Fashion legend Carolina Herrera is famous for dressing First Ladies like Jacqueline Onassis, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. Herrera knows a thing or two about helping people stand out for the right reasons. “Attention to detail is of utmost importance when you want to look good,” the Venezuelan-born designer has said.
But you don’t need live in the White House to follow her advice. Right now, many high schoolers are creating resumés to share while asking teachers and counselors for college application recommendations. For most juniors, this is their first attempt at creating this type of professional document. The task can seem daunting.
As a hiring manager in the business world, I’ve reviewed hundreds of resumés of potential new employees. As an MBA and undergraduate coach, I’ve helped scores of applicants polish up their documents. Again and again, I tend to see the same mistakes among high schoolers putting together a resume for the first time. Some errors are about the content, while others are more cosmetic. Both matter—but working on formatting and style can provide quick and easy wins.
Here are a few quick tips.
1. Check spelling and punctuation.
In the era before software spellchecking, people might forgive a misspelled word or two. With technology like Grammarly, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs that use AI to offer suggestions, mistakes look like apathy, like you just couldn’t be bothered. Take advantage of the tech help but also have a friend or family member (someone with an eagle’s eyes for reviewing documents) look yours over before you share.
2. Standardize the bullet point endings.
There are basically three ways to end a resumé bullet point. One way is with nothing, while another is with a period. The most technically correct way is to use a semicolon after each bullet except the last one for a section, which should end in a period. (Almost no one uses this method.) The key is to be consistent. Pick one method and make sure each bullet follows your rule.
3. Format consistently.
Be cautious about your margins. They should be the same throughout the resumé. Also, print out a hard copy of a PDF before sending one in an email. I have had students gasp when they realize the beautiful resumé (or so they thought) doesn’t print out their name because the top margin is too narrow.
4. Use 12-point when possible—and never below 10-point.
Your recommender will appreciate efforts to make the process as easy as you can. That includes providing a resumé that’s easy on the eyes to read.
5. Avoid “creative” designs.
The use of ATS (automated tracking system) software to screen resumés for jobs has led to certain layout expectations. For example, dates are usually on the far-right side of the page. The more stylized you make your resumé—even in an attempt to show off your creativity—the harder you’ll make the exercise for your recommender. Use black ink, not purple, green, or red.
Certainly, it’s important to focus on your content, too but the appearance of your resumé is important. Still, do your best but don’t worry about perfect. As Carolina Herrera has also been quoted saying, “Perfection does not exit. Only God is perfect.”
College Coach, MBA Guru, and Published Author