After you’ve gone through the tedious task of carefully compiling your resume and your cover letter, you get to the fun task of figuring out which font should display all of your amazing skills and work experiences. But a poorly chosen resume font can make or break your chances of being taken seriously as a job seeker. (We’re looking at you, Comic Sans.)
Choosing a font is more than just picking something that “looks nice” or is the default font of whatever program you use to type your resume. As odd as this sounds, there is a whole psychology behind choosing fonts because the font you choose impacts how humans and machines read and interpret your resume.
If you’ve ever played with any word processing program, you know there are tons of fonts out there. You can choose curly, fancy, boring, or plain fonts. And, if you can’t find a font you like, you can download about a zillion more online!
However, there aren’t a zillion types of font, only a zillion fonts. There are four font types, and each font falls into one of the four types (categories).
Serif fonts have something coming off the ends of their letters. That “something” can be described as “feet” or “lines.” These fonts are generally considered “traditional” or “serious.”
Supposedly, serif fonts make long print passages easier to read because the serifs help your eyes move along the text.
The literal translation of “sans-serif” is “without serif.” Which means “these fonts don’t have feet.” Sans-serif fonts are considered more modern than serif fonts, thanks to their streamlined (no feet) look.
Because serifs (specifically the “feet”) are small and thin, they don’t display well on screen. The serifs can look blurry on screen. That’s why you’re more likely to see sans-serif fonts online and on-screen than anywhere else.
Script fonts are generally cursive. They look like handwriting or even fancy calligraphy you might find on a formal invitation.
Decorative fonts are used to get your attention. They are unusual and are generally not used in everyday writing. That said, you’re likely to see them on a poster or in a graphic that’s meant to get your attention, but not necessarily keep your attention.
Why Fonts Matter
While it’s not a formal college major (yet!), font psychology is the “study” of how fonts can impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. While font psychology is used primarily in design (like creating a logo, an advertisement, or movie poster), understanding font psychology can help you choose the right font for your resume.
When designers choose a font for any project, the first thing they consider is their audience. The main purpose of the design is to connect with the audience, and fonts play a role in creating that connection. Why? Because like it or not, people associate different emotions and feelings with every font.
Create a Connection
Your resume is, in a way, the first impression you leave with a recruiter or hiring manager. While assuming that first impression is all about your skills and experience isn’t wrong, the font you use plays a big part of that first impression.
When you write a resume, you’re trying to create a connection with the recruiter. And, from that connection, you want a reaction. Hopefully, “Hire this person!” is the reaction. While there’s no guarantee that the “right” font will create that connection, the wrong font may give the recruiter the wrong impression about you as a job seeker, and that could land you in the reject pile.
For example, sans-serif fonts are often considered cool, modern, and cutting edge. Even if your skills are traditional and “boring,” using a sans-serif font may plant the idea that you’re an out-of-the-box, original thinker.
Using a decorative font won’t change the substance of your resume, but it will change its style. Many decorative fonts are associated with creative, free-thinkers. And, for some jobs, that’s what you want the recruiter to think. However, if you’re applying for a job as a banker, a decorative font may not be the right choice because it may signal that you don’t take the job seriously.
Much like you dress yourself up for an interview to send a certain message, the font you dress your resume in sends a certain message, too.
Know Your Audience
You know your audience is a recruiter or hiring manager. But, how do you know if the recruiter is a human or a machine? Well, you don’t. And that’s why you need to think about who (or what!) might read your resume when choosing fonts.
When you’re certain a human is reading your resume, you can use font psychology to your advantage. You want to make your resume as easy as possible to read. And, you also want the recruiter to connect with your resume. In this case, choosing a font that’s easy on the eyes (serif) might be the way to go. But, you could also consider incorporating a decorative font if you’re trying to send the message that you’re creative.
However, in most cases, you can’t be sure if a human recruiter will read your resume. If that’s the case, you may want to use a little “machine psychology” to choose your font.
As more companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes, font psychology is less about creating an emotional connection, and more about creating a mechanical one. That means you need to ensure the machine can read (parse) your resume.
When it comes to this, stay away from unusual or unique fonts. This means skip anything in the decorative or script categories. But, it also means fonts in the serif category, too. Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading the serifs, so it’s best to skip the “fancy footwork” in favor of something you’re sure a machine can read.
What to Look for in a Resume Font
That’s the basics behind font psychology. But, knowing the broad font categories doesn’t help. There are still dozens of fonts within each font type. So, what should you look for in a specific resume font?
Easy to Read
Serif fonts are easier to read in print, and sans-serif fonts are easier to read online. But, because more often than not, you’re applying online, you’re probably better off choosing a sans-serif font.
You never know who’s on the receiving end of your resume (unless you’re at a job fair). If it’s a human recruiter reading your resume, serif versus sans-serif font shouldn’t matter. But, because your resume is likely to be read while on-screen, choosing a sans-serif font will be easier on the recruiter’s eyes since there won’t be blurry serifs on screen.
Even when you know a human will read your resume on paper, ditch the cursive and fancy fonts. They’re hard to read and require more brainpower to decipher than a serif or sans-serif. When your resume is number 50 out of 50 being reviewed that day, you want to make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to read yours and decide you’re worth an interview.
Best Font Size for a Resume
When you’ve got a short resume, you may be tempted to up your font size to help fill in the space. And, when you’ve got a long resume, you may be tempted to shrink your font size to get more in.
In either case, don’t do it. Use an 11-point font. It’s the easiest for most people to read (with or without glasses) and the machines like them, too. If you want to go to 12-point font, that’s OK. But, never go above that. The fact that you’re padding your resume will become obvious.
Also, never go below 11-point font. Humans and machines have a hard time reading anything smaller than 11 point, and that’s the last thing you want.
The one pseudo-exception to font rules is when you’re in a creative profession. If you want to use an outside-the-box font to express your creativity, you can. But, limit the creativity to your name. The body of your resume should be a more traditional font since that’s where your skills and experience are, and you want the recruiter to read those with ease.
If you really want to add some “personality” to your resume, consider adding a splash of color to your resume like this:
What Are The Best Resume Fonts?
The best fonts to use are ones that are “classic.” Those are the fonts that are easy to read by humans and machines. All of these fonts are timeless, clean, and easy to read or scan. Given that a human recruiter spends, on average, six seconds reviewing your resume, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to get the most out of your resume in a short amount of time. So, what are they?
According to Brie Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Coach at FlexJobs, these are the top fonts you should use on your resume:
Times New Roman
Other recruiter favorites include:
Which Resume Fonts to Avoid
And of course, you need to know which fonts to skip. The problem with these is that they look, well, not classic. They are difficult to read, look heavy (as opposed to “clean”), and, in some cases, don’t have a lowercase option! While they might be fun and original, using any of these may convey a message you don’t want to send—that you aren’t serious about your job search, perhaps!
This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good example resume fonts to avoid.
Comic Sans (sorry!)
The Right Resume Font for the Right Message
It’s hard to believe, but choosing the right font can have a surprising impact on your resume. Fonts convey subconscious messages you never realized you were sending. Picking the right font helps send the message that not only are you a serious job seeker, but that you’re also the right professional for the job.
We’ve got tons of advice on how to format your resume, what resume format is right for you, and even what to leave off your resume. But, if you’d like some additional help, consider scheduling a session with one of our career coaches for a resume review. This service can help you improve your resume and get personalized feedback.
Jennifer Parris contributed to this post.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this article was originally published on February 6, 2016.
Don’t forget to share this article with friends!
Jennifer Parris, FlexJobs Career Writer
Jennifer comes from corporate America… and a four-hour daily commute! Now, as a Career Writer for FlexJobs , she commutes to the corner office (in her house, that is) in under 60 seconds! Says Jennifer: “I’ve always been a writer,…Read More >
We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment below! All fields are required.