use a template for your resume

Should you use a template for your resume? The answer is: it depends. It depends on the resume template you intend to use. There are really bad resume templates out there. And there are really good resume templates out there. Unfortunately, most job hunters don’t know the difference. But if you plan to use a template to build your resume, you NEED to learn the difference.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly About Using a Resume Template

Let’s begin with the bad and the ugly. As a professional resume writer who has spent decades helping tens of thousands of job hunters create resumes, I know all the reasons you should NOT use a template to build your resume. I’ve seen the sad results when a job hunter who doesn’t know better uses one of the bad templates available free in Microsoft Word or cheap on the internet.

As the creator of Distinctive Resume Templates, which overcome the pitfalls of all the bad resume templates, I’ve changed my mind about this topic. But for most of my career, I’ve advised job hunters NOT to use a resume template. Why? Here are a few of the most important issues to be aware of when using a resume template and some tips on what to look for in a resume template instead.

You Are One-of-a-Kind

It’s true. You are unique, and so are your career and the qualifications and experiences you bring to the employment table. The best resumes differentiate you and promote the unique value you offer in the workplace. They accomplish this not just through the wording of your resume but also through the format, the design, and the organization of your resume content.

Most of the bad resume templates look good on the surface, but have you noticed they all look almost identical? Sure, there might be a few differences, but for the most part, you could put them side by side on a desk and it would be hard to tell them apart. It is not difficult to recognize that when you use one of these templates to build your resume, your resume blends in with the resumes of all the other job hunters. You aren’t differentiated at all!

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR: If you don’t want your resume to look like you made it with a cookie-cutter, what should you look for instead? The answer is a custom-designed resume template such as those created by Distinctive Resume Templates. It is easy to tell the difference between Distinctive Resume Templates and all the rest. They are called “Distinctive” for a reason! I’ve created the templates with eye-catching designs that are each as unique as you are! In addition, I’ve structured the templates with real-world formats that allow you to call out your unique workplace value while expressing your personality and brand through the resume design. And, even though you are starting from a template, you can make your resume even more unique by customizing it and changing the colors—more on that in a moment.

Inflexible and Uncustomizable

You are using a resume template in the first place because you don’t want to have to worry about designing and formatting your resume. So, why should you care if you can’t customize the resume template you chose? It is a good question, but go back and read the point above about cookie-cutter templates.

A big problem with the many cookie-cutter templates on the market is that they often use very complex layouts. You can’t easily reorganize or change anything without completely “breaking” the layout. Even with design experience in Microsoft Word, you may find it virtually impossible to modify these templates. Does it only have three bullets and you need five? Sorry, you are out of luck. Is there a qualifications summary section that you want to remove? Again, sorry. You can’t take it out. Want to change the color? Impossible.

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR: To be sure that your resume promotes your unique qualifications effectively, you must be able to easily add or remove sections to your resume, reorganize them, and rename them. Distinctive Resume Templates are all incredibly easy to customize, and you need zero experience in Word to do so. Just copy and paste and click and type over the “dummy” text in the template. In fact, I very specifically created the templates to be flexible. Why? I originally created the templates for the resume writing team in our professional resume writing practice. I needed resume templates that would be so easy to use that I could hire the absolute best writers without worrying whether they have graphic design experience or not. After I saw how easy it was for the resume writing team to use the templates, I decided to make them available to other professional resume writers and the public. The resume templates are so simple to customize that we can use the same template as the basis of the resumes we create for multiple clients, yet each looks unique and customized. You only need to know how to copy and paste to use the templates to build your resume. But don’t worry; even if you don’t know Word basics, I provide video tutorials that make it easy. You can even change the entire color scheme with just two mouse clicks.

Appealing to Both the Human Reader and the Computer Reader

I mentioned complex layouts above as causing problems when you want to customize a resume template. But this isn’t the only problem with them. The other problem is that the complex layouts become jumbled when your resume is entered into an applicant tracking system (ATS).

Nearly all recruiters and large companies, and many mid-size and smaller companies, use ATS to store resumes and track applicants through the hiring process. In simple terms, you can think of an ATS as a large database. Your resume is “fed” into it digitally, and the text of your resume is “parsed” and stored in ways that make it searchable in the future.

On the surface ATS sounds simple. In practice, while ATS might be more efficient for the employer, it causes all sorts of problems for job hunters. Problems arise when your resume is structured incorrectly or in non-standard ways. For example, while the ATS might still technically “read” and store the text of your resume, it will jumble it and store it incorrectly, hurting (or destroying) the ability for your resume to be recalled in a keyword search. If it can’t be recalled in a keyword search, your resume will never make it in front of a human reader as a candidate for the job you want. Another problem is caused by the way your resume header is constructed.

You might think it is common sense for creators of resume templates to structure the templates in ways that make them ATS-friendly. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t so common. The vast majority of the templates on the market will cause problems in ATS. The most common problems are complex layouts that are structured using complex tables. Also, templates that use a two-column format. This format is very problematic in ATS!

Surely the designers of these templates know this, yet they continue to sell these templates. Can you guess why? It is because the format is attractive and very popular with unsuspecting job seekers who don’t understand the absolute need for an ATS-compatible resume in a modern job search.

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The good news is that you now know better! You know better than all the hordes of other job searchers who have used cookie-cutter-like templates that are not ATS compatible. This means that if you use an ATS-ready resume template to build your resume, you capture an immediate competitive edge in the job market. I have designed all the Distinctive Resume Templates with ATS compatibility in mind. I’ve done the hard work for you so that you don’t need to spend days or weeks studying ATS standards and requirements. When you build your resume using a Distinctive Resume Template as the basis, you can feel confident that your resume will be compatible with most or all modern ATS systems.

Breaking Accepted Resume Writing Best Practices

In the U.S., you should never include a photo of yourself on your resume. The possible exception to this rule is a resume for a performer or model whose personal appearance is a primary qualification for the job.

But, this rule is not universal. There are countries where the standard is to include a headshot on your resume. But, in the U.S., where avoiding discrimination is a constant cultural worry, including a headshot on your resume could immediately disqualify you from consideration.

Why then does almost every cookie-cutter template for sale include a spot for your headshot? The obvious answer is that most of them are created by people in countries other than the U.S., who are not designing the resume templates to meet accepted U.S. standards. Couldn’t you remove the headshot as a U.S. user of one of these templates? Not in most cases. Not without “breaking” the layout.

  • WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Distinctive Resume Templates follow accepted U.S. best practices. If you create a resume for another country using one of our templates, it is easy to add a headshot. But, if you are using the resume template to create a resume for the U.S. market, you can be sure that the format meets accepted best practices. You will not have to worry about having your resume rejected simply because you unknowingly broke a “Rule” you didn’t even know existed. While none of our resume templates include a spot for a headshot (if you need to add one for another country and need help doing so, email us), our biography templates do include a spot for a headshot. Your professional biography is the proper spot for a headshot in the U.S., and all our resume templates have optional bundles of coordinating documents available. Most of these bundles include professional bio templates and cover letter templates. Many also include other document templates, such as references or resume addendum templates.

Final Thoughts About Using a Resume Template

Now that you know what to look for in a quality resume template, the answer is YES! Yes, using a quality template such as those sold by Distinctive Resume Templates will give you an incredible competitive advantage in the job market. In addition, our templates can also save you a large amount of time and aggravation and can even give you new ideas about how to present your work history and qualifications in the best light.

My advice is to review our portfolio of templates and choose the format and design that best matches your vision of your resume. As a job hunter, you might want to copy and paste the content of your existing resume into the template. Or, you may choose to write the content right in the template itself. Either way, the result will be a highly effective, eye-catching, ATS-friendly resume that looks completely custom-designed and will help you land your dream job faster.