Your BrandYou(TM) Resume: 4 Ways to Leverage Color to Strengthen Your Resume’s Brand & Performance

Your BrandYou Resume: 4 Ways to Leverage Color to Strengthen Your Resume's Brand & Performance

Part of the point of your resume is demonstrating how your experience, credentials, and accomplishments differ from those of other candidates, right? So why then would you use a resume template or set your document up to look like that of thousands – if not millions – of other folks?

Color is a simple and elegant why to upgrade your resume’s brand and enable it to help you win more interviews. Not just any color will do, however, and the goal is not to use color in every possible way – it’s possible to use too much color, the wrong ones, or employ it in disadvantageous ways.

Before I share with you my preferred ways to use colors, allow me to briefly outline a few of the reasons color is so powerful.

  • Recruiters and employers are inundated with black and white resumes. Using color immediately helps differentiate your document.
  • Color has been proven to influence mood and emotions. By using color strategically in your resume, you’re attempting to influence the perception your readers will have of you.

Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions. Certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.

Let’s look first at a few color no-nos.

  • Don’t use too many colors in the same document. If you want to use color conservatively, try using one non-black color and supplement that with a lighter shade in the same family for use in highlighting blocks of text or graphics. If you want to use color a bit more liberally, it’s still wise to limit yourself to 2-4 colors or tones.
  • Don’t use color in too many places in the same document. Color works best if you use it sparingly – overusing it will create visual confusion and make your resume harder to read.
  • Don’t use non-black colors for body text. Some Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are unable to render large blocks of colored text accurately, so reserve color for headings and limited chunks of text.
  • Don’t use color without considering the cultural norms of your target companies, industries, and countries. White represents purity in western cultures, for example, but signals mourning in eastern countries, while red carries negative connotations in the finance sector and green communicates wellness or earth-friendliness in health or alternative energy industries.
  • Avoid stereotypical pastel shades for males and females unless it works in your favor to do so. A baby blue for men or pink for women will probably not go over well unless you’re looking for work in very specific industries involving children or babies.

Two of the most used colors in resumes include the many shades of blue and green, but you’re not limited to these options. You can use any combination of colors that work for your target companies, industries, and countries and align with your career brand. Just keep in mind that the higher the role you’re aiming for, the more likely you may want to use conservative colors and deploy them in a conservative fashion to achieve that elusive executive “look and feel” that makes your resume stand out without standing out too much.

There are four major reasons I use color in 99% of the resumes I create:

  • Color makes your brand stand out from the crowd. When recruiters or hiring managers have a slew of resumes to review, using color on yours will likely win you a little extra attention. You’ll have to also have superlative content to sustain that attention for more than a few seconds, but if you do, you’re more like to win a screening call or interview. An unusual color, a logo, or an interesting combination of colors can uplift your brand and serve as an attention-getter when used in Microsoft Word or PDF formats.
  • Color organizes the resume. These documents contain multiple categories of information condensed into 1-2 pages these days and resumes are increasingly limiting the amount of white space available on the page. Color gives the readers’ eyes a rest and makes categories of data easier to spot and view. If you use the same color for all your resume’s bullets or employer names, for example, this helps your reader to quickly glance through the document and navigate your career history and accomplishments.
  • Color helps call attention to key points or data. Resumes are highly dense documents that generally contain a rich array of information, including varying kinds of data or lists. Using color to “code” your resume helps your readers to find the key information they are seeking. Taglines, for instance, might be worth differentiating in a different color at the top of your resume. Or, if you have a list of awards or industry honors, that might warrant highlighting in one to two colors, so it jumps out on the page.
  • Color structures the order in which your resume information is read. Did you know that recruiters don’t typically read your resume from start to finish? Most have their preferred method for quickly assessing your document and they often pick and choose certain sections or data points to review before making a snap five- or six-second decision on whether to reach out to you. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could guide them to the most critical information on your resume quickly, to boost the odds that they’ll read it? This is precisely what color can help you to do. Let’s say you have an unusual combination of experience that won’t be immediately clear by those who read your resume straight through. If you use color to highlight repeat experiences or accomplishments, you can increase the odds that even a quick read-through will help recruiters and hiring managers to immediately grasp how your background is well-suited to their challenges.

So which colors should you use? As already noted, this depends on several factors, but here are a few key qualities typically associated with some of the major colors. Note that this chart characterizes each color as (F) if it is perceived as fulfilling a need or solving a problem or as (S) if it tends to convey attitudes, status, or social approval:

Red

Lust (S)

Power (S)

Excitement (S)

Love (S)

Anger (S)

Y​ellow

Competence (S)

Happiness (S)

Green​

Good Taste (F)

Envy (S)

Blue

Masculine (S)

Competence (S)

Excitement (S)

High Quality (F)

Corporate (F)

Pink

Sophistication (S)

Sincerity (S)

Feminine (S)

Purple

Authority (F)

Sophistication (S)

Power (S)

Brown

Ruggedness (S)

Black

Grief (S)

Sophistication (S)

Feminine (S)

Expensive (F)

Fear (S)

White

Happiness (F)

Sincerity (S)

Purity (S)

How have you used color in your resume in the past? How do you plan to leverage it going forward?

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About Cheryl Lynch Simpson

Cheryl is a Career, Job Search & LinkedIn Coach and Master Resume Writer. She has helped clients in >35 industries on 6 continents and has earned 24 global resume writing nominations and awards.

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