graphic of two stacks of business cards with the headline "Resume and Business Card Design Tips" overlaying them

Resumé and Business Card Design Tips

This is the second article in an ongoing series by Danielle Langdon about Self Identity. The previous article explored the how and why behind personal branding.

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  • Organize your points in reverse chronological order, keeping the most recent information at the top.
    • No matter how far along you are in your career, or how much information you are including on your resumé, you want to make sure you are designing it in such a way that it is easy to skim.
  • Revise your resumé frequently.
    • Be prepared to tailor your resumé to each position you apply for. Research the organization and the position you're applying to. Find out what skills they are looking for and highlight the relevant experiences on your resumé.
  • Keep it simple and skim-able.
    • A resumé should be as short as possible while also including the best and most important highlights of your career. Unless you are a recent grad, you probably have enough content to write a small novel about your professional history. On a resumé, we are forced to condense that novel into bullet points. My advice here is to be brutal - list all your experiences, read it and cut it in half. You should not list every story you have, only list the MOST important and relevant points.
  • Choose a typeface that is easy to read.
    • Your resumé should be both readable and legible.
      • Readability - arranging words and groups of words in a way that allows the reader's eye to access the content easily and logically. Consider things like line spacing, text size, contrast and hierarchy.
      • Legibility - the ease with which a reader can recognize individual characters in text. The legibility of a typeface is related to its design. Aspects of type design that affect legibility include x-height, character shapes, stroke contrast, the size of its counters, serifs or lack thereof and weight. It helps to know the intended context for the typeface you are considering using.
    • My resumé font suggestions: Garamond, Georgia, Cambria, Helvetica, Avenir or Verdana. Please, for the love of type, don't use Comic Sans, Brush Script or Papyrus.
    • Stick with 1-2 fonts and use the whole family (bold, italic, regular) in order to highlight and separate sections of information.
  • Consider using a column layout.
    • Rather than wasting white space to list your accomplishments sequentially down the page, a column layout can be implemented to better utilize the space and organize the information.
  • Use bold subheadings, rules and/or extra white space to separate sections. 
    • These design features will help a reader skim the page and find exactly what they are looking for.
  • Consider printing your resumé on thick paper stock.
    • But don't use the old-timey, parchment-looking resumé paper. A clean sheet of thicker white paper will give your resumé an added professional feeling.
  • Be prepared to send your resumé in several formats.
    • PDF and Word are most commonly used, so have both ready to go.
  • Use color sparingly.
    • If you use color, it should be subtle and not overpower the content. Also be aware whoever receives your resumé may print it from a black and white printer, so be sure it still looks okay in black and white. For most non-design related jobs, a resumé in color is probably unnecessary.
  • Use your cover letter to supplement your resumé.
    • Consider your cover letter as an enhancement to your resumé. The way your cover letter is written can tell your potential employer whether you did your homework before sending off the resumé.
  • Be consistent.
    • Your resumé, cover letter and business card should look like they are coming from the same person, so design them similarly (use the same typeface, colors, layout, features, etc.).
  • Avoid embellishments.
    • There is no need to include an elaborate personal logo, a headshot, scented paper or anything else unnecessarily over the top.
  • But don't be afraid to show your personality a bit.
    • A resumé is a reflection of your persona, and the recipient will be scanning it for elements that distinguish you from the other hundreds they have to look through. Make your resumé stand out with a clean design and well-considered, professional personal touches.
  • Spell check!
    • Nothing will land your resumé in the trash faster than a spelling error.

For more information about the anatomy of a professional resumé, check out this infographic

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  • Keep it simple.
    • All a business card really needs to include is your name, your title (if you have one), company name/logo (if applicable), website, email address and phone number.
    • Strike a balance between providing enough points of contact, without making your card look cluttered. 
  • Make it readable and legible.
    • Just as with your resumé, your business card needs to be readable and legible. As a general rule of thumb, don't make your text smaller than 8pt and keep your font choice professional and simple (see my resumé font suggestions above). Don't be tempted to use a detailed calligraphic font, which is impossible to read at smaller sizes.
  • Use high contrast colors.
    • Whether you decide on a black and white business card or one with color, be sure you provide enough contrast between the text and the background color. Nothing is worse than trying to read small red text on a green background.
  • Design the back of your card too.
    • Consider putting something visually dynamic on the back of your business card like a logo, a photograph or your product or a splash of color. It is important to remember that people WILL flip the card over, so don't leave that area unconsidered. And if you do include an image on the back, be sure it is a high-resolution file for printing (generally around 200-300dpi).
  • Avoid using a border color and keep important information in the "safe area."
    • Printing is never 100% accurate. Tiny movements in the printer will result in a lopsided border color or text cut off. Printers recommend leaving a 0.125" bleed outside the edges of your card and an even bigger inside margin so no important information gets lost in the printing process. Decide on your printer and implement their specifications (or download a template) before designing your card.
  • Consider printing your business card on thick paper stock.
    • Similar to your resumé, printing your business card on thicker paper will give it a professional quality. No one likes a limp handshake...why would they like a limp business card?
  • Treat your business card like a marketing tool.
    • Nowadays it is fast and easy to connect with people on social media, so the contact information on a business card has become almost antiquated. If you treat your card like a marketing tool, it will better serve whatever purpose you intend for it. For example, you might want to use your business card as a conversation starter. To do so, you could use recycled paper, unconventional materials (like wood or metal), order letterpress cards or change up the size of the card. It is up to you to explore your purpose for having a business card, and then design accordingly. If done well, they will increase your credibility and leave a lasting impression.

Self Identity, Resume, Columbia College, Networking, Job Search

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