The last few years have seen an explosion in resume formatting styles. Today, resume writers employ multi-coloured inks, pictures, images, charts, graphs, headers and footers, columns, tables, and text boxes. So, do we need to revise our resume formatting to keep up with the times?

The answer is maybe. Or maybe not. Your decision will depend on how you plan to use your resume.

Suppose you will be presenting paper copies of your resumes to your contacts. In that case, the basic rule is anything goes, so long as your format is consistent and easy to follow and doesn’t distract your reader from the information you want to convey. Use charts to emphasize accomplishments, images to reinforce key ideas, and columns and tables to group similar information items.

On the other hand, if you plan to use your resume to apply for job ads on LinkedIn, Indeed or a company’s career page, you must recognize that an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – (a computer software program) will almost certainly read – and score  – your resume before a human sees it. Since most of these systems cannot read headers, footers, columns, tables, or text boxes, you must not use any of these features (except for non-critical items such as page numbers in headers or footers) in any resume you submit electronically. Failing to do this ensures that your resume will receive a low ATS score or may even be discarded because it is perceived to lack critical information.

You can use charts in electronically submitted resumes, but you must ensure that you have sized the chart to fit naturally on the page. If you do this, your readers will focus on the data your chart is meant to present instead of being distracted from that data to the chart itself. The same rule applies to pictures and images. You want them to augment your written information, not distract your reader from it. One environmental engineer I worked with used an image of a small evergreen tree to highlight her resume’s section headings. It was a well-chosen image that augmented her message without distracting her readers from more crucial information.