PowerPoint Resume Layout Tips

Powerpoint Resume I know I said I was going on hiatus, but I just I got a nice email from a reader today complimenting me on the layout of the blog…thanks Janet! She also asked a question about my old online resume PDF:

In particular your resume’s design caught my attention. How did you create a one-page PDF resume that’s so organized and detailed? Would you be able to suggest resources or pages on how to design a PDF resume from scratch?

The short answer is that I use Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat, which are pricey professional page layout and document management software packages.

The longer answer is that I spent some time thinking about how I wanted people to perceive my resume and how people actually read them:

  • After scanning a few hundred resumes, you start to get snow blindness from all that white. This is where graphic designers have a seeming advantage: A HAH! We can use this opportunity to uniquely express our graphical talents and creative expression! While that does work when you know you’re competing against a sea of white paper, it doesn’t work so well when everyone else is doing the same thing. The takeaway is a resume should be easy to read, with style in a supporting role.

  • When resumes are being screened by someone who is unable to evaluate the strengths of a candidate themselves, the resume is being scanned for relevant experience and skills that match the job criteria they’ve been handed. It’s important that these requirements are easy for them to find so your resume makes the cut.

  • When resumes are being handled directly by the people that you’ll be working with, they’ll be scanning for signs of rare competence or interesting combinations of skills. They aren’t hiring for just skills, though: they’re hiring for a team fit. While you still need to address the basic requirements of the job, interjecting that curveball skill might just catch the attention of the person assembling the list of “awesome people we’d like to work with”.


p>Most of the time, my resume isn’t being processed by an HR or employee review process, but is provided as a formality, so I don’t really follow the standard format. What is important, though, is that people get a sense of what skills and experience I have. The issue I have with the standard resume look is that they often have long page-width sentences (hard to read) and are filled with sentences that sound like Single-handedly managed team productivity of 50 associates through just-in-time distributed beverage ordering coordination and delivery processes. I am yawning “BS” before I even get to the word “handedly”, so I cater to my own whims by using shorter descriptions in my lists of credentials. My reasoning goes something like this:

  • I put all the experience “color commentary” in the “framing statement” at the top of the page, where it is placed so it is the first thing read on the page, after my name and categorical title. It should be short and to the point, serving as a kind of establishing shot, to use film lingo, for the rest of the resume.
  • All the following lists of education, experience, skills, and so on then (ideally) support the framing statement. If they don’t, then you are sending a mixed message about what it is you do. You may do a LOT MORE in real life, but a company is generally looking you to FIT into a particular kind of box. You might change the actual categories from what I have here to suit the type of business and industry, and if necessary add the necessary years of experience quantifiers.
  • While I like to say that people should find out how to stand out rather than just fit in, the resume is one of those cases where you might want to make it easy for potential employers to IMAGINE you as a plug-and-play part in their company. That is what you are trying to sell here: possibility of a good fit, which makes it a no-brainer of a deal to get a phone call.
  • When you get to the interview, your personality can then sell the other connections you can foresee. The AREAS OF INTEREST part of my resume provides potential jumping-off points for conversation.

Anyway, this is just what I do for my simple resume. I’m generally targeting the case where my resume is being considered by the creative professional for informational purposes, not competing with others as I’ve described above. So your mileage may vary considerably!

So, You Don’t Have InDesign

In answering Janet’s email, I thought about the common problem I face when telling people that I use expensive production graphics software to do my work. The implication is that THEY SHOULD TOO, though it’s impractical most of the time due to the need for training and people like to use what they have available. Most of the time this is Microsoft Word or Excel. While I like Word for straight writing and basic formatting of source text, I hate its page layout tools. They are very finicky, and often times one little layout issue will cascade into an unrecoverable mess. Excel just lacks the fundamental typographic control tools, though it is surprisingly flexible.

I avoid using Microsoft FrontPage on general principle, which is that it is the source of ugly web pages that I have had to clean up. Call me small minded, but I don’t even want to know what it does because of past ills visited upon me by its twisted autogenerated HTML progeny.

That leaves Microsoft PowerPoint. I occasionally have received photo assets that had been copied and pasted into a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, and this creates a production headache because the original file is down-sampled or destroyed in the process. However, I’ve also seen several reader-provided PowerPoint and Excel versions of my templates, and these look fine. I then idly wondered if I could use PowerPoint to recreate the layout without looking too ugly, so I gave it a try. I think it actually works. The advantage of PowerPoint over Word is that you can freely place text blocks and format them as you would in Word. You can place graphic imagery. You can also specify in PowerPoint’s options to produce output aligned to the resolution of your printer, not the screen. And since PowerPoint is part of the most basic Microsoft Office suite, you probably already have it…so let’s rock!

Shown below is PowerPoint 2007 duplicating my resume layout, with the “view grid” and “view rulers” options turned on to make the screenshot look more impressive:

PowerPoint Resume PowerPoint allows you to set the page size of your presentation, so I set it to US Letter. Then I just drew a bunch of text boxes and aligned them in such a way that the white spaces worked together. The grid isn’t particularly tight or well-constructed (in other words, it looks a little sloppy) but the overall look is fairly clean. The unit whitespace I used is the height of a line in the body text, because I didn’t feel like fiddling with line heights for every paragraph. I adjusted the spaces between the headers to be greater than the blank line that separates paragraphs, and just adjusted other parts of the composition so they tended to line up cleanly where it seemed that should happen.

If I was being more anal, I would have shrunk the space between paragraphs by about 25-30% and tightened everything up proportionally…this would have improved the “scattered” look of the “education” and “experience” areas. However, this effort would have required a lot of paragraph twiddling and hey, I would have used InDesign or Illustrator for this if I were doing it for real. If you are so inclined to this kind of adjustment, though, you would select the paragraph and then right-click to choose “Format Paragraph” to play with the “space after” parameters and linespacing.

There are a couple of tricks that I had to apply to the topmost header that says DAVID SEAH.

  • First, I tweaked the left margin from 0 inches to a small value to make the left edge of the D in “DAVID SEAH” line up with the type before it. If you align by the text box margins, the D does not optically line up with the left margin of the text below it (“new media designer”). In a real page layout program I would have just nudged it over, but I could not place the text box accurately enough with the mouse due to the way the program “auto-snaps” objects into alignment. Adjusting the internal margin was easier than figuring out how to turn that feature off, which I suspect is not possible.
  • I opened the text box formatting options to adjust the character spacing (the default value was way too wide) by -2pt. This didn’t fix the regrettable amount of space between the D and A letters (a common problem with electronic type on PCs) but it does seem more put together.

I use Acrobat Professional to create my PDF files, but I imagine there are other providers of inexpensive PDF encoders. I’m not familiar with any of them. Readers, any suggestions? [UPDATE: Several suggestions have been posted in the comments, so check them out!]

Download Example Resume Files

If you’d like to play with your own version of this resume, just download the zip file which contains the PowerPoint 2007 source. I’ve also enclosed a version that should work with PowerPoint 2005 versions and earlier, though I’m not sure if it works. A sample PDF is also included for your reference. Please note that this is not my actual resume, though it is using elements from it.

» Download PPTResumeSample.zip (170K) » Requires Microsoft PowerPoint

Note: If you are looking for Calibri, the font that I’m using here, it’s part of Office 2007. You can download and install the Microsoft Office 2007 Compatibility Pack to get them; check this article for some tips on other options.

NOTE: There have been some really great reader comments for this article; you should definitely check them out! :-)