We’ve always heard that first impressions count. In recruiting, this is certainly true as well. Back when I was actively headhunting, I’d have formed a first impression and gotten a good gut feeling about whether or not a candidate would work out based on my first glance at his CV. How long was that glance? 6 seconds. Imagine having your future career decided within 6 seconds! Even in smaller firms, HR is often swamped with applications, and the HR officer often cannot spare more than a few minutes to read through your entire CV. The first impression you make on him or her is formed the moment his/her eyes meet your CV.
I often get questions about layout, formatting, icons, pictures, etc. These are important, but other considerations often affect the discretion we have, especially formatting, icons, and pictures. HR departments today are notorious for their use of applicant tracking systems (ATS) (scroll down to the section on ATS here for more info) – basically, these are automated CV scanners that scan a CV for certain keywords and reject those that don’t meet their criteria. Technology is getting very advanced nowadays. Unfortunately, because of the way these scanners are designed, fancily-formatted CVs with nice icons and graphics are often filtered because the scanner cannot understand these icons/graphics/pictures, and decide that the CV is ‘blank’ instead.
One of the most important things I have noticed from looking at tens of thousands of CVs was the font they chose to use. This seems like a minor thing. But in fact, the font is always the first thing that will be noticed, and the font you choose to use speaks volumes about your CV! Let’s take a look at a CV from a hypothetical candidate A:
I’m sure you’ve seen fonts like this before. This font, Comic Sans, is actually widely considered by graphic designers to be one of the worst fonts to use, in any context!
The finance sector is a formal industry with a rich history. This candidate has excellent career experience and would be an excellent fit in a major bank. But, if I were the recruiter, I’d discard this CV without even bothering to look at its contents. Why? The font looks unprofessional and does not give the impression that the candidate is serious. It gave a poor first impression. It’s too casual and may even border on childish. What a waste! If the HR officer read on, I’m certain A would be called up for an interview.
Let’s take a look at the same CV, using a different font:
Much better! This profile looks appropriately formal, cleaner, more serious, and more professional. I would expect a serious candidate to present professional-looking profiles; my first impression of this CV would be the complete opposite of the previous one!
Again, having the right font is super important in making the first impression. You must come across as professional and well-organised, otherwise the HR officer may very well choose to discard your CV on the spot.
One important consideration is standing out. There are many great fonts out there – there’s nothing implicitly wrong with the classic Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial, etc. It’s just that everybody uses them. They don’t stand out. The HR officer will have seen them hundreds, if not thousands of times, and they thus aren’t eye catching. The impression formed isn’t one that is bad, but it won’t be a very memorable one either. To stand out, we need to consider different fonts.
Let me first briefly touch on some technical details when we choose fonts (feel free to skip this if you just want the answers!). There are two main types of fonts: serif and sans-serif. Basically, the former looks like Times New Roman, while the latter looks like Arial. One has the additional curly bits attached to the ends of its letters, the other does not. This image from Wikipedia highlights the differences:
When we deal with long paragraphs of text (like in a storybook…or a CV!) the general consensus is to use a serif font, as the additional lines are supposed to serve as ‘transitions’ for our eyes, making it easier for us to read and understand the text. We can use sans-serif fonts for short phrases, such as the headers of our CVs (some common headers I use can be seen here in our Ultimate Guide to Effective Resume Writing) but for the main body of your CV you should absolutely consider a serif font.
Personally, I recommend that clients use Garamond as the font of choice. I’ve found it to be the most effective out of the hundreds I’ve experimented with. It’s considered one of the most aesthetically pleasing fonts, due to its classic yet polished look (and is in fact considered one of the top fonts for use in a CV!), and it also gives off a nice sense of professionalism. This is the second font we saw above. I generally use this when writing for my clients, and I’ve seen great results thus far.
Some other fonts that I find useful are:
This is described by its creator as ‘the new Times New Roman’. It’s fairly pleasing on the eye, and looks professional:
This font is more ‘rounded’ than Garamond or Cambria. The general impression given is thus one of friendliness and approachability (that’s what the creator says, anyway!):
My take is that this sort of font reads best when printed. When attending an interview, you should take along printed hardcopies of your CV and you can use different fonts in the softcopy and hardcopy. Use Garamond when emailing the recruiter, but print your CV out using Constantia, or one of the other fonts discussed below. (I’ve written quite a bit on interview strategies, by the way. If you’re interested, or if you have an upcoming interview, you can check out some of these articles:     ).
This font was specifically designed for use on computer monitors. The designer also claims that it has thicker strokes, which make it easy to read even when the font size is small. This is a consideration if your CV is very lengthy and you want to cut the absolute page number down (although I find that most CVs can be easily fit into 2-2.5 pages – any more than that and you’re probably including irrelevant info that will be skipped!) Here’s an example:
If you’re sending your CV as a PDF over the Internet, this is a great font to consider.
This isn’t a ‘standard’ font that comes with most computers, but I’ve included it as I personally like it quite a bit. While it’s a sans-serif font, it comes across as very readable. Indeed, its designer originally intended it for widespread corporate use, and considers it “serious but friendly” – that’s absolutely the impression we want to portray in a CV! A plus is that it also has different ‘weights’ (how bold it appears to be) that we can use to create some aesthetically pleasing designs, like bolding one section, and using a light font in the next line immediately (pay attention to the header of this example, for instance):
I personally love this style. It looks modern and stylish. It’s available as a free download – I’m not advertising for them here ????
Mac and Apple lovers will surely recognise this font – it’s a classic used in almost every Apple device, and for good reason! Here’s a sample:
While this is again a sans-serif font, its clean appearance makes it look professional, and it’s easy to read even in long paragraphs of text. It’s widely used in many applications – corporate logos of many major MNCs use it (like Panasonic, BMW, Lufthansa, Toyota…), the MRTs in the US use it on their signboards, etc.
The main advantage is that it looks modern, yet professional – I believe it comes installed as a default on Mac, but Windows users may need to find some other way to get it.
I hope this gives you some inspiration on the fonts you can use in your CV. Beyond looks, however, is content. While appearances are certainly important, the most impressive-looking CV will do you little good if its content is not up to scratch. I’ve published some additional content on CV writing (the Ultimate Guide mentioned above, as well as some additional key tips and tricks here) which you should pair with this guide. In addition, I also offer free consultations on your CV – fill in the form below, and I’ll personally review your CV and get back to you with my advice and areas for improvement ????
Happy Job Hunting!