We do all sorts of things to look good for an interview. If you’re over 35, I’d be willing to bet some of those things are related to looking younger and more with it. Cue the botox (men and women), fad diets, crazed workouts, and sharp, new, trendy clothes. Well, trendy for lawyers, anyway.
Yet all of these are useless if you don’t get an interview.
The main way you get judged, before you’re ever seen, is your resumé. Possibly there’s a cover letter. These two things, if poorly executed, can add 10+ years to your apparent age, before the reviewer even gets to your graduation dates.
For law firms, this may not much matter. But if you’re looking to leave law and get hired by a company not dominated by lawyers, it sure does. “Old” and “stodgy” are not big selling points in today’s job market.
The most common culprit to a decrepit-looking resumé? Documents set in Times New Roman font.
I know, I know:
- Everyone in your firm uses Times New Roman.
- You should be judged by the quality of your work, not the appearance of it.
- Law isn’t a trendy business, and you are not going to follow silly trends.
Here’s the thing: Times New Roman, like all serif fonts, is much harder to read online than in print. That’s particularly true if the font is 12 point size or less.
Online Readers Loathe Times New Roman
Studies as far back as 2002 show that online readers strongly prefer just about any popular font over Times New Roman. For example, a study by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory found that:
- The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
- At 10-point size, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
- At 12-point size, participants preferred Arial. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
- The preferred font overall was Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
So avoiding Times New Roman isn’t just a trend.
You’re Living in the Digital Age. Act Like It.
Notice what the preferred online fonts all have in common: They are sans serif fonts. That means they do not have squiggly bits at the end of letter strokes.
Why does this even matter? In a word, screens.
The longer explanation is that images on screens are comprised of pixels. Pixels are square, though tiny. Yet, rendering a curved line with pixels is difficult, particularly if the screen resolution is low. There’s a jumpiness to any font on a screen. Serif fonts have more of that; sans serif fonts have less.
History note (skip this if you don’t care How We Got Serif Fonts): On paper, the squiggles of serif help lead the eye from one letter to the next. Serifs actually help legibility, if your document is on paper. But since most of us are not publishing or printing geeks, that knowledge passed out of the common knowledge pool ages ago.
Is Your Resumé Reviewer at Starbucks?
Consider your audience and how they’re looking at your resumé. There’s a significant chance it’s on a phone or tablet. That’s important. Screen resolution is much lower on those devices than on a laptop, so anything hard-to-read on a high-res computer screen will be yet more difficult to read on other devices. Consider this:
Since 2007, the default font on Word has been the sans serif font Calibri, not Times New Roman. That’s a decade, people. The last version of Word that defaults to Times New Roman debuted in 2003. Possibly, you might want to appear a little more with it than clinging to a 14 year-old default.
Fonts do send messages. Don’t agree? Then you’ll be comfortable setting your email in Comic Sans, right?
Change Your Resumé From Sweatpants to Business Casual
As I’ve looked around online, I’ve found these descriptions of Times New Roman:
- like putting on sweatpants
- boring and unimaginative
If you want to be perceived as one of these things, please, keep your resumé in Times New Roman.
Otherwise, Helvetica is your friend, according to many design experts. Heck, there’s even a movie about Helvetica. The beauty of Helvetica, to paraphrase one of the experts in the film, is that Helvetica is like off-white paint. No one really notices or cares about it. That, my friends, is what you want for your resumé font: something that doesn’t distract the reader from you and your wonderfulness.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and career coach who has worked in publishing off and on for more than 15 years. She has a slight affliction about fonts and design. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.