2. Design and style

These suggestions assume that you will be working in Microsoft Word, but the general principles apply equally well to the other major word processing packages.

It’s a sad fact, but not many of us are born designers, just as not many of us are natural musicians or fashion models. Yet, people who would never try to design their own wedding dress or wallpaper will attempt to add designer flair to their CV – often with disastrous results.

We have been reviewing CVs for many years, and he CVs which are most impressive in almost all industries are the ones which are plain and businesslike. This is how to avoid the biggest design pitfalls:

Choosing your fonts

Choose a plain, simple, modern font, and think about readability. Readability is not the same thing as legibility. Readability means that the font is easy on the eye and encourages the reader to keep reading without any blips or interruptions caused by odd spacing or alignment.

A font with a serif (tails on the letters, like Times New Roman) is more readable than one without, (like Verdana) which is why you almost always see serif fonts for the main text in books and newspapers. The tails help to ‘join up’ the words, making the copy flow along easily as the reader’s eye moves along. Sans serif fonts (plain typefaces with no tails) should be kept for headings, where their bluntness helps to maximise impact. If you use two fonts, make sure they work well together.

Definitely don’t pick a fancy or novelty font like Copperplate or Comic. Think businesslike.

You can read more about choosing fonts here.

Font size

Don’t fall into the trap of minimizing your type size to make your CV fit onto two pages. For readability, aim for one type size throughout your CV, preferably 10, 11 or 12 point. It’s fine to have slightly larger typefaces for sub-headings, and to make them bold. Go up to 14 point for the name at the top of your CV. Try to keep to this number of font sizes or fewer – too many font sizes can be dizzying.

Once you’ve decided on your font sizes stick with them throughout. See more tips below for how to fit in all you want to say.

A note on using colour

With colour, in most situations, less is definitely more. Unless you are a designer or a web designer and really know what you are doing, colour tends to make a CV look home-made rather than professional.

Other than for email addresses (which often convert themselves into hyperlinks, and show up in blue and underlined when the CV is online) stick to black type on a white background.

As to the choice of paper, anything pure white and A4 will do. Coloured paper and special papers are like coloured fonts – a bit of an affectation and a distraction. Keep it plain.

Setting out your copy

Try not to not use full-justify (where both edges of the copy are straight lines, like in a newspaper) because this spaces the words in strange ways, making them uncomfortable to read. Use left-justify instead, as this keeps all the words evenly spaced and easy to read.

Minimise any unnecessary capitals. Lots of people use initial capitals (where the first letter is a capital) for words they think are particularly important. The reason why this isn’t a good idea is demonstrated here:

Capitals are Hard on the Eye, and they make it Difficult to pick out really Important Information. Only use Capitals for information that you really want the Employer to pick out quickly – like your previous Qualifications and Job Titles.

You probably found that your reading rate for that last paragraph slowed right down because of the capitals.

Reserve initial capital letters for proper nouns: names, courses and job titles – things you want to leap from the page. If you cannot see whether you have too many capitals, hold up your CV at arm’s length and see how long it takes to pick out your qualifications and course titles from all the other information.


Although the normal template for Microsoft Word gives rather generous margins, don’t be tempted to reduce them too much to fit things in. Remember that, during the sifting process, recruiters will often want to make their own notes in the margins – so leave them space! Margins should be no less than 1.8cm at the top and bottom, and 1.3cm to each side.

Before you send off your CV, send it to several friends and get them to print it on different printers, to make sure the margins sit within the ‘printable area’.

Keeping lists and bullet-points lined up

Use the Table function in Microsoft Word to keep information neatly lined up on your CV. Tables work well for things like lists of courses, so that you can arrange them in two columns, or for job listings, where you want the name of the company on the left and the dates neatly arranged to the right.

When you are finished, you can use the Table, Hide Gridlines function to make the lines invisible, even on an electronic version.