Using Color in Your Resume: Should Your Resume Have Colors?

What are the advantages of using colors on your resume? It depends on who you ask. Some say color conveys a more professional image. Others say it distracts the reader from the central message. Some say it’s a good idea to use colors to help the reader focus on your text. The truth is, as with many things, it depends on who you are as a person and what you want.

We’ve analyzed some of the pros and cons of using colors in your resume so that you can decide for yourself if they are right for you or not.

The Pros of Using Color in your Resume

Colors are engaging. Colors grab your attention, whether they are bright or bold or subtle and subdued. We notice them more than we use them as drivers to our message.

Coupled with text, colors can direct the reader’s attention. If you use color as a background for your text, it directs the eye along with the focus of the text and gives you a way to instantly tell your story with ease and speed.

Colors are memorable. Colors are often associated with moods, feelings, or even specific things. For example, blue is often associated with calm, but it’s also used for “corporate” professional jobs.

Impact is created using color. If you use color on your resume where it counts—at the headings—you can use color to emphasize important information on your resume.

The Cons of Using Color in Your Resume

Colors can be distracting. When you put colors wherever you want them, the natural instinct is to use them everywhere. Some people say that free-form colored text looks messy. Others say that people are more likely to notice the color, but miss the words. Still others opt for a no-color resume.

People are increasingly color-blind. It’s getting harder and harder to spot common colors like yellow and orange. Some people with color-blindness (and most people with yellow-green color deficiency) can’t discern between yellows, oranges, browns, greens, or blues.

Using color means you are reducing your choices to ensure your resume gets read. If you are applying for a job at the Gap Inc., chances are good that the first page of candidates would be scanned quickly to see if they are qualified for their job. If your color is anything other than black, the reader might miss the information.

Colors can be expensive. If you opt to have your resume printed on colored paper, you will be paying a lot more for that option. In addition, if you choose to use a design with bold colors that needs to be printed in two colors, the cost goes up further still.

Colors can be hard to read. If you use colors to create a background for your resume, you run the risk of people not being able to see your text at all. It’s also often hard for people with color-blindness to read because the contrast between colored text and a plain background [that can’t be lifted or changed] is much greater than that of plain text on a plain white background [that can be changed]. If you print in black and white and use different large fonts, this problem is mostly eliminated.

How Resumes Are Evaluated

Resumes are evaluated in one of two ways: they are scanned or they are read.

If you send it in, your resume is most likely going to be scanned. If you send it in specifically with the cover letter and resume on plain white paper, it will be read (assuming the recruiter’s eyes don’t immediately glide over the job title to view your name and then scan your resume).

If you are applying for a job, the employer will scan the resumes of all the qualified candidates without even reading any of them. As long as you have keywords that match the job description in your resume, chances are good that your name will be pulled up at some point.

This is where using colors come in. You can use bold colors to quickly distinguish yourself from other candidates who are using plain black text. You can also use colors to communicate the kinds of skills and qualifications you possess so the recruiter doesn’t have to read and rethink what they see.

You can use color to draw attention to information important to your story. If you feel that the reputation of your university is important, you could put a color-coded chart on your resume showing how many students graduated with honors in each subject area. If you feel that honesty is important, you could include a colored bar showing how often your professors rated you as an A player.

Using colors to effectively create a background for your resume requires you to think about how colors can be used to inform the reader. If you aren’t an artist, don’t design your own resume. Find a graphic designer who can help you make sure that the reader doesn’t miss any of the most important information in your resume.

The tools we use today may not work tomorrow—and we shouldn’t depend on them if we want them to work for us when we need them most anyway.

How Does Color on a Resume Impact an Electronic Scan?

Electronic scanners read, in order, the first 100 words of each resume so it’s important to focus on the first 100 words. Because your resume is scanned in an electronic format, you need to consider the differences in how colors are perceived by an electronic scanner compared to a human reader.

When humans see colors, they use their brain to help them (and ultimately the reader) decide what kind of information they should pay attention to. If you’re an experienced professional who is making a resume for your first job, you want to make sure you use color to communicate the kind of work experience, skills, and accomplishments that are important to this particular employer. Using bold colors can let the reader quickly see what they need to know.

Another thing to consider is the italicized parts of your resume. If your resume includes italicized text, it may have been added by a computer rather than by you as part of your final editing process. Be careful when italicizing text—it’s best to use italics sparingly. The goal is to make a resume readable and easy to find a specific piece of information in a hurry. If you want the reader to find something in your resume quickly, don’t add bold italics.

What do Hiring Managers Think About Color on a Resume?

A few years ago, I had a friend who was trying to land an internship at a major PR firm in New York City. When she called to get her resume printed, the person at the store she was dealing with suggested that because this firm did so much work for celebrities, her resume needed to stand out. She should use blue paper instead of white.

She did just that and presented it in person—but it backfired. The interviewers took one look at the resume and said, “I’m sorry. This is awful.” She didn’t get the job.

If they said that about my friend, what do you think hiring managers would say about your resume if you used different colors?

How to Use Color on a Resume Effectively

On your resume, you use color to draw attention to what needs to be focused on. Your experience, skills, and education should help the employer decide whether you have the right stuff for a particular job.

If you want to use a colored background to highlight a particular area, look at different ways you can do so.

Color on a resume is fine if you’ve got the right credentials and know how to make it work. If you’re using color to emphasize keywords, make sure the colors are enough of a contrast with each other so that they don’t blend together. And remember: use color sparingly and only where you think it will help your resume stand out.

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