PowerPoint Resume Layout Tips

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”.

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! :-)


  1. Andy Jaeger 16 years ago

    PrimoPDF is a very basic but free pdf maker which will work with PowerPoint. I used it when I had a PC and it was fine for most things.

  2. Noel 16 years ago

    Microsoft finally has an add-in for Office 2007 that will allow you to save (or publish) files as PDFs.

  3. urbanmike 16 years ago

    Another option is to use the open source desktop publisher, “Scribus”. http://www.scribus.net

    This software gives excellent control over text placement and flow. It also publishes to PDF internally and is great for leaflets and newsletters.

  4. Brian Exelbierd 16 years ago

    I would throw in a vote for CutePDF.  It creates a pseudo-printer under windows that works with any application that can print.

  5. Novel 16 years ago

    I’d second the vote for CutePDF—which also has the advantage of being far less of a memory hog.

    GIMP is a nice Photoshop substitute and Open Office offers pretty much everything Microsoft Office offers (say that 3 times fast).  That said, Microsoft Publisher has a lot of the advantages of Microsoft PowerPoint and comes with lots of templates (for people who like that sort of thing). 

    I find that Illustrator offers much more down the road but for a quick project I’ll often turn to Publisher, but my husband always opts for Illustrator and InDesign on general principle (kind of like the Front Page aversion).

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who cheats Microsoft by making spaces with tiny Font sizes. :)

  6. Will Humes 16 years ago

    David, I downloaded the sample sip file several times and tried to extract the files using both the windows extractor and 7-Zip, but each program said that the zip file was empty.  Can you help here?

    I’d really like to try my hand with this without having to start from scratch myself.  Perhaps you can send me the files directly (non-zipped if possible)


  7. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Thanks for all the PDF encoder recommendations, guys!

    Novel: Oh, I’d forgotten all about Microsoft Publisher. I see I even have it installed, but I’ve never launched it! :-)

    Will: I double-checked the zip archive both on my PC (Windows extractor) and directly on the server using unix “zipinfo” and “unzip”, and the archive looks OK. It’s possible that for some reason your download actually didn’t work due to some network or server issue…check the file size of the zip archive. It’s called PPTResumeSample.zip. I’ll email you the archive and individual files.

  8. Will Humes 16 years ago

    Thanks David.  I got the files and all is well. I really like what you have done with this resume layout and have already begun refreshing my old 3 page plus resume using this template.  This was just the think I needed to get me started.

  9. Diogo 16 years ago

    I use pdf_creator to do my pdf files, i prefer it over cute_pdf or primo_pdf because it gives the option to save as jpg, bmp, tif, postscript, etc.

    David, i like what you did with powerpoint, but like @urbanmike, i think scribus is a fine option for anyone that doesn´t have indesign or even freehand.

    And since this is my first comment on your blog, thank you for the fantastic compact calendar!

  10. Kataster Nehnutelnosti 16 years ago

    I use pdf-creator like #9.Diogo. Make pdf from autocad .dwg or from coreldraw .cdr and see my work over all PC, Operating Systems and whatever. Or use pdf-creator to make image .jpg, .png and use that on my webpage

  11. catherine 16 years ago

    Re snapping to the grid in Ppt, turn this off at View > Grid and Guides, the same place you set the grid spacing and get it to display drawing guides (in 2003 at least, I assume it’s the same place in 2007.)

    I might give Ppt a try for resume layout, although I confess to being really reluctant to use slide software for documents, the world is full of way too many “slide-uments” as Garr at presentationzen.com calls them.

  12. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Catherine: Oh, I love Garr’s work at Presentation Zen! I think though that “slide-uments” refer to the use of such documents in actual presentations and projected slides. In this case, we’re just using PowerPoint as a page layout program that everyone is likely to have so we don’t have to suffer through with Word’s crapiness. I just read Garr’s post on the topic, and I don’t think he’s saying PowerPoint itself is evil for making documents…it’s just bad form to put a document up as a slide during a presentation.

    On a side note, I just googled the snapping to grid option…in PowerPoint 2007, you right-click the slide background and choose “grid and guides” (Office 2007 completely reorganized the interface compared to version 2003). It’s suddenly MUCH MORE USABLE…thanks for looking it up for 2003!

  13. Mark Harrison 16 years ago

    There’s a simple tip about getting CVs (as we in England call resumes) noticed.

    You tailor your CV to the application, right?


    You’ve researched the company and know a bit about them?

    Very good.

    You have an idea of their visual identity, and understand at the least their “corporate colours”?


    You’re using those colours in your CV to send the message that you’re a team player?

    No? Why on earth not.

    My experience is that most managers only notice it subliminally, but seem to respond positively… and those who spot it tend to be REALLY impressed :-)

  14. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Mark: Brilliant!

  15. Sascha 16 years ago

    another way: Fireworks (its pretty easy to learn 300 Dollars but worth the investment) and then you could use a free online pdf converter (Google: free online pdf converter).

    I would not of thought of doing it in this in the first place if I had not read this post so tx. Great resume layout.


    PS: found your blog through your contribution at MediaTemple

  16. Sascha 16 years ago

    What are your thoughts in terms of adding a small thumbnail mug-shot on the resume like some people have on their blog?

  17. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Sascha: Does Fireworks do vector graphics? It’s been years since I’ve used it, and using bitmap/photo package to create a PDF is a big no-no if you want a small downloadable file size. I didn’t know about Google’s free online PDF converter…I’ll have to check that out!

    With regards to adding a small thumbnail mug-shot, that’s a good idea if you’re being interviewed with a batch of people. About 14 years ago I was interviewing a whole bunch of people onsite at RISD for a game artist position, and each day I met maybe 12 people. It was VERY DIFFICULT for me to remember who did what, even with notes. At conferences now I take pictures of people’s cards with them in the background (in soft focus) so I can remember. It’s helpful, I find, to go interactive with the resume…write something on the resume or on your card as you’re talking about something in the interview…a doodle explaining a concept, a clever bit of code, a sketch of an idea. I try to make interviews into a mini-working session (client prospect meetings too), because that gives people a taste of working together AND it leaves a trace that helps people remember who I was.

    Since you’re an illustrator, using a mugshot also shows some of your skills in a convenient form.  The only rule of thumb, as far as I’m concerned, is that it looks good to the person doing the hiring, and is relevant.

  18. Robert 16 years ago

    The latest version of Inkscape (http://www.inkscape.org/) a cross platform open source vector graphics program is supposed to export to pdf as well.  I haven’t used the pdf feature but its one of the easiest to learn illustrator type programs I’ve ever used (great built in tutorials as well).

  19. agatsu 16 years ago

    Why not MS Access? You can put text box wherever you want, add some pictures, align many objects and make spaces between them equal automatically. Reports can be printed using cute pdf.

    And, finally, you can connect it to the database. That’s something ;))))))))))))))))))))

    (hope you will get irony)

  20. Adrian Koh 16 years ago

    Awesome post. I’m noting this down in Evernote :)

    Just thought I’d point out an app that I’ve been happily using: Pageplus http://www.freeserifsoftware.com/software/PagePlus/default.asp) which is free of charge. I’ve been using it after Ragtime became non-free.

    Cutepdf rocks, by the way.


  21. Charlie Gilkey 16 years ago

    Your resumes look great, Dave.  But you already knew that.

    For a while I struggled with whether or not to get the Adobe suites – it seemed the thing to do – but it turns out that side-by-side, Omnigraffle Pro does what I need it to do.

    I also occasionally kick things out in PowerPoint when I want non-pros or pro-ams like myself to be able to use the forms.

    The PDF thing is a non-issue on Mac OS X Leopard, but I do have Acrobat that I use on occasion for special functions.

    Thanks for the inspiration on the resumes, though.  Definitely will give it a go next time around – although it’s hard to make it fit for academia. The principles are there, though.

  22. Qrystal 16 years ago

    I’m surprised nobody has suggested OpenOffice yet!  It was mentioned briefly by Novel in comment #5 above, but only in alluding to the similarities with Microsoft Office.

    What is most relevant to your article above is that OpenOffice has a component called Draw that allows you to not only draw, but have text boxes wherever you’d like as well.

    The way you’re using PowerPoint for textboxes reminds me of how my husband used to use Excel to make drawings.  In both these situations, it was frustrations with Word that prompted finding another solution, and Microsoft simply didn’t have anything that worked the way it should.  OpenOffice DOES have something that works excellently!

    And it can read from and save to many formats other than its own native format…

    …and it can export to PDF.  What more do you need?  :)

  23. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Robert: Inkscape looks cool! I haven’t seen it before…thanks for the link!

    agatsu: Words fail me :-)

    Adrian: Thanks for that mention of Pageplus. I wasn’t aware of this product. I always like knowing about alternatives to the big software packages.

    Charlie: Omnigraffle is one of those products I never got around to trying. Probably because I’m still based on PC (though at least I am running Windows on a Macbook Pro :-)

    Qrystal: Oh, that is an excellent suggestion! My only issue with OpenOffice is that it requires Java. I recently purged Java off my machine after I noticed that 6 subsequent Java updates had resulted in almost a gigabyte of crap on my system. As I tweeted, “doing a java update feels like spreading another layer of lard over the old one”. I suppose I should give it another go, and start from a “clean” 150MB Java install.

  24. Marguerite 16 years ago

    Sascha suggested including a thumbnail mugshot in a resume. In many U.S. companies, that will get your resume bounced out of HR because of the possibility of discrimination. If they do keep your resume in the mill, they try to delete or obliterate the photo, thereby spoiling the design effect and certainly not enhancing your chances of getting hired. Something to consider.

  25. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Marguerite: oh, that’s really great to know! Thanks for posting that tip!

  26. Tim 16 years ago

    Dave – thanks for the article.

    For those of us that do have Adobe InDesign, but are not any good at it, can you provide your InDesign files you use as you have done with the powerpoint ones? Thanks.

  27. Do Mi Stauber 16 years ago

    I’ve been using Publisher for years and find it works fine for flyers, charts, planner pages, etc. My teacher partner uses it extensively and does amazing things with it. The only problem is that nobody else seems to have it, but PrimoPDF has solved that problem for us. I’m glad to see I’m not crazy for hating layout in Word!

    Do Mi

  28. Michael 16 years ago


    I put together an Apple Numbers resume template using your layout.  You can check it our here: http://www.numberstemplates.com/2008/12/16/apple-numbers-resume-template/

    – Michael

  29. Paulo 16 years ago

    Great example!