Word resume tips: Using style sheets, shapes and text boxes for a professional look

Updating your résumé includes updating the fonts, formatting, and layout.

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Updating your résumé means more than refreshing the information. You also need to reformat the document with new typefaces, graphical elements, and page design. Failure to modernize these elements can actually reveal as much about you as the biographical data.

Take the fonts, for instance. Times Roman and Helvetica were popular 1980s typefaces. Arial and Bookman Old Style dominated the early 1990s, which were then replaced by Verdana and Georgia (in the late 1990s to early 2000s). Office 2007 replaced the default "Normal" typefaces with the ClearType font families called Calibri (san serif) and Cambria (serif). Using any of these fonts will date you and your résumé. Try some new typefaces this time, keeping in mind that Serif typefaces are easier to read, but san serif typefaces look more avant-garde.

The best strategy for updating your résumé is to check the Internet. Searching on "résumé design," especially on sites like Pinterest, will help you find design layouts that that really pop. I've chosen a contemporary layout style that we'll try together in Word to create a résumé masterpiece.

A. Create a shape

1. Open a blank document and change the margins to this: Top: 0.5 inch, Bottom: 0.5 inch, Left: 0.5 inch, Right: 0.75 inch.

2. Position your cursor in the top right corner. Select Insert > Shape from the Ribbon menu, then choose the rectangle from the drop-down menu.

3. Draw a 7.5-inch rectangle beginning from a half-inch from the top down to a half-inch from the bottom, at about 2.25 inches wide.

01 select shapes draw a rectangle JD Sartain

Select Shapes and draw a rectangle.

4. When the rectangle is selected, the Format & Drawing tab appears on the far right side of the menu. In the Shape Styles group, select a Shape Fill and then Shape Outline color. Note: Choose a soft, light color, then choose the same color for the outline.

5. Now, click the Shape Effects button. Select Shadow from the list, then choose the first Outer Shadow option, called Offset Diagonal Bottom Right (the name will show if you move your cursor over it). Click outside the rectangle to view the shadow.

02 format shape fill line color plus special effects JD Sartain

Format shape fill and line color, plus special effects.

6. Click the rectangle again, then click the Layout Options icon sitting near the top, right corner of the rectangle.

7. At the bottom of the Layout Options dialog menu, click the button that says Fix position on page, then close the dialog.

03 choose layout options JD Sartain

Choose Layout Options.

B. Create a Text box

1. Press Ctrl+Home to position your cursor in the Home position (top, left corner of the document).

2. Select Insert > Text Box.

3. In the Built In dialog menu, choose the Alphabet Sidebar layout.

Note: If you have questions regarding how the Sidebar Text Box works, read the instructions inside the text box before you enter your custom information.

4. With the text box still selected, choose Shape Fill > No Fill and Shape Line > No Outline (under Shape Styles), or else you'll get the background color of the Text box, which has reduced resolution.

04 create a text box inside the rectangle shape JD Sartain

Create a Text box inside the rectangle shape.

5. Enter your contact information and social media handles.

6. Next, enter subheads for your skill areas. For this example, we'll use: Computers, Software, Communications, Management, & Languages. Obviously, your own subheads will vary depending on your profession. 

7. Fill in skill details for each section.

C. Create a new Style

1. Click anywhere inside the text box so the Drawing Format Ribbon menu displays.

2. Go to Styles and click the small arrow in the bottom, right corner of the group under the Home tab.

3. When the Styles menu appears, click the New Style button at the bottom.

05 select the new styles button JD Sartain

Select the New Styles button.

4. The Create new style from formatting dialog window appears. Enter a name for this Style such as (for this example) Bio-Skills.

5. Under Style type, you have five options: Paragraph, Character, Linked (paragraph and character), Table, and List. Most styles are Paragraph styles, meaning the formatting you select for this Style applies to the entire paragraph. Select Paragraph.

6. The next field says Style based on. This is a quick way to create a new style without the hassle of defining every single attribute, such as font, paragraph, tabs, and border. The Normal paragraph is a good place to begin.

Once you have thoroughly defined the main paragraph style, you can then use this Bio-Skills Style as you would any other paragraph style.

06 create a new body text style based on the normal style JD Sartain

Create a new body text style based on the Normal style,

7. Work your way through the screen and customize this Bio-Skills style to fit your new vision for this résumé. Notice that the panel in the middle of this screen displays all of the defined attributes so far.

8. Click the Format button at the bottom of the screen to reveal the additional formatting attributes. Select the attributes that apply from the applicable submenus, then click OK to save your changes.

9. Once the style is created, highlight the data in the text box and click Bio-Skills on the Styles menu.

10. You can create a separate style for the Twitter handle and the email address with custom colors and attributes. These are called Character Styles. It's just as easy (and about the same number of keystrokes) to do this manually. However, if you have a lot of situations in a document that require blue, italic letters, then create another paragraph style with these attributes.

D. Create résumé headers

If your résumé is more than a single page, you need a header on every page in case the pages are inadvertently separated by the employer. Previously, headers included the name, address, city, state, zip, phone number, and email address; but all that information is on the Bio-Skills panel. The new résumés list only the name and profession of the applicant (plus some creative graphical elements).

1. Select Insert > Header, then scroll through the drop-down list and choose one of the header templates.

2. Enter the page number on the left, your name, and your profession (or the title of the job you're applying for).

3. Next, create a style for your résumé header (follow the instructions in the above section, Create a New Style) and name it (for this example) Résumé Header. Again, select Paragraph style, but this one is based on your Bio-Skills style, so the fonts, spacing, etc., are the same.

4. Customize this new header style to match the résumé headers you just created.

07 insert custom header JD Sartain

Insert custom header.

E. Insert Subhead graphics

1. Enter two or three sentences of generic body text to see precisely where the margins are.

2. Select Insert > Shape, choose a rectangle from the drop-down menu, then draw a rectangle about the same size, length, and width of two lines of body text.

3. Change the color to the same light blue as your Skills panel, select No line, then add the same Shadow effect.

4. Click the rectangle again, then select the Layout Options icon near the top, right side of the rectangle.

5. At the bottom of the Layout Options menu, click the button that says Fix position on page, then close the dialog.

6. Once the rectangle is completely defined, copy it twice, making three rectangles.

08 define layout options JD Sartain

Define Layout options.

F. Create text boxes for the subheaders

1. Select Insert > Text Box from the main menu.

2. In the Built In dialog menu, choose the Simple textbox layout.

3. With the text box still selected, choose Shape Fill > No Fill and Shape Line > No outline (under Shape Styles), or else you'll get the background color of the text box, which has reduced resolution.

4. Type EDUCATION in the text box, then size it to fit inside the subhead graphic.

5. Highlight the word EDUCATION, then select the arrow in the Styles group (from the Home tab) and create a new style called Subheaders.

6. Click the Format button at the bottom and select Font.

09 create a subheaders style JD Sartain

Create a Subheaders Style.

7. In the Font dialog window (Font tab), select the following:

AvantGarde BkBT for the font

Demi for the Style

12 for the Size

Color: black

Finally, click OK.

8. Select the Advanced tab. In the Spacing field, select Expanded, By: 1 pt. Click OK.

10 customize the subheaders style JD Sartain

Customize the Subheaders Style.

9. To remove the border line above and below the text (as shown in the Bio-Skills Style), click the Format button and select Border > None, then click OK and OK again. Close the Styles dialog.

11 remove borders from paragraph styles JD Sartain

Remove borders from paragraph styles.

10. Create two more text boxes, one that says EXPERIENCE and one that says HONORS & AWARDS, then place them on the Subheader graphics.

11. Enter your Education, Experience, and Honors and Awards. Save and print your résumé. Here's how our sample résumé turned out, below. Note it's been cropped to fit this page.

12 enter your rsum data save and print JD Sartain

Enter your résumé data, save, and print.

Important Note: One page résumés are recommended (and photos on résumés are NOT). An alternative treatment would be to provide an extensive Addendum that showcases all your of skills and talents. 

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