Resume Fontroversy — What’s the Best Font for a Resume?

There’s nothing like a good resume fontroversy. So, to stir things up, I decided to pull a Cook’s Illustrated on my Psychology of Resume Fonts post from earlier this week.

If this were Cook’s Illustrated, I’d make seven types of mac and cheese and write in painstaking detail about how I geeked on finding the perfect recipe — so you don’t have to. Instead, I studied the best font for a resume.

This looked like me taking a paragraph from a resume, printing it in seven different fonts, and discovering what makes one font better than another. If you want, you can eat mac and cheese while you read this.

Here are our contenders:

Times New Roman as the Best Font for a Resume

Times New Roman takes more than its share of eye rolls and nasty comments as a resume font. However, it says, “Reliable,” to your reader.

Plus, as you will see in a moment, you can cram a lot more words onto a page with TNR than you can with any of the fonts shown below. Just that simple, delicious fact often makes it the best font for a resume.

Beyond space considerations, Times New Roman confers an additional benefit. “Conscientiousness” (of which reliability is one aspect) is one of the Big Five Personality Traits.

While the Big Five get massive attention as predictive factors for job performance, conscientiousness is the only Big Five Trait that actually correlates with job performance.

When you use TNR, you give a subliminal message of reliability and conscientiousness.

Arial as the Best Font for a Resume

Arial is another perennial resume favorite. It says, “Modern,” to your reader.

However, notice Arial takes up more space than TNR, which means you might have to drop some valuable info to keep your resume to two pages. Yes, two pages. End of discussion.

Calibri as the Best Font for a Resume

Calibri is a tasty font that’s easy to read and says, “Stable.” It uses more space than TNR, but not as much as Arial. It’s a definite possibility.

Century Gothic as the Best Font for a Resume

Century Gothic uses way too much resume real estate and is thus a non-starter. Imagine an audio file here as it hits the trash with a big “Splat.”

Helvetica as the Best Font for a Resume

Helvetica uses more space than TNR or Calibri at 11 and 12 points. At 10 points, it’s hard to read. Thus, it’s also a non-starter — unless you’re light on resume material. 

Helvetica recently (May 2015) received a ton of press from a Bloomberg article as the best font for a resume. However, the recommendation was made by a graphic designer who doesn’t write resumes. It’s a lovely font, but usually impractical for our purposes.

Verdana as a Resume Font

Verdana is  a common website font, but it’s too big to consider for your resume.

Baskerville as a Resume Font

The New York Times published a long, evidence-based study about fonts in 2012. It concluded that Baskerville is the most trusted font:

1. Readers are more likely to agree with information shown in Baskerville.

2. Readers are less likely to disagree with information written in Baskerville.

3. Baskerville has gravitas.

Those are all desirable qualities in a resume font. It uses about the same amount of space as TNR. However, I find TNR easier to read in narrative text. Because of that, I skip Baskerville.

The Font Comparisons

Please, take a look at these fonts, and feel free to heat up a fontroversy in the Comments section below.

What Do You Think?

Please share your insights in the Comments section below.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at donnasvei@gmail.com.

Image Courtesy of Marcus dePaula
Updated June 2017

© 2013 – 2017, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

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Comments 33

  1. I agree totally with all of the above. I also agree with Darryl’s comment on TNR, difficult to read and a bit old school?

  2. Verdana in size 10 is closer to the size on TNR 12. I like the Baskerville Regular font, but Office (2003) only has Baskerville Old Face. I’d need to find and install the font, and I would worry that the destination printer might not support Baskerville Regular – in which case my resume would get printed in something else entirely.

  3. Fontroversy. I love it, Donna! I haven’t used Baskerville much, but this post makes me want to give it another try. Sometimes Arial Narrow works, but it has to be the right person. I totally dig font discussions. This is awesome 🙂

  4. I prefer Calibri cos it looks very clean yet simple. But you know in my country most of my fiends really put a picture on right side in which i don’t like cos its a resume but i dont know what to do is it better to put one? BTW Im a Civil Engineer. Thanks!

  5. Well after reading this article, and the following post, I have to say that TNR is the most used font in our legal systems. I would also like to point out that if your like me (dyslexic) you will want to use the TNR font as it is easier to read than many of the other fonts. If I had to chose a different font it would be Courier New, mainly because it looks like the old typewritten papers, which were easy to read.

  6. Just a comment for Harold – a school teacher recently told me that dyslexics are strongly influenced by the background colour and white is the worst background! Old typewritten papers were not the pure bright white that everything is printed on now – try printing on buff or even pink paper to see if that makes reading easier.

  7. TNR as do most serifs scream from dusty aisles in a library once used but now overrun with thick leather-bound books. It’s old and outdated with its extraneous font lines. In principle serifs do make it more discernible but in 2013 principle isn’t about convenience. Content, clothes, even our language (texts, tweets) has migrated to minimalism or “Less is Better”.

  8. Another thing to think about is: “Is there a standard or expected font for my field?”. If so, would it hurt or help my chances to try a different font? Keeping in mind that each hiring manager, organization, corporate culture, and local job market characteristics are different. What works in NY city may not work in a small town in AK.

  9. Wait, Arial and Helvetica take up the same amount of space. How is one a non-starter* because of size, and the other isn’t?

    *I’m deliberately avoiding the “Ugh, Arial is a cheap, soulless, knockoff of Helvetica” discussion you can find so many places online. Just dealing with the space taken up…

    Hi JC,

    Excellent point. Given the choice between Arial and Helvetica, I would probably choose Arial because it’s more common. That makes it a little easier on people’s eyes. I actually like the look of Helvetica a little more. But really, I love Calibiri at 11.5 or 12 the best.

    Thank you,

    Donna

  10. As a graduate student, I love TNR. It is old school, and yes, I do see the problems. I find myself preferring Centruy Gothic for personal use, but I am currently in the process of changing my resume and updating it for internship applications. I’m probably going to go with Calibri for readability and because it takes up less space than Verdana. Great job!

    Thank you Hollie. Donna

  11. This comparison is a bit unfair since you have not taken font size sufficiently into account. For example, Verdana is better at 10 pt when read on a regular computer screen at normal resolution, and compares well with 12 pt Calibri at the same resolution. I would use Arial at 11 point to compare with the two I have mentioned.

    Sure, the various fonts are scaled differently, but if you scale them yourself to take up as near the same space as each other as possible, then you get a more realistic and honest comparison. In my experience Calibri at 12 pt and Arial at 11 pt are both excellent for online resumes, but if you want to print them then TNR-12 is likely the best around, with Baskerville-12 a very close second – for the simple reason that these are what most people are used to reading in print.

    Naturally, you have to format the layout of a resume according to the specific font use, and that’s why I usually provide my clients with two versions: one for online reading and a separate print version. Click ‘Print Resume’ and it prints according to a different layout in Times New Roman.

    Pete

    Hi Pete,

    Thank you for your insights.

    Donna

  12. Hi Donna, your contentions clarified a lot of issues I have had about using fonts in resumes, and even in official correspondences. Thank you for the interesting piece. I think Arial is gentler on the yes than Times New Roman does. For journalists like me so bent on rushing to the print with little consideration for the eye rollers, its a whole lot of new perspective. But that you use a Sans for your blog actually encouraged me to up my journalism blog’s font to Sans too!

    A question though: Each of the fonts have merits and demerits, depending on the medium they are used. Say Serif for the print, and Sans for the web. Now, GENERALLY (no, not shouting. I wish comment sections came with rich text features. I needed an italic there!), which works for both print and web, at least to a considerable point of reconciliation? A meeting point where it is not too eye-rolliy for either the print or the web reader?

    Hi Al,

    Thank you for your kind words and your great question. I don’t have an answer. Maybe another reader will offer ideas. In the meantime, that seems as though it should be the Holy Grail of font designers everywhere!

    Donna

  13. This may be trickier than initially thought of… but I would have to agree, as others observed earlier, for the comparison to be more objective, the types of fonts compared would have to be similar in appearing size (not just all being size 12); as we can see above, this would force us to compare different types of fonts (i.e. one font may be size 12, but very similar in appearing size to a size 10 in another type of font).
    Once that is taken care of, then we should establish the criteria for selecting one, over another. For instance, is the “best” font, say for a paper-print resume, one which is easy on the reader’s eyes (I always thought that in general, curves tend to be “friendlier” to the human eye, than sharp corners/edges, but then again what if the reader’s eye-sight is compromised and is in fact welcoming the “sharpness” which helps his/her brain from having to silently do extra work to compensate?).
    To make a long story short, it seems to me that there are at least two criteria for selecting one type of font over another:
    a) Does it make the text appear more serious and truthful, and
    b) does it make the reader feel more comfortable, at ease, and thus more pleasant.

    Although I am personally inclined to focus on the second criterion, there exist prevailent industrial stereotypes about resumes, which I believe are to an applicant’s best interest to observe (at least until they reach what they are aiming for; unless, the applicant himself/herself decides to consciously to deviate from the norm with intention).

    Also, anything resembling legal/stereotype text tends to get more attention (not sure whether it is because of a positive, or a negative inner feeling being triggered when viewing it), but as implied earlier that may not be that important… or is it?

    Interesting questions Nicholas. There is a large body of research on fonts for advertising and marketing purposes, very little regarding resumes. Thank you, Donna

  14. Personally I like to use Cambria 11 for resumes. Alternatives are TNR 11.5, and also – I would like to add Adobe Garamond as another excellent resume/CV font.

    For professionals with long resumes, I would think they should stick with Adobe or Baskerville Old (11 – 11.5) – otherwise their resumes are going to end up in the trashbin.

  15. Interesting Linda. If in doubt, Calibri is almost always a safe bet. Thank you, Donna

  16. Truth Nate. I wonder how long it will take for the pendulum to swing the other way? Donna

  17. Hi Harold,

    Font preferences are so personal. I love hearing people explain why they prefer one font over another.

    Thank you,

    Donna

  18. Hi Kevin,

    I like Calibri too.

    As to pictures on resumes, it varies by culture. In the U.S. no, in many other countries yes. Understand the local norm and go with it.

    Thank you,

    Donna

  19. Hi Tricia,

    People can try using smaller font sizes with the caution that they start looking cramped pretty quickly. All the fonts discussed in this post are available in the most recent recent version of MS Word. Of course, not everyone has the most recent version installed. Thank you for your ideas. I’m always happy when I see your name on my screen.

    Donna

  20. Hi April,

    Literally old school — it used to be THE font for textbooks. I suspect that old schoolness it what also makes it seem reliable. Thank you for commenting.

    Donna

  21. Darryl,

    Interesting. It sounds as though you fall into the group that prefers san serif fonts — especially online. Thank you for commenting.

    Donna

  22. Thank you Jennifer! (Click on the link to “9 Resume Fonts Designers Love” to Garamond in action.) Donna

  23. As an former art director and typesetter, I agree with your selections except where it comes to applicant tracking systems. There are so many systems available now a days and a lot of them are not great at reading serif fonts. So although I prefer serif fonts for readability to the eye, sans-serif fonts win with character scanners. Agree, Donna?

  24. I use Century Gothic. You just have to use a smaller font-size (9.5 or so for general text) than other fonts.

    I have found that it is by far the most legible font at smaller font-sizes.

    Compared to TNR, which I have to increase to 12 or so to achieve the same legibility as CG at 9.5, I’ve found that CG actually saves space.

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