Best Resume Format for 2020: Two Column or Full Width Design?

Recruiters first make split-second YES or NO decisions on your resume based on how easy it is to read and find key information, and how it looks.

That's why choosing the correct resume format is so extremely important.

When you create a resume, you have two options in terms of design: a two column design, or a full width design.

The best resume format for most applicants in 2020 is a two-column design, using a chronological format.

More about Chronological vs. Functional Resume Formats here.

The two column design (example below) is becoming more popular, for good reason.

Lauren Davenport modern resume template for word and pages

With a two column resume design, your most important information is readily available and easy to scan on page 1.  In the left column, you can include your Education and Skills, and in the right larger column, you'll include a Professional Profile (or Career Summary) and your Work Experience.  

That's four main areas that the reader wants to see right on page 1, and they can skip around to easily find the section they want.

That's not always the case if you use a full-width (or 1 column) design (below).

full width resume design

With a full width resume, the recruiter will read from top to bottom, so you have to decide on the section order in terms of importance and relevance to your target job.

Most people list Profile, then Experience, then Education and Skills.  But if you do this, Education and Skills usually end up on page 2 after you list all your Experience (unless you only have 1-2 jobs under your belt). 

This can be an issue, because some recruiters do not even look at the second page.

If you only have 6 seconds of a recruiter's time, and they can't quickly find the information they want or it's hidden on page 2, your resume might be discarded.

Take a look at this comparison:   

Best resume format for 2020, two column resume design vs full width resume design

Let's be honest - I think both look great, thanks to some styling tricks and unique fonts.

But let's take a closer look.

In the resume on the left, everything is well spaced out, easy to read, with enough white space to make it easy on the eyes.

And, you can easily find whichever section you want to read first.

In the resume on the right, you have to scan it in the order it's given, and all I see is text. There really isn't enough room for many unique elements or to create lines to separate the areas while still fitting everything on one page.  

Which do you think is easier to read?

For example, let's compare the Skills section in both resumes. 

I find the Skills section especially hard to pick out particular skills in the full width format, as compared to the two-column resume template where there is plenty of space in between each entry and you can scan them top to bottom.

And with a full-width design, you want to keep the name header and contact info as small as possible in order to fit your most important and targeted information on page 1.  

This is another reason why I'm not crazy about this format - the name styling and contact icons are part of what makes your resume stand out in a two column resume design.

And remember, your first goal is to STAND OUT and make an incredible first impression so that the reader is actually eager to read the resume (which should include really damn good content).

A full-width resume with a tiny name and no elements that stand out (aka your parent's old free Word template resume) will not get you the attention you're seeking.

This is exactly why I solely concentrate on creating two-column resume templates that include essential sections on page 1, even if the Experience section has to run off onto page 2.   

Because:

Your Education (or you can change this to Certifications, etc.) and Skills should be on page 1 since they're kind of important.

Your first job or two should be on page 1.  After that, if you have a page 2 with all your old experience, and it doesn't get read, it doesn't matter.  

Recruiters really care about your last job or two, the past 5-10 years, so those need to be on page 1.  

The two-column design also works better, because most applicants have some short section entry information that wouldn't fill up a full-width column, such as Education and Skills.  

AND, most Applicant Tracking Software can easily read a two-column resume format now, if you upload it in PDF format (despite what any old information you find on the internet might say).  

A note on ATS:

Over the years I've figured out what works and doesn't in terms of passing through the ATS, and as a result have created a few rules that I follow with all of the two column resume templates I design.

This is based on my own previous hiring experience, lots of research and trial and error, and most importantly, information from my own customers who used my templates to apply to jobs, some with thousands of other applicants (with success, I can happily add). 

So let's summarize why a two column design is the best option for most applicants:

  • It immediately stands out
  • It has more room for unique styling elements
  • It's easy to read and scan for important information
  • It has ample white space
  • It enables you to put 4 (or more) resume sections on the first page, which is usually impossible in a full width design
  • It can be scanned by most ATS (which wasn't the case years and years ago)

Now go chose a two column resume format you love, write some really damn good resume content, and apply for that job.  

If you need help or have any questions, just email me at getlanded@gmail.com

liisa maloney get landed

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