Designing a professional CV with Microsoft Word

Jul 06, 2010 14 Comments by

So you have worked with sweat and tears writing your CV, and now you are ready to turn it into an incredible designed creation. It is a shame that, with the freedom of modern computers and fancy software, comes the chance of abusing and smothering your CV with exessive design. With CVs, both non-designers and professional designers commit some almost unforgivable sins. These include:

  1. Fancy “CV” paper
  2. Times New Roman
  3. Teeny tiny font size
  4. Grey text
  5. Excessive decoration
  6. Weird paper size
  7. Horizontal format

You may be asking, If I can’t use crazy colors, clip art, and other types of decoration, how do I make my CV stand out from the crowd? Like many things, the answer lies in the details.

Even if you can’t hire a fancy designer and are stuck with Microsoft Word, a few tweaks can turn your blasé CV into an elegant and functional showpiece.

Here’s a template of the final CV being created below.

The typical CV

Before starting your CV makeover, first take a look at a typical one:


Like most CVs, it was created in Microsoft Word. It doesn’t look horrible, but it could use improvement. You can improve almost all CVs with four steps:

  1. Pick a better typeface
  2. Remove extra indentations
  3. Make it easy to skim
  4. Apply typographic detailing

1. Pick a better typeface

If you’re using Times New Roman, Word’s default typeface, change it now. Times doesn’t read well on-screen and lacks typographic subtleties such as non-lining numbers. Because it’s available on virtually all computers and designed to be readable on on-screen, try Georgia instead.

At the same point size, Georgia appears larger than Times New Roman, so you’ll want to set the font size a point or two smaller. Just don’t go below 9 points.

To improve readability, also increase the line spacing (also called leading) to at least 120% of the font size.

To do this in Word:

Line Spacing in Microsoft Word

  1. In the menubar, go to Format and select Paragraph.
  2. In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly and set the line spacing to 14 points.

Our example CV Template has Times New Roman set at a size/line spacing of 11pt/13pt. Let’s modify it to the Georgia font with a size/line spacing of 10pt/14pt.

Here’s a detail of the difference:

Change font

Notice how the Georgia’s numbers blend in better than Times New Roman.

Here’s the full page:

CV after setting typeface, size, and leading

If you are like some, Georgia may not be your preference. If so, choose a different typeface/font.

2. Remove unecessary indentations

Next, reduce the amount of indentations. or better, take them all out. While useful in outlines, too many indentations in a CV will cause your eyes to jump all over the page, destroying page harmony. The goal is to have all text align to each other.

After reducing indentations, also bring your bullets in.

In Word:

Hanging Bullets in Microsoft Word

  1. Replace any spaces after a bullet with a tab character.
  2. Select the bulleted list.
  3. If you don’t see the horizontal ruler, go to the View menu and select Ruler.
  4. On the ruler, drag the First Line Indent marker to left by half a centimeter.

Here’s a detail showing the CV before and after removing indentation:

Remove indentations detail

To align all the cities and dates on the right, use tabs.

Remove indentations full

Already, you can see a huge improvement.

Also notice that the top margin is now reduced to 0.5 inches. This helps compensate for the additional line spacing in step 1.

3. Make it easy to skim

To make the CV skimmable, you have to create a distinct typographic hierarchy. By typographic hierarchy, we mean Ellen Lupton’s definition from Thinking With Type:

A typographic hierarchy expresses an organizational system for content, emphasizing some data and diminishing others. A hierarchy helps readers scan a text, knowing where to enter and exit and how to pick and choose among its offerings.

Our example CV already uses bolds and italics to highlight important information such as names and job titles. If you aren’t using them, set them now.

The headings for the major sections, however, don’t stick out enough. Even with “Education”, “Legal Experience”, and “Skills and Certifications” underlined and set in bold, they look too close to the job titles.

To make these section headings more distinct, use horizontal rules above and below each section heading.

In Word, select the section heading and go to Format in the menubar. From here, you’ll make changes in Paragraph, Font, and Borders and Shading.


Paragraph adjustment

  1. In the pulldown under Line Spacing, choose Exactly if it’s not already chosen, and set the line spacing to 16pt.
  2. Under Spacing, set the Before field to 6pt and the After field to 8pt.


Font adjustment

  1. Select the Character Spacing tab.
  2. For Position, choose Raised from the pulldown and type “1pt” in the field.

Borders and Shading

Adding borders

  1. Select the Borders tab
  2. Under Setting, select Custom
  3. For Style, select a solid line. For Color, choose black. For Width, choose “3/4”.
  4. In the preview area, click the Top Border icon to the left of preview image.
  5. To add a bottom border, repeat step 3 using grey for Color, and “1/4” for Weight.
  6. In the preview area, click the Bottom Border icon to the left of preview image.

Here’s a detail of the difference:

Horizontal rules detail

And now the full page:

Typographic Hierarchy

To give more emphasis to job descriptions and responsibilities, deemphasize the cities and dates by setting them in grey.

4. Apply typographic detailing

Our CV makeover is almost done, but it needs some finishing touches:

Use smart quotes

Never ever use inch and foot marks (straight quotes) as quotation marks and apostrophes. They should always be curly. Microsoft Word has automatic curly quotes turned on by default. If not:

  1. In the menubar, go to Tools and choose AutoCorrect.
  2. Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  3. Under Replace as you type, click the checkbox next to “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”.

Space out text set in ALL CAPS

In general, avoid setting type in ALL CAPS. Because the letters start to look the same, it’s harder to read. In small doses, text in ALL CAPS is acceptable if you space out the letters.

The extra spacing between letters help makes each letter more distinct and readable:

Character spacing

In Word:

  1. Select the text set in ALL CAPS.
  2. In the menubar, go to Format and choose Font.
  3. Select the Character Spacing* tab.
  4. In the Spacing pulldown, choose “Expanded” and type in “2pt” in the field.

Separate durations of time with en dashes

Durations of time such as “9–5”, “Monday–Friday”, and “October 5–December 31” should always be separated by en dashes, not hyphens.

On the Mac, press Option-Dash to create an en dash. On a PC, hold down the Alt key and press 0150.

Adjust spacing in phone numbers

The space after the closing parenthesis in a phone number is often too wide. To reduce this, select the space and change its font size in half. So if the rest of the text is 10pt, change it to 5pt.

The final CV

After adding the finishing touches, here’s the final CV:

Final CV

No rules are set in stone, so feel free to experiment. Just do so judiciously.

Credits: LifeClever

Curriculum Vitae, CV Writing, Popular Articles

About the author

My name is Natasha Shek, I keep Supreme CVs running smoothly and efficiently. My team has over 15 years of experience in recruitment and HR. Helping others enhance their careers – and their lives – is my passion. Visit our website for more assistance in creating a professional, attractive CV.

14 Responses to “Designing a professional CV with Microsoft Word”

  1. Riddy says:

    Hey may I quote some of the content found in this entry if I reference you with a link back to your site?

  2. Shayari says:

    I am an student and i am willing to write some part of this post to my university blog,can i do so.Also just require your permission just mail me if you are happy about it. i believe this post will be helpful for the information i am requiring to publish.

  3. Eldridge Lichak says:

    Thanks I really needed this.

  4. Juan says:

    Before writing my First Resume , i used to think as you have mentioned. But i got a lot of help from word 2003, at that everything has become more advance and more convenient..its good for Freshers as well as experience ones to take help of online cv templates or office templates.

  5. Travis says:

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web.

  6. Chase says:

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  7. Alex Schartz says:

    Couldn’t have don it without your help! Thank youuuu

  8. Horace Lunday says:

    There are a ton of good tips and hints in this page

  9. Christine Marcello says:

    Great information you got here. I walked through the entire sequence and got a great CV!

  10. Helaire says:

    I would like to say “wow” what a inspiring post. This is really great. Keep doing what you’re doing!!

  11. Starr Younger says:

    Pretty good post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be coming back and I hope you post again soon.

  12. Alan says:

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  13. TERESA says:


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