanners take a picture of the text on a page and convert it electronically so that it can then be keyword counted.

Font studies I have read show that serif fonts (Times New Roman and others) are image scanned with 80% accuracy, whereas san-serif fonts (Arial, etc.) scan with close to 100% accuracy. Since the recruiter using an image scanner is doing so to obtain a keyword ranked list, it just makes sense to use a font that will translate with the highest accuracy.

In addition, one should avoid underlining entirely for this reason as well. An underline that intersects with a dangling letter – p, y, g, etc. – will “read” as one character, which it will be unable to convert electronically. In that scenario, the candidate loses “credit” for that keyword and will be farther down the ranked keyword list than they should be.

An accomplishments-based, keyword-rich resume written in Arial 10 font will never be overlooked for font alone.

Phil Rosenberg said...


Thanks for sharing your views. I buy what you are saying, except for one little problem.

Why would you send a paper resume that has to be scanned? In today's world candidates should expect that hiring managers expect a digital resume sent via email, a web site, a job board, or other digital methods.

I agree with your point about keyword tracking, but companies don't have to scan something that is already digital.

As for the over 40 crowd...I'm one of them and have eyesight with a -9.5 correction (translation: close to legally blind). I can read 9 point font on screen without magnification - again, who would send their resume on paper? Those who have difficulties reading smaller fonts on screen have difficulty reading everything else on screen - so they have already adjusted their PCs screen resolution to make reading more comfortable. This magnification turns a 9 point font into a non-issue.

15 years ago, when resumes were still delivered on paper, I would have agreed with you, but it's not 1996 anymore.

I got the job! said...

Hi Phil,

“Why would you send a paper resume that has to be scanned?”

You wouldn’t.

As a former recruiter, I am painfully aware that HR departments at many non-techy companies (smaller law offices, mortgage companies, etc.) get scrapings from the bottom of the barrel when it comes to money for technology upgrades. If they invested in an image scanner years ago and it is not broken, chances are they are still using it. A person operates these old-school image scanners. The HR staffer actually scans in the resumes (printed from email these days), the scanner “reads” and converts them electronically, and a keyword ranked list is obtained in that manner.

Granted, as these scanners break or the company finally coughs up money for a new system, they will fall out of practice completely, but since one never knows what type of scanner a smaller company uses – if they use one at all, I like to optimize my clients’ resumes for all scenarios. A clue to whether a company is still using an old-style image scanner is if they ask for a certain type of file attachment (.doc usually) or they want a faxed or hard copy (ugh). You will also never see a job board on the company website (where one would paste their resume info into the boxes) in these cases.

“…again, who would send their resume on paper?”

No one. (Well, unless the company asks for it.)

As recently as 2.5 years ago, I was a corporate recruiter for an eCommerce company. I would have plenty of hiring managers ask me to pick the top 5-6 resumes for their review, print them out and sit down with them in my little conference room to discuss each one. I could understand it; they like to make notes on a piece of paper, jot down questions for me to ask, etc. They would often put them in order of who they liked best and I would follow up. It was my observation that the resumes with smaller or serif fonts were given less time by the hiring managers. Arms stretched out longer and eyes squinted.

I get it that some of this stuff does not make logical sense to most people. If I had not seen how it works first hand with dozens of hiring managers, I am sure I would see things differently as well. However, at this stage, it is all about staying in consideration. Many of my choices on how to present a career are guided by the experiences I have had as a recruiter, and not my own intuition. There are many people in my head when I write a resume, and my clients get results because of it.



Phil Rosenberg said...


You're focusing on the exceptions, not the rule.

Sure, there are still some hiring managers that want to print out resumes to review on paper. And maybe there are some who need the hand holding of meeting with you to discuss and review. Most wont - the printing and one-on-one hand holding review are terribly inefficient, and most managers don't have the time.

And maybe there are some backwards small companies out there that would print out an email, so it can be scanned - even though it makes no sense.

Today, most small companies just store attached word resumes in a separate folder on a hard drive and pre-screen by searching that folder.

Most companies, including small ones, handle the process on screen, not on paper. I recommend to my clients and audience to focus on the hiring procedures of the majority of companies, rather than focus on the few outliers.

tberoth said...

I use a 10.5 font size for times new roman and a 9 font size for arial. Arial is a bit bigger than times new roman. I also like garamond, a refreshing choice from times new roman, with a size of 10.5 or 11, 11 because it is a bit smaller than its cousin, times new roman.

I agree with your choice on minimizing your name and proper placement of bolding. I don't like the way underlining in an accomplishment statement looks.

I've seen people with HUGE company names and section titles, upwards of a 20 font - which is just too much. I do like the look of a bolded company name and job role title though to break up the sections, but it does not have to be bigger than your accomplishment statement font.

Heather Goodwin said...

As with all things resume, it comes down to two people (three if there's an agent involved). The writer, the hirer (and possibly the agent).

Provided all are happy with the resume, and it gets you the interview, whether it's 14 point for the headings or 9 point for the body text is really immaterial.

Ask yourself if it's neat, professional looking, readable (very different from legible), highlights your key points clearly without there being too many of them, and leaves enough space for interviewers to scribble notes. If it's all that, it's OK.

Two points I like to see candidates pay attention to: one is the above-mentioned readability, by which I mean, does the eye move easily over the page absorbing information or do you have to go back and re-read bits that you didn't get the first time?

To improve readability, don't succumb to the temptation to double-justify. Instead, justify only to the left, so that words are spaced normally.

You can also improve readability by using a sans serif font for titles (which has impact, looks neat and uncluttered), but use a serif font - one with tails on the letters - for running copy. This is because the tails link the words like tidy joined-up writing does, so that the eyes (and the brain) move smoothly over them. Sans serif fonts separate the words and letters in your head as well as on the page, often causing a stop, a mental 'eh?' and the need to re-read. (Or just the assumption that your grammar must be poor.)

The other thing I'd prefer candidates didn't do is entitle their resume 'curriculum vitae' or 'resume'. We know it's a resume! Use that real-estate for your name.

This and many more resume-construction hints at:

Good luck to everyone who's job-hunting at the moment, and hi to all my resume-writing colleagues - long may the debate continue!

Heather Goodwin

Krvince said...

Okay, I'm inferring from comments that to stand out from everyone else we should just make a good tasteful guess as to font choice and maybe consult an optometrist. Not very reassuring.
Also on abandoning cover letters-- at least half of the coaches disagree with you, claiming it's a glaring, cavalier omission that does away with any chance of bringing subtle strengths and combination skills to anyone's attention. That's a lot to ask a resume and its fly-by reader to do. (although I agree the downside risk of elimination is huge). Not sure where that leaves us either. But I'll keep reading.

Phil Rosenberg said...

Sounds like some of the other career coaches out there are waking up. When I first started writing about how cover letters are dead (in 2008), I was all alone in this advice.

For some clerical positions, where a hiring manager values following instructions more than demonstrating critical thinking skills, omission of a cover letter may eliminate you. For most positions, ditching your cover letter gives you better odds of success, since 97% of hiring managers claimed that cover letters are ignored in candidate evaluation (as opposed to selling yourself on an individualized resume), claimed that cover letters often eliminated candidates, but mentioned that lack of a cover letter alone seldom caused elimination.

There's never a one size fits all in resumes or job search. But there are actions that increase your odds of success. Those are the actions I try to point out to candidates.