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. The unfortunate truth is that you get what you “pay” for when using cheap or free resume templates.

As the creator of Distinctive Resume Templates, which overcome the pitfalls of all the bad and often cheap or free 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 professional resume template instead.

You Are One-of-a-Kind & Your Resume Template Should Be Too!

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 to the hiring manager 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 cheap or free resume templates to build your resume, your resume blends in with the resumes of all the other job hunters. You aren’t differentiated at all!

The Antidote to a Cookie-Cutter Resume Template

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 our creative 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 resume 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.

Most of the Cheap & Free Resume Templates are Inflexible and Uncustomizable

You are building your resume with a professional resume template 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.

Using a Flexible, Easy-to-Customize Resume Template is a Must!

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 template, 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 professional resume templates that would be so easy to use that I could hire the absolute best professional resume 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 resume 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 foundation 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.

Your Resume Must Appeal 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 applicant tracking systems 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 keyword searchable by hiring managers 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 and hiring manager 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! Another issue is templates created using the wrong resume file format.

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.

ATS-Compatibility is a Must!

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.

Cheap & Free Resume Templates Often Break 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.

Follow Basic Resume Rules to Stay Ahead of the Competition

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 professional 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, as do our networking resumes. 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 sheets or resume addendum templates. You will make an unbeatable first impression when you submit your resume along with a matching cover letter.

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 of your resume 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use a template for my resume?

It depends on the resume template you choose. There are both good and bad templates available. It’s important to know the difference and make an informed decision.

How can I ensure my resume stands out from others?

Look for custom-designed resume templates that are unique and eye-catching, like the ones created by Distinctive Resume Templates. These templates help you differentiate yourself and highlight your skills and experiences effectively.

Can I customize the resume template I choose?

Many cheap or free templates are inflexible and challenging to customize. It’s important to look for a resume template that allows you to easily add or remove sections, reorganize content, and make it your own.

What is the importance of ATS-compatibility for a resume template?

ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is widely used by employers to store and search resumes. If your resume is not ATS-compatible, it may not be properly parsed and could hurt your chances of being considered for a job. Look for resume templates specifically designed to be ATS-friendly.

Do all resume templates follow accepted best practices?

No, many cheap or free resume templates may not adhere to accepted resume writing standards. For example, including a headshot on a resume is generally not recommended in the U.S. Look for resume templates that follow accepted best practices to ensure your resume is well-received.

Can I find matching documents with resume templates?

Yes, some professional resume template providers offer bundles that include coordinating documents like cover letter templates and professional bio templates. These can help you create a cohesive and impressive job application package.

Will using a quality resume template give me a competitive advantage?

Yes, using a quality resume template, such as those offered by Distinctive Resume Templates, can give you a significant advantage in the job market. It saves time, presents your qualifications effectively, and helps you stand out from other candidates.

Can I use my existing resume with a template?

Yes, you can either copy and paste the content of your existing resume into the template or write the content directly in the template itself. Either way, the result will be a professionally designed resume that showcases your skills and experiences.

How can I choose the right resume template for my needs?

Review the portfolio of templates available and select the format and design that aligns with your vision for your resume. Consider the specific features, customization options, and overall look and feel to find the best match.

About the Author: Michelle Dumas

Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. Michelle designed and created all of the templates in the Distinctive Resume Templates Collections found at

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