Using Color on a Resume: Pros, Cons and How To Do It Well

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 1, 2021

Although it was once an assumption that any resume submitted that a job application should only be in black-and-white, some resumes now use colors to add style or highlight key information. The suitability of color on a resume varies based on the hiring manager viewing your document, with some industries being more likely to accept color than others. When using color on your resume it is important to do so professionally. In this article, we discuss how to use color on a resume, including when to use it, what colors to choose and how to use them.

Why do people use color on a resume?

An applicant might add color to their resume for a variety of reasons. The most basic reason to use color is to make the resume more visually appealing, which allows it to stand out from other resumes when a hiring manager is sorting through applicants for a position. Simple use of color to denote section heads or call attention to a specific section on a resume can help to direct the reader's eye while also making the document unique.

An applicant in a creative field can use the colors on their resume to provide a practical example of their ability to create visually-appealing pieces of content. Some applicants prefer their resume to accurately reflect them as a person and feel that adding color to their layout is the best way to do it.

Read More: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

What are the best colors to use on a resume?

As a general rule, you should avoid using overly bright colors on your resume unless you are explicitly applying in a creative field and the colors are fundamental to your intended design. Bright and flashy colors can come off as less professional, and are more likely to be viewed negatively by a hiring manager than a more subtle color palette would be.

Light colors, such as pastels or muted natural tones are appropriate options for use as back colors. When used correctly, a light background on a section allows it to stand out and draws attention to it without being overly flashy and out of place with the rest of the resume.

Dark colors can similarly be used as a background by changing the font to white to provide contrast with the darker color, but they are more versatile than light colors. While a light piece of text on a white page becomes hard to read, you can also use darker colors for your fonts. This is particularly effective for creating emphasis, such as making the headings on your sections burgundy or opting to make the bolded portion of each item in your work history and education sections navy blue.

Will it be held against me if I use colors on a resume?

The use of color is increasingly acceptable in modern hiring, however, that is not a guarantee that if you include color on your resume it will not leave a negative impression on some potential employers.

The first consideration you should have when deciding on whether or not to include color on your resume is the field in which you are applying. A resume for a graphic designer using color to draw attention to areas and make the resume distinct is more common than it is for an accounting professional. This is not a hard rule, as some financial hiring managers may enjoy color while some managers seeking designers will still prefer a straightforward approach to a resume. Your industry, however, can serve as a strong first indicator for whether colors are appropriate or not.

A good policy for using colors on your resume is to save two versions of your base resume, one in black and white, one in color. When applying for a job, do your best to assess the company and, using what you can find out about its culture and the field it's in, determine the better option. When customizing your resume to match the job posting, save a copy of the corresponding version as a new file, then edit it to match the skills and duties listed in the job posting.

Read More: How To Write a Resume Employers Will Notice

What are the main benefits of color on a resume?

Adding color to your resume provides you with an increased level of customization with several benefits, including:

  • Color directs attention. When applying for a competitive position, your resume may be the only chance you get to make yourself stand out from other applicants. If the hiring manager has a large pool to review, they may not be browsing each resume as thoroughly as you would like. With color, the eyes are naturally drawn to the unique spaces on the resume so you can ensure that even in a quick scan the hiring professional will see the information you most want them to see.

  • Fit their culture. While some companies may be put off by color on a resume, many modern companies are now looking to encourage their employees' expression. When applying to such a company, adding some personalized color to your resume can demonstrate that you also fit outside of the traditional office.

  • Show yourself on the page. Your resume represents you and why you will be a strong candidate to fill an open position. For applicants who prioritize showing their true selves in their resume in order to find a workplace where they will fit in, adding color to their resume presents an opportunity for enhanced expression. By using color on your resume, you ensure that any employer who interviews you has made that decision with a better understanding of who you are, which shows you are more likely to fit in well there.

  • Stand out from the crowd. When the hiring manager handling your application has to go through a thick stack of applications, anything that sets you apart can help you to find your way into the pile for interviews or further consideration. Appropriately applied color allows you to make your resume unique while still remaining professional to improve your chances for success.

What are the main drawbacks of color on a resume?

Although there are many benefits to choosing to use colors on your resume, there are downsides to consider as well. Reasons you may opt not to use color include:

  • Some hiring managers may find it off-putting. While acceptance of the use of color on resumes is on the rise, it is not unanimous. Any time you opt to add color to your resume, there is a chance you will be creating a negative impression with the hiring professional responsible for screening or reviewing your application. This is of greater concern in less expressive fields than it is in creative ones.

  • It can decrease readability. A simple black-and-white approach to your resume has the benefit of ensuring that everything you write has clear contrast on the page or screen. When introducing color, if you are not careful to choose colors with appropriate levels of contrast your resume can become harder to read.

  • It may be seen as a gimmick. For more traditional hiring professionals, a resume that uses color to draw attention to sections or stand out may be seen as a placing style over substance. If viewed this way, you will need to show more qualifications on your resume to get the same consideration in order to cancel out the bias that comes from the hiring professionals' first impression of you.

Read More: How To Make a Resume (With Examples)

How should I use color on a resume?

If you're considering adding color to your resume, it's important to do so correctly as there is such a wide range of potential effects from its use. When done well, your color choices can make your resume stand out and get hiring professionals to give your resume an extra look. Here is how to effectively use color on your resume:

  1. Create a basic resume. When designing a resume with color, it is useful to have a black-and-white version as well should a job application call for it. The simplest way to accomplish this is to first create a traditional resume with all your relevant information. This can both serve as a base to then add color as well as be your traditional option when needed.

  2. Choose a scheme: A consistent color scheme is important when using color on your resume, as it allows you to use colors professionally and in an attractive manner. Ideally, you should use three colors, with primary, secondary and accent colors. Online color wheels are a useful tool to help you pick your colors. An example of an effective scheme would be using black as a primary color, maroon as a secondary color, and brick red as an accent color. The three colors work well together, allow you to create emphasis and all remain in the professional range of color choices.

  3. Choose a format: There is more than one way to use color on your resume and you should choose a format that works for you. Options for using color include minimalist approaches like simply using some color in section headings to more expansive uses like adding light backgrounds to sections. Additionally, you can use the same color format throughout or elect to only place color on the section that you want to receive the most attention. Whichever approach you take, your goal should be to make the best possible first impression on a reader who does not otherwise know you.

  4. Apply your colors: With a scheme and format picked out, you're ready to make your color resume. Save your black-and-white version as a new file then begin applying your scheme. Assess the effectiveness of your color choices once complete and make tweaks or full adjustments if needed to create an attractive final product. It may take several tries to find the right balance between not doing enough and creating an unprofessional and overly-flashy look.

  5. Confirm color is right for the application: Since you saved your color resume as a separate file, you still have access to your traditional black-and-white format. Whenever applying for a job, assess what you know about the company and decide which is the better option for that posting. Save a new copy of the chosen style and then make any edits needed to better match the application. This allows you to use color when desired and traditional styling when needed, all without changing your two base versions.

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