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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

How to choose the best margins for a resume

15 min read
How to choose the best margins for a resume
Artwork by:Katya Simacheva
Resume margins are a formatting and design consideration that job seekers need to take seriously to ensure their resume looks great and gets read. Resume.io is here to help with easy-to-follow advice.

Some of the small details can have a make-or-break impact on your resume’s chances of success in landing a job-winning interview. A solid grasp of formatting basics — including the best margins — is the place to start when striving for an attractive, reader-friendly resume document. 

There’s nothing complicated about the uniformly applicable guidelines for resume margins we will outline here. Nor is it difficult making adjustments to suit your situation. Setting your resume margins is one of the simplest and most straightforward formatting steps. In turn, it can make other layout and design elements fall into place more easily. Together, they add up to the favorable first and lasting impression you are striving to make on hiring managers.

This is what we we’ll cover: 

  • The importance of resume margins
  • The best resume margins
  • How to modify resume margin settings
  • Narrower resume margins are not always OK
  • Related resume formatting considerations

Why do resume margins matter?

At first glance, your resume should look like the professional who wrote it: polished and streamlined. Less is more when it comes to dense blocks of black text. More is better in allowing white breathing space on the page for balance and proportion. 

While resume text readability is enhanced through a combination of layout and formatting aspects, the importance of optimal margins should never be underestimated. 

Think of resume document margins as being like the frame surrounding a photograph or artwork —  focusing attention where it belongs. By containing and showcasing the text, without detracting from it, the margin space makes the content more inviting and easier to read.

Properly set resume margins also play a practical role in ensuring no text is inadvertently cut off when your resume is printed, or missed when scanned by applicant tracking systems software.

Standard resume margins are the best

The standard margin size for a resume or any type of document — one inch on all sides — also happens to be the best resume margin size. What a happy coincidence! 

It doesn’t get much simpler when it comes to this resume formatting detail. That’s because one inch is the default margin setting for the most commonly used word-processing apps, Microsoft Word and Google Docs. 

There’s nothing arbitrary about one inch being the standard margin configuration for all kinds of documents across the board. It’s universally suitable as a key consideration for readability of well-contained text on the page. In conjunction with default font settings, the default one-inch margin setting restricts the number of characters on a single line of text to about 90. It’s also failsafe to ensure nothing ends up in the printable area of the page by mistake.

Expert tip

If you need to adjust your default resume margin settings from inches to centimeters, use these equivalents: 2.54 cm. = 1 in. and 1.27 cm. = .5 in. 

Can the one-inch golden rule be broken?

The one-inch rule of thumb for resume margins on all sides is just that — a recommended guideline. Limited leeway is allowed for narrower margins in certain circumstances. That means everything else about your resume content and formatting must be up to snuff. Only then — after rigorous editing and/or tweaks to fonts and line spacing — if it doesn’t quite fit on one page but comes pretty close, it’s probably fine to shrink one or more of the margin spaces. 

Fine-tune your margin settings incrementally, one at a time. Start with the top margin where your resume header appears. (All of your margin settings don’t need to match, as long as they are reasonably balanced.) You might find .8 in. is enough to make a difference. If not, try .75 in. or .6 in. But .5 in. is absolutely the smallest you can go, and preferably only at the top. This half-inch limit is a hard-and-fast rule.

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How to reset margins for resume

Changing resume margins could not be easier, no matter how many times you change your mind at any document preparation stage.

Here are the steps.

Microsoft Word

  • Select “Layout” (or “Page Layout” in some Word versions) in the top menu bar.
  • Click on “Margins.”
  • From the preset margin options:
  • “Normal” is the 1-in. default
  • “Narrow” is .5 in. all around
  • “Moderate” and “Wide” offer left and right margin variations.
  • “Custom” lets you set each margin to your own specification.
Microsoft Word Example
Microsoft Word Example

Google Docs

  • Click “File” in the top left menu bar
  • Select “Page Setup” from the drop-down menu (near the bottom)
  • “Margins” appears in the window that opens to the right.
  • Enter the margin setting you want in each box for Top, Bottom, Left and Right.
  • Click “OK” (preceded by “Set as Default” if you always want these margin settings).
Google Docs Example
Google Docs Example

When is it not OK to downsize resume margins? 

Always consider your true motive for one-inch resume margin reduction. Narrower margins are never a good idea for the sake of squeezing more content into a space that’s not designed to accommodate that much. The crowded, cluttered result will be a reading turn-off. 

There’s a good chance you’re trying to sneak in too much information that may not be relevant to the job posting or otherwise doesn’t belong on your resume. If word bloat is the real problem, then tinkering with your resume margins is an ill-advised solution. All that effort you put into winning the hiring manager’s attention will backfire.

Expert tip

For some job seekers, depending on the profession and experience level, a two-page resume may be quite acceptable to recruiters. While there is never any excuse for overblown language or irrelevant details, sometimes a succinctly written single page doesn’t do justice to your accomplishments. Go ahead and take more space if you need it. The same guidelines for crafting a successful resume still apply — from writing to design and formatting decisions, including resume margins.

A well-designed resume is about more than margins

The right resume margins will take you far towards an eye-pleasing end product that hiring managers should find hard to overlook. But it’s only one part of the design equation adding up to an irresistible resume content package. 

Resume layout. As with any work task you undertake, seamless results can be achieved by a resume layout that looks orderly and well-organized, with each section following logically into the next and guiding the reader’s eye with it. Be sure to incorporate an attractive header, bullet points in text-dense sections and perhaps a side column with graphic elements.

Resume fonts. No strict rules apply here, only guidelines for thoughtful choices of resume font style. The range of professional-looking font options is varied enough that you need not feel constrained. Font size depends on the style; for some fonts, 12 points could be too large or 10 point too small. Getting it right may take some trial and error. Strive for a font comparable to the look and character-per-line count of Times New Roman, between 10 and 12 points.

Expert tip

Our previously stated caution about shrinking your resume margins also applies to tiny resume font sizes. It’s never an acceptable rationale for cramming too much information onto your resume page. The risk of deterring readers is not worth it. Go back to the drawing board and edit your work rigorously. If necessary, take two pages instead of one. 

Text alignment. There’s only one right answer here: all your resume text should always be aligned to the left. It should never be justified (“flush” left and right). Period. It may sometimes be acceptable to center a heading or title other than your resume page header, but use discretion. 

Line and paragraph spacing. This goes hand in hand with margin size when it comes to white balance on your resume page. The vital breathing room that line and paragraph spacing allows is vitally important in between lines of text, not just above or below sections, paragraphs and headings. Do not rely on the default setting — for instance single-spaced, using a hard return to add space. Make adjustments and refine them as needed, checking your finished document to ensure consistency throughout.

Creative touches. By all means, some graphic flourishes, icons and color splashes can be an effectively eye-catching touch to most resume designs. But unless you have design expertise, be careful and sparing. And while we are on the subject of resume margins, take special care to ensure your margins are ample enough to ensure all text and graphic elements are safely within the printable area of the page. 

Expert tip

However helpful you find our advice about resume margins, the thought of fiddling around with such a task while focused on your resume content may seem like an unwelcome extra burden. We’re here to relieve you of that detail, along with the hassle that can come with many other layout and design tasks.

Consider using the Resume.io builder tool and one of our expert-tested resume templates, Browse our collection in four style categories: Modern, Creative, Simple and Professional. Pick your favorite, download and replace with your own text. It’s that easy.

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Key takeaways

  • Resume margins are critically important to your resume document’s overall appearance, as well as readability and printability.
  • The standard resume margin width of one inch — also the word processing default setting — is the best choice for practical and esthetic reasons.
  • It’s easy to change your resume margins, and generally acceptable as long as they are never narrower than .5 inches.
  • Trying to squeeze too much information onto your resume page is never the right strategy for downsizing your resume margins.
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