When to Use a Resume Template

The cookie-cutter approach is handy to create an initial resume draft, but beware; hiring professionals can spot a cut-and-paste resume job a mile away.

Ready-made resumes: You can get them free from Google Docs and they’re included in major word processors such as Microsoft Word and Apple Pages. You can’t argue with the free part. So why would anybody spend three figures on a professional resume makeover?

Predictably enough, professional resume writers have a bevy of reasons why job seekers should avoid the cookie-cutter approach of a resume template, and one resume template vendor who spoke to Ladders even agreed with their rationale. But on analysis, it’s easy to see that both resume templates and the professional resume writers’ individualized attention are both crucial tools in a job seeker’s arsenal. First, the reasons why you shouldn’t rely solely on a resume template:

Templates shout, “I took a shortcut!”

Executive recruiters and hiring managers are all too familiar with the look of resume templates and resume-template services, said Barbara Safani, the owner of Career Solvers a New York career-management firm. “They are easy to spot by hiring managers, and it is pretty easy to figure out you took a shortcut,” she said. “That’s not exactly the image you want to convey to hiring managers.” The “last place you want to look like everyone else,” she said, is in a job search where you’re trying to stand out from the crowd.

Templates are easy to spot because many use outdated formats, styles and “hackneyed and clichéd phrases that convey personal attributes without proving impact,” Safani said.

They’re also readily identifiable because so many people use them. Google, for example, has many different resume templates. But if you’re a hiring professional who looks at resumes frequently, you’ll quickly begin to see that many submitted resumes have the same format, with the same positioning of content, the same graphical embellishments and the same fonts.

For example, two career management professionals interviewed for this article pointed to the same Microsoft Word template that displays the person’s name in large type, then switches to a tiny, barely legible 8-point type size for the contact information.

“The person’s name will be 36 or 72 points, and their phone number will be microscopically small, which is stupid because most people in [human resources (HR)] are 40 years old or older and won’t be able to read it without glasses,” said Shel Horowitz, the author of books on do-it-yourself marketing.

“People were using it because it was a template Microsoft had,” Safani said of the same example. “It was obviously a template because you received 40 resumes that looked the same. Even if you’re only somebody who filled a job once every 10 years, they could still tell the person was using a template if 40 resumes looked the same.”

It says that job seeker isn’t creative enough to present their information in a compelling way, said Safani. It’s “not a good strategy in a situation where you’re trying to make yourself look different than everybody else.”

The difficulty of selling yourself

Beyond portraying job seekers as unimaginative and lazy, relying on resume templates also deprives job seekers of the objective view of a professional trained to hone in on their strengths. Horowitz said fewer than 5 percent of the resumes she sees properly highlight the subjects’ strengths.

It’s like having a professional do your taxes, she said; they have the expertise to know what to look for. “An expert will see very quickly, ‛Oh, this thing you briefly mention here… Let’s talk about that! That could be big, that could get you the job,’ ” she said. “Or, ‛This other thing you’re giving weight to is not doing you a favor.’ Or, ‛This language is not believable with your job title.’ Those are issues I’ve seen with self-written resumes.”

When to use a template

Susan Ireland is a resume writer and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume.” She also sells resume templates online starting at $24.95 at Ready-Made Resumes. In spite of that, Ireland highly recommends using the services of a professional resume writer.

Distilling everything you know about yourself into a single document can be overwhelming, she said.

“If you’re working with someone who’s objective… who can ask probing questions, the distilling, the finding of the essence, is the task of the resume writer,” she said.

So why would anybody use a resume template? First and foremost, Ireland said, the formatting has already been done. “If you don’t want to start with a blank page, which is overwhelming, and you want to start with something that you go in and replace with your own wording, that’s one load off your shoulders,” she said.

And after all, how bad can templates be, given that professional resume writers themselves use them? “I can assure you that professional resume writers are using resume-writing templates,” Ireland said. “They’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper every time.”

Professional resume writers, however, are “experts” at using Microsoft Word to “add touches here and there, whether it’s lines or shadings or whatever,” she said. “Professional resume writers are sharing their tools with job seekers so they can use the resume templates, where indenting is already done, or where there might be bold formatting.”

Ireland compares templates not to cheating but instead to using a tool, just like you’d use your computer.

Professional resume writers recommend job seekers use templates as a tool to set up an initial resume that they can then share with a certified professional resume writer who can apply his objective expertise.