The Two Column Resume Format (And Why You Should Use It)

I was listening to a piece on NPR on 6 Steps To Find A Job For Soon-To-Be College Grads and it got me thinking about my resume (Word version), what I’m doing right, what I could be doing better, and how to make it stand out.

One of things that I think that has worked for me (really well, I’m guessing based on the response rate to my resume, feedback I’ve gotten when I’ve copied this format for others in my family, and comments made to me by interviewers) is that my resume uses a two column format.

I have interviewed quite a number of people over the last several years for various projects and I’d say only 1-2 resumes have popped up in my inbox in two column format.

But there is a very good reason why I think it’s a successful format — especially for techies: you can present all of the key information in the first page and it ensures that you can put your most recent experience up front and center without losing the ability to call out additional information in a side column. Almost every resume I’ve gotten from any resource with actual experience has been longer than one page.  But the problem with the traditional one column format is that:

  1. It is not an optimal use of space because in many cases, you don’t have enough text to go the full width of the page (for example, a bullet list of skills) or going the full width of the page makes reading the text more laborious (for example, using a comma separate list instead of a bullet list).
  2. It becomes more difficult to get a concise view of a candidate without having to flip pages or scroll.  With a properly configured two column resume, I can easily get a very concise understanding of a candidate by simply reading the first page without having to jump around.

I think one additional benefit is that it allows you to more clearly isolate your experience from the other sections of your resume.  What this means is that you have your experience all in one vertical list without breaks or sections.  Even though it’s a minor nuance, I think it makes the information easier to digest as it makes a clear spatial delineation of content.

Sample wireframe of two column resume layout

The format is flexible.  I like to put my personal statement and education on the side column on my first page, but you can easily switch it with whatever information you deem to be more pertinent to how you want to express your qualifications.

One closing bit of analysis is that the format works in this age because many web sites and blogs are designed in the same manner in terms of visual layout with a primary column of content and a secondary, smaller side bar of navigation or smaller chunks of content.  I think that this is very effective because it creates an easy analog to how a reviewer of your resume would visually navigate a web site.

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2 Responses

  1. Roe says:

    I’ve been using a format similar to this for a while now and I agree it’s fantastic. The other change I made to my resume to differentiate it from others is to list my experience quickly at the top without specifics about what I did at that job aside from job title. Then immediately below this small block of job history I write a paragraph for each job about my duties and accomplishments. This works well because rather than a bullet list for each company that may be very similar to each job as well as every other resume, I get the opportunity to enumerate exactly what I did at each company that makes me employable.

    • Charles Chen says:

      I’ve personally debated on the narrative paragraph vs. the bullet list as well and I’ve settled on the bullet list format as I find it easier to convey the information in a way that lends more visual clarity to the reader.

      The challenge with a narrative paragraph for me, when I’ve received resumes like this from candidates, is that it can be difficult to take notes against it and make mental spatial notes on what I want to hit in an interview. The bullet list format seems to be more conducive to this use case, but I think good middle ground might be a combination of both, which I’ve seen as well; a short narrative body of text describing your primary duties and a bullet list that highlights major accomplishments, technologies used, and/or accomplishments.