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Resumes and Cover Letters

Creating an Electronic Resume

Your resume's appearance on paper is essential, but now, your resume's electronic appearance may be just as important.  A cleanly formatted resume is an important aspect of applying for any position; however, just because it prints nice and looks nice on your screen doesn't mean it will look that way on other computers.  This may not have been a concern in the past but now, with the development of online resume systems like BSUCareers and online applications where you send your resume electronically, it is as important as the information on the resume itself.  This is why we will be showing you some of the do's and don'ts of creating a resume using word processing systems.

Most word processors, work generally the same from the operators standpoint, however, internally the slight differences can have a huge impact when aesthetics are important.  Two of closely related concerns are fonts and file conversions.


Not all computers have the same fonts, especially "novelty" fonts that have been imported to your computer.  Fonts can come from a variety of places including your word processor, and other programs including games, and on a rare occasion fonts can even be downloaded to view web pages properly.  Generally   they may look wonderful when printed from your machine, but if the person you send your resume to doesn't have the same font, the appearance may be a gamble.  If you are concerned about a particular font, Microsoft provides a site dedicated to fonts distributed through Microsoft Programs.


Character count is a more specific issue often presented by fonts.  The general idea is how many characters can fit on a single line before text wrap occurs.  While this may not be technically correct the basic principal is that in some fonts certain characters are larger than others.  This can prevent less than the standard amount of characters to fit on a single line.  Take for example the difference between Times New Roman and Courier fonts at 12 pts.  To move the cursor approximately one inch according to the page ruler in Times New Roman you must insert 12 spaces, but to move the same distance using Courier you only need to insert 5 spaces.  Similarly with Courier "asdfg" will move the cursor about one inch where as Times New Roman will only move one inch with "asdfghj".  These subtle differences may not sound like much but visual results are easily apparent.  Sometimes using tabs is all that is required to fix character spacing, other times even tabs can't fix the problem.

File Conversions:

The word processor you are using may not be the same as the person you are sending your resume.  In this instance even if the other user can open your file how it is viewed may change from a host of reasons.  Referring back to fonts, the users word processor may not use the same fonts as your resume contains.  Default line breaks and spacing have even been known to cause issues in appearance.  Even different versions of the same product can have different appearances, such as a Microsoft Word 97, file may appear different to someone viewing it on Microsoft Word 2003 or vice-versa.


There are a couple simple fixes, to correct many of these known issues.  The best choice is to use tables for the layout of your resume.  For demonstration purposes we will be using Microsoft Word 2003, but many word processors function the same way.

To insert a table in Microsoft Word 2003, go to the menu Table , Insert, and Table as shown below.

Generally, you will be given a prompt asking for the number of Columns and Rows.  The columns in a table are the vertical cells where as the Rows are the horizontal cells, as demonstrated in the image below.

Many word processors will default your new table to include "borders", these are the lines on the outside of the actual cells.  It is generally easier to work with your table with the borders, but you will want to remove them when your resume is complete by selecting the table, going to borders and shading (you may need to go to format, table in some word processors) and selecting none.

For most resumes you want to create multiple tables, so you can control how many rows and columns your resume will contain in the different sections of your resume.

The benefit of using tables in your resume is so you can justify your text.  This will allow you to have right align text, for items such as dates on the right side of your resume, and left align text, for items such as categories, on the left side of your resume.

Click here to view a sample resume created with tables.

Virtually all modern word processors will be able to recognize this format and properly display your information.  Even if the user does not have the corresponding fonts that you used in your document, the user will still have the same general layout.


While tables will generally provide the most versatility, learning how to use them may be a job in itself.  For some resumes using tabs will do the job.  Tabs generally offer the flexibility to handle most file conversions and changes in fonts.  You should look at the fonts you are using, and decide if they are a "standard" font, in the terms of size, to aid you in determining if tabs will suffice.

While tabs won't right align, you can create a similar appearance.  The concept is that tab stops are constant in a document, usually a half inch.  So, whether you have two characters or three characters past a tab stop, when you tab the cursor will move to the same spot.  This will allow you to essentially align your text to a certain point on the page.

In Microsoft Word the paragraph symbol turns on a function to allow you to representations of unprinted characters such as a space, tab, and carriage return.  The space is represented by a dot in the middle of the line, the tab is represented by an arrow, and the carriage return is represented by the paragraph symbol.  Turning this function on may help in correcting old resumes.

Below is an example of how tabs display text and the differences between tabs and spaces.  Note the last example in which the spaces have pushed "Date" onto the next line.  This is the most common problem in viewing resumes on a different computer.  While this can still happen with tabs, it is far less likely.  The major downside to tabs is if I wanted something longer than "Today's Date", like "Tomorrow's Date" I would need to remove one whole tab to fit it on the line.

This section, from our two page resume example, was created using tabs and generic fonts.

These tabs keep the dates on the right hand side aligned properly and allow about a half inch cushion in case another system needs to use a different font than we selected.  Since we used a generic font this is not a major concern, but it would be better to have this in a table.