Tuesday, September 30, 2014

You've got your resume. Now what do you put it on?



Hang out in any office-supply or stationery store long enough, and you will eventually hear someone ask where they keep the "fancy paper for resumes."

Shortly thereafter, you'll be ejected for eavesdropping on the customers and not buying anything, but the point stands: people will spend almost as much time thinking about the paper they print the resume on as they will the words they're putting on it.  Sometimes more time - it's not unusual to see spelling errors and grammatical mistakes inscribed lovingly on an expensive sheet of 100% cotton bond complete with watermark.

But how important is your paper selection, really?

Twenty years ago, it was extremely important.  In an era where everyone's resume had to conform to very specific expectations, your paper selection was often the only area where you got to display any kind of personality.  While everyone's resume might have been the same oppressive wall of Times New Roman, you could show a little bit of professional flair by printing yours on a sheet with a color like "Potomac Blue," "Sawgrass," or "Celery."

You don't want to put style over substance, however.  In a famous storyline from Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin totally botches his class report on bats because he's convinced that the "professional clear plastic binder" he's using to house the report is going to shield him from criticism and net him an easy A.  Likewise, if you somehow expect that finding a particularly flashy or classy paper is going to shield you from them noticing the holes in your work history or the misspellings on your cover letter, then you're going to have a bad time.

That said, if you are in a situation where you're mailing in a paper resume, handing it to a recruiter, or even bringing in your own copy during a job interview (you do bring a copy of your resume to your interview, don't you?), there are still a few considerations to make.

The paper in your home printer right now, or even the one at your office, is probably what they call 20# (twenty pound) bond.  It's very light, very cheap, and kind of a dingy-white- the brightness rating of such a sheet is probably in the upper 80s to lower 90s.  If it's recycled paper it might be even grayer-looking, as the recycling process can't bleach out all the ink and toner that were on the paper before it was recycled.

All of that is, generally, fairly invisible, to be honest - 99% of all the paper you see every day is going to look like that, and people won't be likely to notice that you used what is literally the cheapest paper money can buy.  But it looks cheap, it doesn't print noticeably well (especially if you've got a colorful or complicated design), it's borderline transparent (so if you've got a lot of graphics, colors, or interesting fonts, it will show through - or even bleed through if you're using an inkjet printer at home), it ripples in humidity, and it crumples easily.

Using slightly nicer paper shields you against the sort of wear-and-tear that you can expect to have, say, on your commute to your job interview.  A stronger paper - like a 24# or 28# sheet - will look nicer without being ridiculous.  Such sheets are also often available in a series of subtle colors and finishes, like linen and parchment.

Subtle is key, by the way - since paper is very often invisible, taking a big risk with the sheet you're printing on often only gets noticed if you made a mistake.  Hot pink might appeal to a couple of people, but it's not going to get you a job you otherwise weren't, and it just might cost you a job from someone who thinks you're not taking things seriously.

Nowadays, you probably won't have a printed resume, at least to start - chances are you'll be uploading it through an employment portal or e-mailing it to the person in charge of hiring.

In that instance, you set yourself apart through use of color - a background color on your Word document is that little bit of extra personality to set your document apart from the others, even when there's no paper involved.

Like with the papers of old, however, the rules are the same - you've got to be careful that you're being contemporary and not tacky.  We've got a lot of practice using splashes of color to help a resume stand out here, and it can pay off - but just like you tailor the content of a resume to the job you're applying for, you want to keep the organization in mind when you're choosing color options.

Or, of course, you could let us do that for you.