Looks aren’t everything — but when it comes to your resume, appearances do matter. A good resume shouldn’t just be impressive to read, it should also be nice to look at, which means hitting a good balance of content and white space. If this sounds shallow, it isn’t — formatting, headings, and design can all massively impact readability, which means something as simple as margins can make or break your resume.
The right size for resume margins
A simple guideline is that your resume margins should be one inch on all sides — left, right, top, and bottom. This is usually the default margin setting on most word processors.
If you need slightly more space on your resume, you can reduce your margins to around 0.5 inches (half an inch). Don't go lower than 0.5 inches for your left and right margins.
Why you should not use margins that are too small
Margins that are too small — less than half an inch are the bare minimum — will make your resume look messy and cluttered. Not only does this look unprofessional, it also makes everything harder to read. Reducing your margins to fit more content in means nothing if recruiters can’t easily skim your resume for that information.
What about big resume margins?
Too-big margins, on the other hand, risk making your resume look empty, leading hiring managers to conclude that you don’t have much to say, or that you’re trying to make limited experience look more impressive than it is.
Either way, it’s not a great first impression — and it could mean the difference between staying in contention or being discarded immediately.
If you're writing your first ever resume, make things easier by using one of the free resume templates which are formatted correctly with the right margins.
The standard resume length for most job seekers is one page. It’s good to stick to this if you can, but it’s better to send in a two-page resume than one with quarter-inch margins and size 9 text.
Generally speaking, recent graduates, entry-level applicants, and those with less than 5-10 years’ experience should stick to one page. More experienced applicants may need two pages, especially if you’re applying to a high-level position. Resumes longer than two pages are unnecessary with the exception of some specific situations, like academia and some executive positions — which is to say, if you’re in the kind of field that requires a lengthy resume or CV, you’ll likely already know it.
How to set your resume margins
In Microsoft Word
To set your resume margins in Word:
- Select Layout or Page Layout at the top of the screen.
- Click on Margins.
- Set your margins to Normal — this is pre-set to one inch.
- If you want to choose a different size, click Custom Margins to set your own.
In Google Docs
The default margins in Google Docs are set to one inch, so you probably won’t have to change them. If you do:
- Click File.
- Choose Page setup.
- Go to Margins.
- Set your preferred margins in the relevant text boxes.
- Click OK to set margins for this document only or Set As Default for all future documents.
- Or click and drag side margins by locating the ruler at the top of the document and moving the upside down triangle.
In Open Office
If you use OpenOffice or LibreOffice:
- Select Format from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen.
- Click on the Page option.
- Set your preferred margins in the relevant text boxes.
- Click OK.
Other resume formatting tips
Left align your text
Left alignment is the standard for formal documents, including resumes. It’s also what most people are used to, which means it’ll be easy to read. Aligning your text to the left also keeps the focus on the most important parts of your resume, like headers pointing to your work experience, skills, and education.
Use standard line spacing
There’s no hard and fast rule for line spacing but keep general resume formatting guidelines in mind — in other words, make sure there’s enough white space and your resume is easily readable. 1 or 1.15 line spacing for normal text and double spacing for headings and subheadings is a good rule of thumb.
Use consistent formatting and margins
Whatever format you choose — font, size, spacing — use the same formatting throughout your entire resume. Mixing things up part way through doesn’t make your resume look more interesting, it’s just distracting and makes everything harder to read.
Similarly, keep your margins consistent. Your left and right margins should be identical, and so should your top and bottom margins. For example, if you choose your left margin to be 0.5in, then also set your right margin as the same (0.5in).
Keep it simple
Creative resume formats might look fancy, but they’re unnecessary. The vast majority of hiring managers prefer a standard resume format — even those hiring for creative positions.
Even more reason to keep your resume simple? Not only are fancy resumes harder for recruiters to read, they’re even harder for ATS. Machines have a tougher time reading things than people do, so avoid anything that’s likely to confuse them, like images and downloaded fonts.
Save your resume as a PDF
Saving your resume as a pdf (unless the job posting specifically requests all resumes to be sent as word documents) preserves your formatting and makes sure that your resume will look the same to a hiring manager as it does to you.
If you've used small margins, make sure that no information is cut off from your resume when you generate the PDF!
Make sure your resume is scannable
If you’ve used Photoshop or an online resume creator, your resume may have come out as a non-scannable pdf. Why does it matter? If your resume isn’t scannable, ATS won’t be able to read it, and for an increasingly high number of jobs, that means a one-way trip to the ‘no’ pile. To make sure your resume is a scannable pdf, create it in Word or Google Docs and choose Save As or Download > PDF. Double check that ATS can read your resume by highlighting the text — if you can, you’re good to go.
If in doubt, use default settings
Is thinking about formatting too much stress? Are you afraid of accidentally hitting the wrong button and making everything look weird? Do you just not care? Don’t worry about it! The default settings on most word processors are set to a perfectly acceptable standard, which means you don’t have to change a thing unless you want to.
For even more help with resume formatting, including the perfect font choice check out our guide on what font to use on your resume and other tips.