Out with the Times: Typefaces for your resume

Jerry Lee, Columnist

I’m the former creative director at The Daily, and I’m writing a new series of columns about how typography subtly and thoroughly pervades our lives. I hope this series will reveal the powerful ways fonts can redefine arguments and dramatically change a text’s meaning.

Around this time of year, the veritable storm of tech and career fairs means printers all over campus are working overtime to spit out a wide variety of resumes with an even wider variety of GPAs. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of waiting for my own resume to print out behind a queue of maybe four others. Flipping through the stack of pages on the printer trying to find my sheaf of accomplishments, I could not help but notice that many of the resumes were printed in Times New Roman.

Times New Roman doesn’t inspire the infernal rage that Comic Sans does, but it doesn’t really inspire anything else, either. Times New Roman is loosely classified as a “transitional” typeface — not so old-fashioned and traditional as typefaces like Garamond, but not so modern and edgy as typefaces like Bodoni. Visually, it communicates a moderate sensibility and neutrality, which is a really nice way of saying it communicates almost nothing at all.

Part of that neutrality stems from the fact that we’ve used Times New Roman prolifically since the birth of modern computing. The “Times” of London created Times New Roman in 1929, and it quickly spread, eventually becoming so popular that Apple and Microsoft licensed the typeface for both the Mac and Windows systems in 1984 and 1992, respectively. Since then, Times New Roman has grown to be the default serif choice for millions of school reports, resumes and essays the world over. (Microsoft did change the default font for Office applications in 2007 to a 12-point Calibri, in pursuit of a screen-readable sans serif typeface.)

As a result, your eyes tend to glaze over when you read something in Times New Roman — the typeface isn’t noticeable, which is advantageous when you’re a professor trying to evaluate a stack of essays based on their content alone. Because it is originally a type made for newspapers, it’s slightly narrow, all the better to cram as many words as possible on the page, but who cares? The typeface is timeless because you can’t complain about it.

What does that mean for your resume? In the words of a Bloomberg article by Natalie Kitroeff, “using Times New Roman is the typeface equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview.” I’m not of such an extreme opinion, but I would suggest putting more thought into what you use to letter a list of your accomplishments. If a resume expresses the the culmination of your achievements and identity, choosing Times New Roman might be akin to ordering spaghetti and meatballs at an upscale Italian restaurant. That’s fine? But you could do better.

My personal recommendation: If you have the time and energy, match the typeface of your resume with the tone of the organization you’re applying for. As your adviser might tell you, you shouldn’t be remembered for your clothing or your hair color; similarly, a typeface clashing with the atmosphere of the group might distract from the contents of your resume. For example, if you’re applying to a stiff-collar law firm, try something conservative, like the old-fashioned Centaur. And of course, if you have any desire to be taken seriously, avoid Comic Sans like the devil.

This also somewhat obviously extends beyond typefaces into the overall layout of your resume — so maybe if you’re going to work for a big marketing company you should be as creative and imaginative with your layout as possible, but if you’re trying to be an investment banker lawyer business consultant at Scrooge & Dickens Ltd., you should err on the side of being boring. Strive to be as organized and easily readable as possible!

With all of those considerations, choosing Times New Roman over any other font is basically not choosing a typeface at all — and the odd typographically sensitive recruiter might take your selection to be apathetic and lazy. You can’t hide a 2.0 with an expensive font, but at the same time: Your resume probably deserves better.

Jerry Lee is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.