Want to improve your resume for better results?! Focus on WHITE SPACE!

Since many students in undergrad and graduate real estate programs are graduating this month, improving one’s resume is an important topic to discuss.  Here’s the deal: most people dedicate much of their effort to the content of their resumes (as they should) but they often get overlooked by potential employers and recruiters because of the sea of people focusing on exactly the same thing. The resume is an essential tool in the job search and can be remarkably improved by this simple tip:

To make more impact on a potential employer or recruiter, give your resume more WHITE SPACE!

In a past life (college) I went through the rigors of education in finance and architecture.  The experience forced me to constantly switch between my analytical side and creative side.  In a way, a resume acts on the same fashion  If one defines their resume as a tool—one for enticing an employer to inquire further about a candidate for a potential position—it is structured to give that potential employer a snapshot of the candidate’s factual, content driven background while being a holistic, design driven document.  Most people miss the step about merging the design of the document with its content. This can have profound effects on a potential employer’s perception of a candidate.

Here’s a quick exercise to wrap some context around the subject: Search Google for “resume book” and focus the search only on PDF files (advanced search…bottom of search page—> file type—> PDF).  Take a few minutes to look over as many resumes as you can.  If you spend about ten seconds on each resume, several will start to jump out at you as more interesting, more professional, more polished, etc.  These resumes likely have the same content as the others, yet they are likely excellently designed and probably have the right amount of white space—two things that make a resume jump out to a potential employer or recruiter.

White space is an essential design principal that’s captured well in this quick article:
quick white space article

When I was in business school we were coached to write and structure our resumes to be read in 30-60 seconds by a potential employer or recruiter. That seems extremely quick when you want to pitch an entire career’s worth of skills, experience, and value.  You’ve likely done amazing work in your career and want to do all that hard work more justice than 30 seconds worth of time.

As this article and research study suggest, you have much, much less time to actually make an initial impact (just 6 seconds!).
resume design eye tracking study 6 seconds

The reason that white space is so important is because it provides breathability and hierarchy to a page.  As the article mentions, a recruiter’s eye naturally focuses on several parts of your resume to quickly make a judgment call on your fit with their organization. Now that we know trained HR professionals develop first impressions very quickly when deciding on your “fit” with a position or company, it is extremely important to highlight and direct their eye to your most important accomplishments and attributes—done through white space.

OK Kyle, you say white space is important. But how the heck do I actually improve the breathability of my resume?!

Here are a few quick and simple white space tips to help you improve the readability of your resume with a time-strapped HR representative in mind:

1) To gauge the effectiveness of your resume, take a hard look from a recruiter’s perspective
A recruiter’s main goal is to weed out 100s of resumes as quickly as possible. Ask a friend to review your resume for 6-10 seconds (time them) and then have them tell you what kind of position you are right for—essentially see if your resume makes that right first impression.  Are you gunning for an analyst position in a public or private REIT? Are you a hoping to launch your career in development, brokerage, capital markets, etc.?  If they are confused, not sure about your direction, or have too many questions after an initial scan, creating more white space (and deleting useless content) could help immensely.

2) Have your left margin be entirely dedicated to three to four main topics: Education, Experience, Skills, etc.
Indent everything else to the right by at least ½ inch. This allows the structure of your resume to become more prominent because it visually creates hierarchy in your resume.  White space is all about creating hierarchy, flow, and structure.  A half an inch may seem like too much space, but it helps the structure immensely.  If you’ve crammed your resume with tons of content, it may cause your text to fall onto two pages after indenting. If this is the case then DELETE CONTENT. Believe me, it’ll be hard and tough to take out that award you won three years ago or shorten the wording on the project where you improved ROI by ten percent last year, but you will create a greater impression because your resume will appear much better structured and more pleasing to the eye—which will also create a better impact on the person viewing your resume. It’ll also allow them to read the gems in your resume with far greater impact.

Here’s a quick before/after example:

3) If you have to have a large block of text, insert more spacing between each line.
This helps further with creating hierarchy within your resume. No one will actually read content in your resume in detail if the entire thing looks like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I’m perfect for this position!! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Hire me!! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I’m awesome! blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

Spacing between lines places prominence on the text and further highlights the content. If you’ve got a large block of text, you can also build in more white space by isolating that block of text above and below. This further highlights the content and adds additional structure to the overall document. To do this (assuming your resume is in MS Word), go to paragraph->spacing->before/after.  You can adjust the points accordingly. Make sure that you are consistent throughout your entire resume with spacing adjustments—just remember: white space between lines, white space between sections.

Here’s a quick before/after example:

The resume sample on the right uses 6pt separation between sections and 1.15pt separation between lines.  Certainly tweak those to allow for the desired amount of content since the example may be more or less content than you like. I deleted 8 lines total between the two.

4) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Why?! Because you identify someone else’s work you like, know they’ve done something right with it, and wish to replicate it to hopefully get similar results.  White papers (quick research findings summed up by consultants or industry leaders) are a great source for applying design techniques to resumes.  White papers, at their core, are doing the same things resumes do—they convey one’s work quickly and succinctly. They are similarly space constrained because they have to explain a mountain of research, opinions, and trends in a short amount of space. The techniques they use are specifically done to quickly maximize the message to the reader. They also have excellent white space. When you read a white paper, if it’s done correctly, you have a “get it, got it, good” mentality.

Check out this CBRE White Paper from 2009. Pay close attention to how white space is used, how hierarchy of information (titles, sub titles, etc.) is structured, and how key points are made (don’t worry about the fact that it’s seven pages, that’s not the point).
cbre white paper 

The research and findings behind the white paper are likely very lengthy (in a resume: your education, experience, accomplishments) and yet the information is quickly explained to the reader—partly because good white space and hierarchy techniques are used.

So there you have it.

Improving the breathability of your resume, through white space, is a simple way to make an impact with a potential employer or recruiter because it structures their eye and allows them to quickly read your content.  Remember that deleting content (though painful b/c of the work you did to write it) could be necessary to improving your resume.  On the other hand, less content (i.e. too much white space) could leave a negative impression on the viewer. To find the right level of white space, try out many versions with friends and family.  It’ll be an exercise that could pay dividends when your resume is in a huge stack that a potential employer or recruiter wants to weed out very quickly.

Good luck!

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