by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
A few years ago, Pamela Henderson, Joan Liese, and Joseph Cote of Washington State University conducted research into how consumers react to various typefaces or fonts. Their purpose was to explore how marketers and advertisers can use fonts to convey specific messages and emotions in logos and advertising copy.
Given that job-search resumes are essentially marketing documents, I wondered to what extent the research might also apply to fonts you might use in your resume.
Most of the fonts that appear in a Harvard Business Review summary of this research (which originally appeared in the Journal of Marketing) are decorative fonts, meaning they might work as headlines for an ad but are very hard to read as body text. The same would apply to resumes; you might consider using one of these fonts for your name at the top of your resume and possibly for your headings, but except for the sixth group studied (see below), you would not want to use them for body text.
Most career experts advise not using exotic, ornate fonts at all on your resume and not using more than two fonts. Given the Washington State research, however, job-seekers may want to experiment with using Group 6 fonts for body copy while conveying specific messages in fancier fonts from some of the other groups used as headlines. Most of the fonts the researchers studied, while likely accessible to graphic designers in advertising, can’t even be found on the average person’s computer. So, if you were to decide to try this font experiment on your resume, you’d have to approximate the studied fonts with similar fonts to which you have access.
Let’s look at each group the researchers studied and see what they found:
Group 1, fonts such as
Here are some fonts similar to Group 1 fonts that you might find on your computer:
The researchers found that consumers considered these fonts likable, warm, attractive, interesting, emotional, feminine, and delicate. It’s possible you might want to use a font similar to those in Group 1 if these are the characteristics you want to convey — or perhaps for a job associated with femininity (such as modeling); but — and it’s a big BUT — the researchers also found that these fonts do not convey strength or reassurance, and they don’t inspire confidence. Probably not a good idea on a resume.
Group 2 fonts, such as
Here are some fonts similar to Group 2 fonts that you might find on your computer:
“Interesting, emotional, exciting, and innovative” were the characteristic consumers associated with fonts like these, according to the researchers. Negative qualities included “unsettling and unfamiliar.” Just as the researchers concluded that marketers might want to use fonts like these in “edgier campaigns,” job-seekers might want to use them when seeking jobs in edgier professions — such as marketing and advertising.
Group 3 fonts, such as
Here are some fonts similar to Group 3 fonts that you might find on your computer (my computer actually had three of the Group 3 fonts):
The research’s lesson on fonts like these is: Don’t use them on your resume. Consumers saw these as disliked, cold, unattractive, uninteresting, and unemotional. While the researchers felt these negative fonts could be used to depict countercultural messages, that use probably has no place on a resume.
Group 4 fonts, such as
Here are some fonts similar to Group 4 fonts that you might find on your computer:
Consumers found these fonts to be strong, masculine, forceful, and solid. You might want to use fonts like these in portraying yourself as forceful or when targeting a profession thought of as “masculine.”
Group 5 fonts, such as
I did not find any fonts similar to Group 5 fonts on my computer.
This group had roughly equal positive and negative associations — interesting, emotional, exciting, and informal vs. dishonest, cold, and unattractive. Given the dishonesty factor and the fact that the researchers recommended these fonts for targeting punk rockers, fonts like these comprise another group to steer clear of on your resume.
Group 6 fonts, such as
You’ll recognize these not only as more standard fonts that you can access on your computer but conservative typefaces typically recommended for resumes. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that while consumers did not find these fonts exciting, they cited them as comfortable. The researchers called them the “stalwarts of the community,” and certainly, they are the stalwarts of resume design.
Final Thoughts on Resume Fonts
It would be fascinating to research whether employers react to resume fonts the same way consumers respond to fonts used in advertising. That research doesn’t exist, but at the very least, job-seekers can learn from the Washington State researchers what fonts not to use. Remember that if you’d like to experiment on your resume with fancier fonts used in this research, use them extremely sparingly — perhaps just your name at the top, maybe the headings of your resume sections. The rest of your resume should be in a font like one of the ones in good ol’ comfortable Group 6.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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