So you’re interested in making your resume stand out with colors.
But will color on a resume attract employers or turn them away?
Color on a resume used to be widely considered unacceptable. But the perspective of employers is different now in 2020. In fact, colors on a resume could be an advantage in making your candidacy stand out.
How do you know if colors on a resume is right for you? And how much color is too much?
The answer to these questions are unique to a candidate’s industry and how the resume is used. To understand what level of color is right for you, let’s first think through the lifecycle of a resume.
Resumes are reviewed and evaluated in the following ways:
Resumes might be automatically scanned and filtered
Resumes are looked at by the hiring manager on a desktop or mobile device or on a print out.
Resumes are printed, often in black and white, to be physically passed around
Color on a resume can have either a good or bad impact at any of these steps. Let’s think through the employer’s perspective to understand this further.
How do employers use Applicant Tracking Systems?
Some employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that scan and parse your resume to automatically organize candidate information. This is convenient especially for companies that receive and evaluate a large number of resumes, such as Fortune 500 companies.
But a common misconception is that if a resume doesn’t pass an ATS scan, they’re automatically rejected. In fact, the path to an interview usually doesn’t rely on a system’s ability to scan and parse a resume.
Many companies don’t want to let a bot filter out a good candidate’s resume. In the tech industry for example, talent such as software engineers and product designers are not easy to find. Recruiting teams in many of these companies manually review every resume that comes their way.
How Applicant Tracking Systems are used
Incorrect - Resumes are always filtered by an ATS
Correct - Organizes candidate information
The reality is that applying for a job in 2020 happens through LinkedIn, email, or referrals. Most large employers use the information submitted from these systems to filter candidates, Applicant tracking systems are only sometimes used to store and track your resume.
Resumes are now used in a very different way. And there’s little need to “beat” the ATS.
Tip: Apply to jobs through email or social platforms like LinkedIn. You have better chances when you apply for a position in a more personal way.
How does color on a resume impact an electronic scan?
But even if very few employers actually use resume organization tools to reject resumes, can color on a resume get past the ATS scan?
The answer is yes. As long as the contrast between the text and background is high, using color won’t prevent your resume from being scanned. Conservative use of colors on your resume is acceptable to Applicant Tracking Systems. As a lead software engineer, I’ve seen many colorful resumes that are successfully parsed by Applicant Tracking Systems such as Lever.
So don’t use too much color on resume if you want your resume to be parsed correctly. Keep in mind that other aspects of your resume are more important than how well your resume can be parsed by software.
What do hiring managers think about color on a resume?
Every resume is manually looked by a recruiter or hiring manager for under 7 seconds on average. The goal of your resume is to stand out enough to help you win the interview.
Using the right balance of color on your resume to highlight the important parts can help the viewer notice your experience and skills more.
So what is the right amount of color to use on a resume to make your resume stand out?
This depends on the size of the company you're applying to and the industry.
Companies that are fewer than 25 employees usually manually review every resume. Color on a resume here can help your candidacy stand out.
Tip: Always use colors on your resume when you're applying to a small company. Smaller companies usually don't have recruiting teams or job portals since they're not receiving a lot of resumes.
Industries such as tech, marketing, and media
If you’re in industries such as tech, design, marketing, or media, strategic use of color on a resume can be an advantage.
During my career as an engineer at mid-sized tech companies, I’ve manually reviewed thousands of resumes. Most resumes I reviewed had some color, which usually didn't make it hard to read.
There were a few exceptions. I usually had a hard time reading resumes that were over-designed to the point where I noticed the resume design more than the candidate’s actual experience and skills.
Avoid drawing negative attention with colors on a resume
Don’t use quirky graphics and too much design.
Use a resume design that makes your resume easy to read.
Luckily, most small-mid sized companies especially in tech usually won’t let a resume get filtered out because of bad design. Some of those candidates still got the interview. Poor resume design sometimes doesn't prevent moving on to the next step. Irrelevant experience and lack of fit is more of a filter.
Even if your resume has colors, keep in mind that it may still be printed in black and white. When your resume is translated to black and white, it needs to be just as readable. A high level of contrast between colors and text on your resume is important.
Industries such as finance and law
But the opposite is true for candidates applying to other industries such as finance and law, especially large companies. Color on a resume in these industries is often considered unacceptable and may be rejected. If you’re applying to one of these industries, especially a large company, your best bet is to keep your resume black and white, like this financial analyst resume example.
Hopefully by now you know whether to use color on your resume or not. And if you’re still unsure - don’t use color! As shown in the example above, color is not the only way to make your resume stand out even in finance!
When color is used correctly on a resume, it can make your candidacy stand out.
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Rohit is a software engineer, entrepreneur, and investor with a passion for helping others advance in their career. He interviews experts across different industries, researches job market trends, and provides career advice at every step of the job search process.